UN-led discussion focuses on ‘new normals’ in Sri Lanka

A discussion led by the United Nations office in Sri Lanka focused on the ‘new normals’ as the country looks to recover from the coronavirus.

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) said that while the Government has announced various stimulus/relief measures, comprehensive analysis on the ‘new normals’ is needed to understand the socioeconomic impacts and recovery needs of the crisis.

This will help design a ‘whole of society’ road map for recovery which would strengthen national development planning institutions, and leverage youth entrepreneurs to formulate innovative solutions to help rebuild the economy.

To better understand how Sri Lanka can navigate these ‘new normals’, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) convened a high-level virtual dialogue in collaboration with the Resident Coordinator’s Office of the United Nations and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in Sri Lanka.

Speaking at the opening of the dialogue, Robert Juhkam, Resident Representative of UNDP in Sri Lanka stated that post-COVID-19 is not about building ‘back’ better but about building ‘forward’ with more innovation at the forefront of our work.

In line with this, Ms. Hanaa Singer, Resident Coordinator of the United Nations in Sri Lanka emphasized the importance of social protection by “making macroeconomic policies work for the vulnerable”, thereby stressing the significance of “innovative financing”.

Also speaking at the opening session, Prof. W.D. Lakshman, Governor of the Central Bank of Sri Lanka welcomed today’s discussion and stated, “During the crisis, using all available resources, the Government has worked very hard to contain the virus – more so than most affected countries. This Dialogue is indeed very welcome which is the first step to convening several stakeholders to design holistic solutions.”

Drawing attention to the concept of ‘new normals’ Ms. Faiza Effendi, Deputy Resident Representative of UNDP in Sri Lanka stated that the pandemic was “demonstrating to us the emergence of a ‘new normal’ and is forcing us to look at a new social contract which will focus on reaching the most vulnerable.”

As Ms. Simrin Singh, Country Director of the International Labour Organization for Sri Lanka and the Maldives stated, “81% of the workforce globally has been affected due to COVID-19 – women workers in particular. We need to design solutions that keep the payroll going.”

This also makes more families vulnerable and draws them deeper into poverty.

“This can have a huge impact on children. Therefore, we must come up with social protection schemes that are strategic and inclusive”, highlighted Tim Sutton, Representative of UNICEF in Sri Lanka.

The crisis is also expected to have significant impact on the country’s SDG pathways, with the crisis pushing Sri Lanka into a lower trajectory. Helping Sri Lanka avoid ‘backsliding’ in terms of SDGs is a key challenge. As Brian Chin, Social Sector Economist from the Asian Development Bank stated, “We need to use big data to better understand the impacts of COVID-19 and the extent of its impact”.

The dialogue saw the participation of several leading actors both in the public sector and the private sector. (Colombo Gazette)

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