By its magnitude, its duration and the changes it has generated, the COVID-19 pandemic has very quickly proved to be a multidimensional crisis, affecting the health, social, economic and human spheres of our societies.
It has challenged our ability to adapt and to support the most vulnerable population groups. It has created new challenges and hindered, in Senegal as everywhere else, the progress that had been made in the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the 2030 Agenda.
I would like to commend the State of Senegal for its organizational resilience. With the help of its partners, the Government found the necessary resources to enable the country to withstand the traumas caused by the crisis, contain their impacts and move forward.
Reducing inequalities: An ambitious plan to promote resiliency
And yet, the task was far from easy. The crisis affected various social groups and most economic sectors. The challenges faced by the employment sector were exacerbated, with significant effects: lower incomes, reduced access to goods and services, and increased pressure on formal and informal social protection systems.
The consequences were unavoidable: increased vulnerabilities, especially amongst women, children, youth and people living with disabilities. At the height of the crisis, these groups struggled to access certain basic social services and essential goods and services.
To respond to this situation, particularly harsh on young people - who represent more than half of the population - the Head of State launched an ambitious three-year emergency programme to promote youth employment and socio-economic inclusion. I welcome this initiative, which will certainly contribute to reducing vulnerabilities and building resilience.
The organizational resilience demonstrated by the Government of Senegal was also reflected in its ability to reallocate budget lines to priority sectors and to boost recovery by investing in vital sectors.
On the health front, I am pleased that the Government made vaccines quickly available to the most vulnerable. The Senegalese authorities, like UN's Secretary General António Guterres, have advocated and continue to advocate tirelessly for vaccine equity.
Seizing opportunities that help achieve the SDGs
Paradoxically, times of crisis bring their share of difficulties, but also come with opportunities. We must harness these opportunities to rebuild our societies on more robust foundations and prepare the people to better withstand future shocks.
It is undoubtedly because he shares the same belief that the UN Secretary General called on UN Member States to make 2021 an "annus possibilitatis", a year of possibility and hope.
During the crisis, for example, Senegal saw a rise in e-commerce, which helped the country counterbalance the suspension of "traditional" trade activities caused by the lockdown. This trend, which is expected to increase thanks to the Government's digitization strategy, should promote job creation and boost economic recovery.
The 2030 Agenda: Our common roadmap for a lasting recovery
Naturally, we must not lose sight of our common roadmap, established since the adoption of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its 17 SDGs, in 2015.
The pandemic certainly exacerbated structural fragilities and deepened preexisting inequalities. But we have an edge over this crisis, so to speak, and that is that all these fragilities have already been identified and factored in in the SDGs. The current crisis only reveals the urgency of stepping up efforts to achieve these Goals and to no longer leave anyone behind.
One could say, from this perspective, that the COVID-19 crisis gives us an unprecedented opportunity to resolutely and energetically embark on the path of sustainable development.
In this regard, I am very satisfied to see that in Senegal, all public policies, including those developed to address the pandemic, are built on the SDGs and, de facto, geared to reducing inequalities and addressing the needs of the most vulnerable.
What role should the international community play to help address such a crisis?
Acting in a multilateral framework is fundamental and coordinating the interventions of development partners is key to ensuring an effective response. The repositioning of the UN Resident Coordinator system decided by Member States in 2018 has shown the value of coordination in expanding the scope of the COVID-19 response and recovery interventions and in scaling up their impact.
Drawing on its experience and on the comparative advantages of its different entities, the UN Country Team in Senegal took action early on to help the Government and people of Senegal respond quickly to the crisis in the areas of health, logistics, security, economy, resource mobilization, communication, and advocacy, among others.
The UN country team has been fully committed alongside the Government and its partners to advancing the campaign for an equal access to vaccines for all, so that one day, this pandemic becomes no more than a distant memory.
The UN team has also supported the country's socio-economic recovery through the United Nations Framework for the Immediate Socio-Economic Response to COVID-19 and has contributed to the implementation of the Government's emergency programme for youth employment and socio-economic inclusion. Furthermore, the team is currently supporting the development of an important youth strategy called "Emerging Senegal Plan - Priority Youth 2035" (in French: "Plan Sénégal Émergent - Priorité Jeunesse 2035").
Because together we are strong and able to overcome the most complex challenges, I remain convinced that, like we did with previous battles, we will triumph over the COVID-19 crisis. Let us keep in mind, however, that we can only achieve that by first taking care of the most vulnerable among us.
*Written by Siaka Coulibaly, United Nations Resident Coordinator in Senegal, based on an earlier version of a blog originally posted in French by the UN Country Team in Senegal. Translated to English by the Development Coordination Office (DCO). To learn more about UN's work in Senegal, please visit https://senegal.un.org/. *