This article is part of a series in which OECD experts and thought leaders — from around the world and all parts of society — address the COVID-19 crisis, discussing and developing solutions now and for the future.
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The COVID-19 crisis is global, but its consequences are unequal and hitting the poorest hardest. Calls for international support to developing countries that would match the ambition of the Marshall Plan remain unanswered. It is too early to say how history will judge the role of development co-operation in the global response. The Development Co-operation Report 2020: Learning from Crises, Building Resilience report, tells the story thus far and collates what evidence there is. We can use it to shape policy and sharpen impact during the recovery, to make the case for an ambitious response, and to learn lessons about how to make development co-operation more effective in future crises.
Like much of the world, the pandemic took development co-operation providers by surprise. They have had to be fast and flexible, adjusting their operations to respond to the crisis in partner countries. No sector has remained unscathed by the pandemic. Scarce resources have had to be reallocated, stretched thinly and brought forward. The OECD Development Assistance Committee (DAC)’s humanitarian-development-peace nexus approach has been useful, reminding us of longer-term development while meeting the immediate demands of the crisis, doing joint planning and programming, and building the bones of the recovery into the emergency response. Success has, of course, been mixed, but there are important lessons to learn about what works—and what doesn’t—that are documented in this report. We don’t yet know the full social and economic impact of the pandemic in developing countries, but we do know that many of the gains of the last 20 years risk being lost. We know that extreme poverty is rising sharply, including in urban areas. We know that there are new hunger hotspots, even in middle-income countries. We know that women and girls bear the brunt of unpaid care work, rising unemployment and a spike in domestic violence. The Sustainable Development Goals are not just off track, they are in reverse in a worrying proportion of developing countries.
Calls to “build forward better” are getting louder. Development co-operation needs to do more to help partner countries transition to low-emission, climate-resilient economies. It needs to work with the private sector to stimulate job-rich growth. It needs to tackle rising and deep inequalities. It needs to invest more in conflict prevention and in peace. It needs to spend more on supporting refugees, on health and education, on social protection, on enabling civil society. All this and more, while at the same time responding to food, health and other humanitarian crises. The list is long and resources are scarce. This report helps make the case for more resources, showing that development co-operation does work even in a crisis that has challenged every country in the world.
None of this will be possible unless developing countries have access to the vaccines, which must be a top priority. The Gavi COVAX Advance Market Commitment needs USD 5 billion more to provide 1 billion vaccine doses for 92 low- and middle-income countries in 2021. The pandemic will be more protracted if poor countries don’t get access to the vaccines, and the global economic and development consequences even more severe. Official development assistance (ODA) is critical, but cannot do this alone. Development co-operation needs to act on several fronts: helping partner countries develop context-specific mass vaccination plans, and working with multilateral organisations and the private sector to promote communication campaigns, secure additional finance and implement policy and regulatory coherence.
Many of the diverse voices contributing to this report remind us that the next global crisis looms. It is urgent to learn from this one to build resilience for the next. Lessons from the COVAX Facility can inform the design of co-ordinated platforms to promote global public goods, including those to mitigate the impact of climate change. Strong country systems were decisive in effective responses to the pandemic, highlighting yet again the need to strengthen them and their associated institutions. Many development co-operation providers are supporting crisis-response capacity and resilience building, but they need to work better together to maximise effectiveness. We need to be able to track and verify the contribution of ODA. Initial estimates from an OECD survey indicate that DAC members mobilised USD 12 billion for COVID-19 support to developing countries, but we don’t have the full picture. Development actors have said they could have been better prepared for the pandemic—individually and collectively—but that ad hoc and fragmented evidence, data and information sharing systems hampered a co-ordinated response.
Read the OECD Policy Brief Developing countries and development co-operation: What is at stake?
Now is the time for development co-operation to help strengthen resilience in developing countries and improve their ability to withstand, absorb and recover from shocks. Strategies like integrating climate action into multi-sector development programmes and providing long-term support for country systems are not new. We know what works and that we should scale up effective initiatives. The private sector, philanthropy and civil society all have a role to play. All citizens, irrespective of age or gender, need to be part of the process.
History may judge 2020 to be the start of the 21st century. What we have learnt so far is that if we are to meet the challenges of this century, we need a development co-operation architecture that is fast, flexible and has the resources and capacity to invest in resilience for the future. If we succeed, it will be a seminal chapter in the history of development co-operation.
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