COVID-19 is like a rainstorm, a thunderous and powerful rainstorm all over the world. If we didn’t know before, we certainly know now just where the holes are in our roofs, or where there are no roofs. We see ever more clearly who is getting drenched and who is dying, and who remains dry.
But ultimately, no one is untouched. This fact alone must wake us to a basic truth: Humanity will survive and thrive only if all countries work together. We must improve global governance on health and embrace multilateralism.
This is good for all people, it’s good for governments, and it’s good for business.
The United Nations is the institution best positioned to lead the way on this call. I believe with all my heart that global cooperation is possible.
I am privileged to have spent the last nearly five years serving as the UN Resident Coordinator (RC) in Kenya, and now to have been designated as the RC in China, a post which I have assumed this month.
In Kenya, I learned a vital lesson that I carry with me to China. Before I became the RC, I was the Representative of UNFPA in Kenya. At that time, in 2014, Kenya was among the ten most dangerous places on earth to become a mother. The maternal mortality rate was a shocking 500 deaths per 100,000 live births—nearly triple the target of the Millennium Development Goal of a maximum of 170 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births.
In response, under the leadership of the government, I helped secure $15 million in 2014 to reverse this trend. Together with colleagues around the UN system, I mobilized six private sector companies from China, Kenya, USA, Netherlands and the UK to focus our efforts on the six counties in Kenya where maternal mortality rates were highest. Within just 2.5 years, the rates in those counties had dropped by one-third.
More recently, during my tenure as the RC in Kenya, I was privileged to meet with Kenya’s President, Uhuru Kenyatta, to discuss female genital mutilation (FGM). He said in the strongest terms that he wanted to end the practice of FGM once and for all in Kenya, and that he wanted the UN’s partnership on this effort. Thanks to his leadership, Kenya is making remarkable strides.
Time and again in Kenya, my experience showed me the importance of political will, as was the case in my previous postings in Iraq, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan (Darfur), Indonesia, and with UN Peacekeeping Operations in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Iraqi Kurdistan.
With committed political leadership, good public policy, and strong partnerships — we can achieve the impossible. With those “three P’s,” we can minimize the number of mothers who die in childbirth. We can end the practice of FGM. We can create a world where girls and boys everywhere can dream big and fulfill those dreams. And we can create a stronger UN to address challenges that cross borders freely, such as this pandemic.
I could not be happier than to take this lesson to my new post as the UN Resident Coordinator in China, a country which has the commitment and the resources to support global cooperation and development. China can share important lessons with the developing world, having lifted over 890 million people out of poverty within 30 years.
China is dedicated to multilateralism. It is the second largest donor to the UN, the second largest donor to UN Peacekeeping, and one of the biggest contributors of troops to UN Peacekeeping. It is a leader in South-South Cooperation, supporting peace and development work in other countries in the Southern Hemisphere.
China has the resources to support multilateralism. With nearly 1.4 billion people, and a powerhouse economy that has perhaps the greatest purchasing power in the world, China is making strides in development and is a major source of global wealth generation in the past 11 years. China’s Belt and Road Initiative is creating infrastructure that will benefit the people of the many countries it touches in Asia, Africa, and Europe.
We need all the countries of the world to give their best to the global community and to the UN, which works so hard to foster it.
Doing so actually serves the self-interests of countries. Many global challenges ignore national boundaries. Disease. Violent conflict. Refugees. Climate change. A country becomes safer when it helps stop these crises across a border or across an ocean. The challenges cross borders, but so, too, do the benefits of solving them.
Multilateralism is also an act of basic humanity. It is compassionate to answer the cry of suffering of other people. Don’t we all want people to get a fair shake, no matter where they are? Don’t we want children the world over to be free and safe and happy? We are enlarged and enlightened when our siblings in the human family prosper.
We have less than 10 years left now to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. We are well past the first blush of celebration of the SDGs, and we are far from the last mad dash. We are wounded by this pandemic, all of us, though some more than others.
But we cannot give up now. We cannot slow down. We must keep our vision focused. We must take heart in ourselves and each other. And we must work together.
The author is the Resident Coordinator (designate) to China.