The Ban Ki-moon Centre for Global Citizens Co-chairs Ban Ki-moon and Heinz Fischer have co-authored an article for the Austrian newspaper Die Presse on COVID19 and the challenging tasks that lie ahead. You can access the German version of the article here and read the English version below.
It is in Our Hands
Die Presse, 3 June 2020
by Ban Ki-moon and Heinz Fischer
6 months ago – in December 2019 – the term Covid-19 was, at best, only familiar to a small group of scientists.
Today, the term has captured the attention of the world, bringing with it fear and tension as well as influence on politics, the economy, culture, sport, and most importantly, the lives of individuals. At the same time, it has also raised many questions.
In the first months of this year, while the number of individuals infected by the virus and death tolls rose sharply, many trivialized Covid-19 by comparing it to the annual wave of influenza. On the other hand, others over-dramatized the situation and overstated the actual number of victims. Slowly, a more realistic picture has emerged.
The tasks we are now facing are huge, but not impossible to achieve if we work together and act in solidarity.
The key terms that matter are COOPERATION, SOLIDARITY, RESPONSIBILITY, DISCIPLINE, and COMPASSION FOR THE MOST VULNERABLE.
Let us start with a concrete example: Austria and Korea are two countries with excellent relations which uphold the basic principles of the United Nations. These two countries have had decades of close political, economic, and cultural cooperation and now have been similarly affected by Covid-19. With well-developed healthcare systems, both countries have acted quickly, their populations have behaved responsibly and with great discipline. Fortunately, this can also be said of several other countries which are willing to cooperate, exchange experiences, and provide mutual support.
It should not be overlooked that many countries have also reacted differently, namely by not taking the pandemic seriously enough or withdrawing into a narrow nationalistic mindset and deviating from the principle of solidarity and cooperation.
In addition, the USA and China, superpower G-2 countries, are currently fatally divided.
This does not change the fact that, overcoming this pandemic through medical research, improved healthcare systems and international cooperation, remains a major issue and a global task.
The challenges we face now require a strong commitment to the Agenda 2030 and the Sustainable Development Goals, whereby goals number 1 (No Poverty), number 3 (Good Health and Well-Being), number 6 (Clean Water and Sanitation), number 13 (Climate Action) and number 17 (Partnership for the Goals) must be tackled and pursued much more vigorously. It is encouraging to note that many countries are taking action for these goals and that G-20 leaders have committed to taking all necessary steps to stop the virus from spreading and to provide the global economy, particularly the global South, with appropriate resources.
The EU is currently working on an extensive reconstruction package with a volume of about 750 billion Euros. An interesting and important discussion is taking place regarding what portion of the package should be spent on grants and what portion should be issued as loans for repayment.
The world is closely watching the process and discussions within the EU which we hope will demonstrate solidarity and compassion based on our common values in a difficult situation.
After the Second World War, Europe benefited greatly from the economic assistance and solidarity shown by the United States in the form of the Marshall Plan.
This plan benefited everyone involved.
Why don’t the G-20 and OECD countries show the same support to the global South now? Why should stronger countries in Europe not show their solidarity with countries that have been badly affected by the pandemic? This principle must be applied worldwide. The poorest countries in the world are particularly vulnerable to the effects of the Coronavirus. These countries have already suffered from humanitarian crises, conflicts, food insecurity, inadequate healthcare systems, and more. Therefore, the verbal and theoretical commitments to solidarity must also be reflected in concrete actions.
At this time, it is also important to consider how to handle border controls to allow medical devices and urgently required materials to be transported to places where they are most needed.
Covid-19 sheds light on the many profound inequalities that still persist on our planet. The inequalities between and within certain countries have also been exacerbated by the pandemic. Restrictions imposed over the past weeks and months on producers and consumers and their freedom of movement, travel and assembly, have been necessary and expected. However, governments and legislators must take into account that these important and well-intentioned measures should not further marginalize vulnerable groups and individuals, and that due consideration of various points of view should be given in order to find the best possible way forward during each phase.
Even before Covid-19 captivated our attention, we were preoccupied with the existential threats of nuclear weapons and climate change. Covid-19 and its economic and social implications bear consequences that make everyday life harder than ever before.
Together we must have the necessary courage, wisdom, and solidarity to meet these global challenges. We live in a world that is changing rapidly and it is up to us to chart the right course for a better future for all.
Heinz Fischer is the 11th President of Austria and Co-chair of the Ban Ki-moon Centre for Global Citizens based in Vienna, Austria.
Ban Ki-moon is the 8th Secretary-General of the UN and Co-chair of the Ban Ki-moon Centre for Global Citizens based in Vienna, Austria.