Financing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development in the Era of COVID-19 and Beyond

29 September 2020

Remarks by UNFPA Executive Director Dr. Natalia Kanem to the Meeting of Heads of State and Government on Financing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development in the Era of COVID-19 and Beyond on 29 September 2020. 

Excellences, distinguished guests,

We’ve heard that as a result of the pandemic poverty is set to rise for the first time in a quarter century with dramatic humanitarian consequences.

Without a comprehensive global response, these negative impacts will spill over into the lives of people everywhere.  

Smarter, deeper investments are needed like never before.

The COVID-19 pandemic reveals a stark truth: human fates are intertwined, yet our common fabric remains alarmingly fragile. The consequences for young people, who form the demographic majority in developing countries and are the engine of our future, especially girls, are dire.

Imagine a girl. She’s 12 years old. She loves school and dreams of graduation, a decent job, eventually marriage and a family. Now those dreams are evaporating. Her parents are jobless due to the pandemic, and many nights, she goes to bed hungry. No school, certainly no computer for virtual learning. Isolated by lockdowns, she lives in fear of coercion and violence.

She doesn’t suspect yet that she might never return to school because in a few months she will be married to lessen the burden at home. A year from now – pregnant. Soon, she’s caught in a merciless poverty trap that will jeopardize her health and hinder her productivity for the rest of her life – and that of her children, onward across generations.   

Our societies: poorer for it. Global development: threatened because of it.

Just like COVID-19, the devastating ripple effects of crushing poverty don’t stop at that girl’s doorstep, nor at her country’s border. Massive global investment is urgently needed to keep young people from the jaws of grinding poverty, from anger and alienation that gnaw at social bonds, from lost potential that costs us all. This is a wake-up call.

Additional investments in health, education and development would save millions of lives, provide women and girls the services they need, and yield economic benefits worth more than ten times their cost.

If these investments do not occur now – the danger is future economic growth will wither. The opportunity for recovering better will be missed. 

Humanity is fighting to sustain the gains we achieved painstakingly over decades. That girl struggling for a viable future does not want perpetual dependency. She needs your leadership now more than ever.

We urge you to transform the rhetoric of resilience into reality. This means women at the table and accountable leadership to ensure that financing flows in the right direction.  The first five years of the Sustainable Development Goals have shown what progress is possible, and the SDGs continue to point the way forward.

The world needs the additional financing captured in these policy options before you for critical health, nutrition, education and other essential services.

COVID-19 will drastically shift the goal posts unless we answer the urgent demands with a smart, bold response. Let us act swiftly and in solidarity — so that a 12-year-old girl may continue to dream, to hope and to thrive.

Thank you.

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