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© Enabel/Sam Deckers
Not only has COVID-19 caused a global health crisis, it has also led to a severe socio-economic crisis. Governments have taken the necessary measures to contain the pandemic, but in the process have also crippled a large part of the economy.
The impact is even larger in developing countries, and especially in the least developed countries. For example, restrictions on the freedom of movement have been disastrous for the millions of people trying to make ends meet in the informal sector, by selling goods on the street for instance. There have also been fewer tourists making purchases.
Farmers have found it more difficult to bring their products to market, and cannot access a range of inputs as easily as before, such as seeds and fertilizers, nor have they had access to information. This in turn has led to higher food prices.
In short, the COVID-19 pandemic has led to a profound disruption of the economy, all the more so in countries that were already economically weak. A number of population groups are particularly affected by the crisis: women, children, migrants, families in rural areas, informal workers... All in all, the corona crisis has exacerbated pre-existing inequalities.
As a result, the Belgian Development Cooperation will refine its approach. Indeed, its aim is to reduce inequalities in the world and provide solutions that respect the limits of the planet. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are the guiding theme in this respect.
The Belgian Development Cooperation has worked out a number of avenues in a memorandum. This should enable all players to help mitigate the socio-economic consequences of the corona crisis in a coherent manner. The memorandum is not a vision written in stone, but rather a call for reflection that will continually evolve. We present the main lines of action below.
The approach is closely aligned with international efforts via, inter alia, the EU (Team Europe), the UN, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. Indeed, the crisis has brought into sharp focus how closely interwoven the world is, and the fact that international cooperation is essential.
The maxim of the SDGs is also that of Belgium: leave no one behind. No-one should be left behind, and certainly not the most vulnerable. The corona crisis should also be a clarion call to do better: build back better. The post-corona society needs to be more inclusive, sustainable and resilient!
Belgium also remains committed to its policy choice to primarily focus on least developed countries in Africa.
Women have a continuing need for sexual and reproductive health and rights services.
© Enabel/Rosalie Colfs
Gender and environment
Women and girls have also been the primary victims in this crisis. Just consider the fact that it is predominantly women who provide care, paid or otherwise. As a result, they are at greater risk of contracting diseases and losing their income. In all actions, special attention will therefore be paid to the situation of women and girls, including by raising awareness among men.
For example, a specific action aims to prevent gender-based violence, namely in Mali, DR Congo, Burkina Faso, the Palestinian Territories and the countries adjoining Syria. Our country is also providing an additional contribution to UN Women, the UN organisation dedicated to women.
The environment must also be at the forefront of every action. This is the only way we can prevent another pandemic. After all, the current pandemic was the result of treating nature recklessly: the trade in wild animals, loss of biodiversity, intensive livestock farming, etc.
Malian women learn to cultivate their land in a different way to get more yield.
© Enabel/Kristof Vadino
Belgium strives to ensure that the corona crisis does not degenerate into a human rights crisis. Vulnerable and marginalised people would be the main victims in such a scenario. Besides women and children, these include LGBTI, young people, ethnic, religious and cultural minorities, people with disabilities and the extremely poor. Every citizen has the right to receive effective information about all the measures taken against COVID-19.
To this end, Belgium intends to support OHCHR, the UN organisation for human rights, among others.
Sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR)
As a result of the lockdown, women have had up to 80% less access to SRHR services. And this means crucial services such as family planning, follow-up of pregnancies and abortions.
Belgium wants to guarantee access to contraception, inter alia through continued support to UNFPA Supplies, a family planning programme of the UN Population Fund. She Decides, an initiative on women's rights in which Belgium is involved, also continues to receive support. There will also be a special focus on sexual violence.
Social protection and decent work
Universal social protection can guarantee access to health care, while at the same time increasing job and income security. It is therefore an important tool for resilience in times of crisis. That is why Belgium intends to focus more on this subject, inter alia through the International Labour Organisation (ILO).
Social protection is all the more important for people in the informal sector, domestic workers and women in unpaid work.
More than 180 countries have closed their schools in order to contain the pandemic. As a result, children from vulnerable families - with fewer opportunities for distance learning - are particularly at risk of dropping out of school. This means that they also forego services such as school meals, medical care, access to clean water and education on hygiene. For young girls in particular, this can have serious consequences.
Our country wants to do everything possible to ensure that vulnerable children can continue going to school. To this end, it will continue to support international partnerships: Global Partnership for Education, the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).
Agriculture and food
The COVID-19 pandemic has had a huge impact on the food supply. Of the 820 million people in the world who were already hungry, 130 million have been affected even more acutely. To alleviate the situation, access to inputs, financing, information and sales channels can be provided. By processing or storing harvests, loss of food can be prevented.
In the medium term, Belgium intends to promote the agro-ecological approach. This is a resilient, sustainable and relatively inexpensive agricultural system inspired by nature.
Water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH)
Hygiene is far and away the most effective measure for preventing the spread of a pandemic. But then people need to have access to clean water and sanitation facilities. Unfortunately, this is not the case for every 4 in 10 people. Once again, women and girls are the primary victims. Belgium intends to make an additional effort in this area.
n a school in the Bidibidi refugee camp (Uganda), a group of pupils – the WASH club - teaches hygienic practices to the other children.
© Kieran Doherty / Oxfam
Developing the private sector and macroeconomic support
As regards the purely economic consequences, Belgium will prioritise joining the efforts of the IMF and the World Bank. The measures include deferring repayment of debts until March 2021.
The Belgian Investment Company for Developing Countries (BIO) can play a major role in this regard, among other things by setting up an emergency fund. A special COVID-19 call of the Business Partnership Facility is being considered. BSF supports initiatives that involve the private sector to help achieve the SDGs in developing countries.
The Belgian development agency (Enabel) can advise African governments on building more resilient economies. The Trade for Development Center - which promotes fair trade - can provide technical assistance.
It goes without saying that the principle of 'build back better' cannot be overlooked here. The newly built economy must also be able to cope with climate and environmental challenges, including the loss of biodiversity. Education also needs to become more resilient.
Exploitation of natural resources
Natural resources can give local populations a huge boost. Unfortunately, all too often they lead to violence and instability. Effective, accountable and inclusive institutions are essential to counteract the negative impacts of natural resources. Good governance - including robust tax systems - can generate much more state revenue.
Traditional mining deserves extra attention in this regard. After all, small-scale, independent miners were hit much harder by the pandemic, partly due to the loss of legal sales channels.
Belgium therefore intends to focus more intensively on existing initiatives such as the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative and the Kimberley Process for diamonds.