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Practical lessons for recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic: Principles for recovery

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Introduction

An unprecedented pandemic crisis
The World Health Organization (WHO) declared a Public Health Emergency of International Concern for the 2019 novel coronavirus on 30 January 2020. Since the SARS-CoV-2 virus was first recognized in December of 2019, it has spread across the world. In March 2020, the WHO assessed that the outbreak had become a global pandemic – the first pandemic ever assessed to have been caused by a coronavirus (World Health Organization 2020a). In the first year of the pandemic, the virus has infected more than 70 million people. More than 1.5 million lives lost have been attributed to coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), the disease caused by the SARS-CoV2 virus (World Health Organization 2020i).

The pandemic has become much more than a public health crisis. The pandemic has had severe socioeconomic consequences. In the immediate term, global economic activity has stalled, and has led to the greatest global economic downturn in a century. In the longer-term, the pandemic’s socioeconomic consequences are likely to outlast the pandemic, particularly for the most vulnerable, disadvantaged groups that have suffered disproportionately from the impacts of the pandemic (UNCTAD, 2020). The pandemic threatens to unravel decades of development progress, and to derail global prospects for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.

Simultaneously, countries around the world are being forced to confront the challenges of managing compound risks from natural hazards and the COVID-19 pandemic. Since the onset of the pandemic, countries have had to deal with both COVID-19 and natural hazards such as cyclones in India and the Pacific, floods in Japan and Vietnam, heatwaves in the United States and Europe, among many others. Climate-related hazards threaten to exploit many of the same vulnerabilities, amplifying disaster risk and its potential impacts as the public health emergency continues.

An unprecedented crisis will demand an unprecedented recovery
The pandemic and the unprecedented, wide-ranging severity of its consequences will demand an unprecedented recovery. Countries and communities have grappled with the challenges of initiating socioeconomic recovery, as they continue to struggle with containing the spread of the virus and minimizing loss of life in a pandemic with an uncertain end. Even as the prospects of therapies and vaccines against the virus begin to become a reality, they will have to continue to navigate a challenging path toward recovery, while managing health and safety concerns, and the threat of and potential impacts from other hazards. Countries and communities will have to not only prepare to recover and build back better from the pandemic, but also to address compound risks.

Governments and communities must also plan for a longer-term, sustainable recovery. They have a unique opportunity to do so. Unlike sudden-onset disasters, the pandemic crisis will have unfolded over the course of more than a year by the time the threat of the virus has passed. They have an opportunity to invest time and resources in rigorously assessing needs, forming the institutions, policies, and mechanisms needed to finance recovery and to engage all stakeholders in recovery planning. At a global scale, solidarity and collaboration are required to address the exposed systemic risks and underlying vulnerabilities in today’s connected societies.

Priority Four of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030 calls on governments to build back better in recovery from disasters. It represents a global consensus view that recovery presents an opportunity to not only restore what was lost, but to build greater resilience and even to make progress across the development sphere. Importantly, it also presents an opportunity to reduce disaster risk as societies recover, rebuild, and rehabilitate.

There has perhaps never been a more pressing mandate to build back better than from this pandemic crisis. On its way to becoming a global socioeconomic catastrophe, the pandemic has exposed and exploited vulnerabilities and inequalities that have been at the root of much of the virus’ most severe and disproportionate consequences. Preventing future outbreaks from becoming pandemics, and preventing future shocks from causing the scale and scope of damage across the development spectrum, will depend on addressing these root vulnerabilities in recovery. It is not just a moral imperative to do so, it is necessary to ensure the durability of recovery and to build resilience to future global shocks.

8 Guiding Principles for Recovery
The global nature of this pandemic and the severity of its consequences demands that every country plan for recovery and building back better. Every country and community will have had its own experience with this pandemic, and shall have its own unique challenges and enablers for recovery. The heterogeneity of experiences and circumstances defy cookie cutter approaches and demand tailored recovery strategies. However, as in previous disasters, there are broadly applicable disaster recovery tools and guidelines, and a wealth of lessons and evidence from previous disaster recovery experiences that can be adapted and applied by any recovering community to the COVID-19 crisis.

This publication offers a set of guiding, action-oriented principles and practical cases to support each of these recovering communities as they plan and implement recovery from this crisis. The principles focus on key cross-cutting issues for recovery such as building back better and greener, inclusive and people-centred recovery, and preserving development gains, among others. It is derived from this wealth of experience, tools, and guidance for disaster recovery. It follows in the tradition of the International Recovery Platform’s Guidance Notes on Recovery. As such, it offers a roadmap of options to help guide recovery efforts, based on applied disaster recovery experience, and established methods and evidence. It is the third in a series of publications from the International Recovery Platform to support recovery from the pandemic. The first in the series, Applying IRP Disaster Recovery Tools and Guidelines to Pandemic Recovery, offered a compendium of relevant, existing disaster recovery tools that could be immediately mobilized and adapted toward recovery efforts. The second publication in the series, the COVID-19 Recovery Policy Brief, offered readers an introduction to eight guiding principles for recovery, and nine key actions for governments. This publication builds on the COVID-19 Recovery Policy Brief, expanding on the eight guiding principles and bringing previous recovery knowledge, experience, and emerging practices from the COVID-19 crisis to support recovery. It shall be followed by a fourth publication, expanding on the nine key government actions highlighted in the COVID-19 Recovery Policy Brief.

This publication was produced by the International Recovery Platform (IRP), a global partnership working to strengthen knowledge, and share experiences and lessons on building back better in recovery, rehabilitation, and reconstruction. IRP is a joint initiative of United Nations organizations, international financial institutions, national and local governments, and non-governmental organizations engaged in disaster recovery, and seeking to transform disasters into opportunities for sustainable development.