Trigger for change
Director of GIZ’s Economic and Social Development, Employment Division.
The coronavirus pandemic affects all of us, though not in equal measure. The same is true of its economic and social impacts. In 2020, developing countries and emerging economies will experience their first recession in years, jeopardising much of the progress achieved in the field of international development. According to the United Nations, global poverty is set to rise for the first time in 20 years, especially in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.
Experts fear that hundreds of millions of jobs could be lost following the global slump in demand – 100 million in the tourism sector alone, according to the UN. Economically, the pandemic has had a disproportionate impact on women, many of whom earn a living and support their family from jobs in those labour-intensive sectors worst hit by lockdown restrictions, such as services, textiles, retail, electrical and automotive supplies. Workers who are laid off in countries without a social security net often have no other means of support. The coronavirus has brought home to us how important it is to establish sustainable infrastructure such as a solid health care and welfare system. Indeed, that is precisely the focus of GIZ’s work on behalf of the German Government. Our goal is to strengthen individuals and institutions and therefore make countries and their populations more resilient.
One example of this is the digital health monitoring system SORMAS. Developed over the last six years with GIZ support, it is already improving health care in the countries that make up the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). SORMAS can now be used to rapidly identify and record cases of 20 infectious diseases – including COVID-19 – in a region with a population of around 130 million. This demonstrates two things. First of all, when you are dealing with an acute crisis, it pays to have tried-and-tested tools and networks in place that you can fall back on. This approach is efficient and avoids overloading those whose job is to deliver the services. The SORMAS app also highlights the enormous potential of digital solutions.
In Cambodia, we have spent 10 years developing and rolling out an ID Poor database together with various partners. Two million poor people are now registered. During the pandemic, the database was used to organise a system of emergency ‘mobile money’ payments for those in need – people, for example, who had lost their former jobs and meagre earnings in the informal sector. Looking further ahead, we hope to integrate the database into the country’s social security system.
All this harnessing of existing tools and structures shows that the crisis has also stimulated creativity and innovation. Wherever you look, individuals and organisations are improvising, digitalising, networking and reusing the available resources. In the Republic of Moldova, with support from GIZ, three automotive suppliers and a textiles firm have switched their production lines from car covers to protective clothing for medical use, saving over a thousand jobs at very short notice.
In our teaching and training work, we have embraced new forms of communication such as distance learning, for example in Timor-Leste. When travel restrictions due to the crisis made it impossible to deliver courses on the ground, GIZ’s agriculture team offered live video sessions using mobile devices, allowing course participants to try out new techniques immediately in their fields. The feedback was so positive that we now intend to expand our use of video courses. At the same time, this will allow us to reduce the number of flights needed.
We should view the pandemic as a trigger for change, an opportunity to seek out new ways in which we can meet the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The political, economic and social agenda is currently dominated by talk of a green recovery. The goal here, as we deal with the social and economic fallout of the pandemic, is to put our economies on a path towards lower emissions, greater social justice and increased resilience.
We can help our partner countries make this transition in many ways, for example by advising on effective economic policies, strategies and programmes designed to achieve these objectives. We are also helping local businesses in our partner countries to harness ‘greener’ market opportunities as a way of tackling the crisis. Thanks to its expertise, GIZ is well placed to offer ideas and examples of good practice. Turning hopes into reality.
published in akzente 3/20