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Delivered by Armida Salsiah Alisjahbana

23 March 2021

ESCAP

Opening Remarks

 

Excellencies, Dear Colleagues,

Ladies and gentlemen,

It is my pleasure to launch the Asia-Pacific SDG Partnership Report 2021 with my distinguished colleagues of the Asian Development Bank and the UNDP at the 8th Asia-Pacific Forum on Sustainable Development.

This year, the report entitled “Responding to the Covid-19 Pandemic: Leaving no country behind” examines the impact of the coronavirus on the Asia-Pacific region and pathways for its resilient and inclusive recovery.

COVID-19 is undermining the Asia-Pacific region's progress towards the 2030 Agenda.

The main concern is that the pandemic will reverse much progress on poverty reduction and also lead to greater divergence and inequality. This applies to the impact within countries, but also between countries.

While the impacts of the pandemic are economic, social and environmental, their severity are determined by pre-existing economic, social and environmental vulnerabilities in countries. 

The pandemic is an asymmetric shock. Existing vulnerabilities are clearly linked to uneven progress on the SDGs between countries, but different vulnerabilities also determine the impact of the pandemic. This could widen the gaps between countries.

Understanding how pre-existing vulnerabilities shape the impacts of the pandemic in the countries and subregions in the Asia-Pacific region is therefore crucial for designing policies that ensure no one and no country is left behind.

I recognise that some of the economic, social and environmental consequences of COVID-19 will be permanent.

Moreover, governments’ responses have also differed widely, reflecting differences in capacities of countries.

The pandemic has therefore widened development gaps between countries due to pre-existing vulnerabilities, and there is a significant risk of a K-shaped economic recovery where some countries are likely to recover much faster than others. 

The roll out of the vaccine is merely the latest and most visible facet of an unequal region.

An uneven recovery would deepen inequality between countries, despite our imperative to ''leave no one behind''. 

The failure to implement policies that address such concerns are likely to worsen pre-existing vulnerabilities and make societies more unequal and polarized.

In Asia and the Pacific region, digital transformation has provided opportunities and new solutions to development challenges and the pandemic has sped up the uptake of digital technology. 

Digital technology has helped governments, businesses and people manage their pandemic responses, and cope with containment measures.

It is encouraging to witness that digital technologies cushioned some of the impact of the pandemic lockdowns.

Let me highlight some key impacts of digital technology for pandemic preparedness and response.

In many countries, digital technology enabled early surveillance, testing, contract tracing and strict quarantine measures, which managed to limit the death toll of the pandemic.

Similarly, digital finance is an essential component of rebuilding and resilience.

COVID-19 has demonstrated the transformative power of digital financing to meet development challenges and to increase levels of resilience.

When the pandemic hit, countries with advanced ‘government to person’ payment ecosystems were able to make transfers swiftly.

In fact, there are many examples how digital financial services and fintech can foster inclusive growth and resilience.

However, there are risks and challenges.

These relate to the digital divide. Many poor and vulnerable groups have been unable to afford or access digital options, and their availability is uneven across countries.

Uneven digitalization therefore brings the risk of undermining progress on SDGs.

The Report therefore focuses on important enablers for digital transformation and digital finance.

The quality and inclusiveness of the underlying digital system will largely determine whether we can avoid a K-shaped recovery.

Better connectivity is one of the key drivers of digital transformation.

Effective cross-border data sharing policies and interoperability are key to regionally integrated economies and critical to unlock the potential of digitalization to help achieve the SDGs.

May I highlight some key policy recommendations of the Report.

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the interdependence of countries and the importance of cooperation for sustainable development.

The Asia-Pacific region has a long and diverse experience with cooperation. Yet, despite the successes of many forms of our regional cooperation, the social and environmental dimensions of sustainable development have featured much less.

Regional cooperation is required to manage and mitigate growing divergence and create the foundation for inclusive, resilient and environmentally sustainable development.

Regional cooperation must support people-centred development pathways, through strengthening healthcare systems and public health emergency preparedness, enhancing skills, and strengthening social protection systems

Regional cooperation should advance new forms of cooperation in finance, especially digital finance, to improve access to public and private finance that supports the SDGs. Digital finance has a significant role here, in ensuring that no country is left behind.

The pandemic has demonstrated that economic cooperation, such as trade, must focus on the inclusion all countries, for a sustainable recovery.

In the era of the pandemic, digitalization is perhaps the most powerful force transforming societies and economies.

Regional cooperation on digital connectivity for the 2030 Agenda is critical to enabling equitable digitalization that strengthens the region's resilience.

However, digitalization is not a panacea as it can widen gaps in socio-economic development.

We need renewed regional cooperation with a focus on people and planet to build back better and ensure no country is left behind.

I urge participants to go to the Asia-Pacific SDG Partnership website to read the full report and see examples of other knowledge partnerships.

I would like to thank our partners – Asian Development Bank and UNDP – for their collaboration and contribution to prepare this report.

Thank you.

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