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Building Back Better after COVID-19 Necessitates Doing So with Equality and Sustainability: ECLAC

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9 June 2020|Press Release

The organization’s Executive Secretary, Alicia Bárcena, participated in a high-level international event on inequalities and the informal economy during and after the pandemic.


Group photo of SDG Lab meeting
SDG Lab meeting, with Alicia Bárcena (first on the right upper side), Tatiana Valovaya (center) and Guy Ryder (upper left side), among other personalities.
Photo: SDG Lab UN Geneva

The Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), Alicia Bárcena, emphasized that building back better in the region means building back with equality and environmental sustainability, ensuring that no one is left behind, in remarks she made today during a high-level international event organized by the SDG Lab of the United Nations’ Office in Geneva.

At the event entitled “Inequalities and Informal Economy: Moving from crisis to long-term resilience,” Alicia Bárcena was one of the main speakers, along with Tatiana Valovaya, Director-General of UN Geneva, and Guy Ryder, Director-General of the International Labour Organization (ILO). Also participating were representatives from Jordan, Mohammad Mazen Suleiman, Migrant and refugee workers committees’ advisor; from Portugal, Henrique Barros, Head of the National Health Council of Portugal and Director of the Institute of Public Health; and from South Africa, Kate Philip, Head of the Inclusive Growth Pillar of the Presidential Youth Employment Initiative.

In her presentation, Alicia Bárcena recalled that Latin America and the Caribbean has the world’s highest income inequality levels and is characterized by its inequalities in multiple dimensions related to gender, age, territory, race, migratory status, and even wealth, among others. In addition, she indicated that 54% of the population lives under informal conditions, meaning they work without any sort of social protection. In this area, women constitute the most affected group since they have the greatest likelihood of ending up unemployed, she added.

“Equality is a political statement. We have to run away from the culture of privilege, which naturalizes inequalities and would have us believe that people are unequal. We need a new social compact, a new welfare State that enshrines universal social protection, with access to quality health systems, and to build back with equality and sustainability,” Bárcena stated.

ECLAC’s Executive Secretary also stressed that the pandemic is hitting the most vulnerable groups hard, especially the poorest people in the region. According to the Commission’s calculations, in 2020 poverty in Latin America and the Caribbean will rise by at least 4.4 percentage points (28.7 million more people) compared to the prior year, bringing the total number of people living in poverty to 214.7 million (34.7% of the region’s population). In addition, due to an estimated -5.3% contraction in the economy, it is forecast that nearly 12 million more people will find themselves unemployed.

While Latin America and the Caribbean is considered to be a middle-income region, it does not have a strong middle class. Large segments live with chronic financial insecurity and are highly vulnerable to the loss of labor income, she stressed.

“The region should not return to its previous development model. A new set of articulated policies should be adopted that comprise a big push for sustainability in three dimensions: social (with equality), economic (with technological learning and productive transformation), and environmental (with protection of the environment for current and future generations),” Bárcena said.

In her remarks, the senior United Nations official also referred to global efforts to find a vaccine against the coronavirus and to how this could be funded. In this sense, she explained that coordinated efforts at a global level are essential for achieving this objective, and she recalled that the United Nations Secretary-General (António Guterres) has indicated that a vaccine must be treated as a global public good that would be available to all, and would be a “people’s vaccine.” “Everyone, everywhere must have access to eventual COVID-19 immunization,” Bárcena asserted.

During the event, Alicia Bárcena also highlighted the opportunities that the pandemic offers governments to build a more sustainable future, with employment. In this area, she underlined the job creation possibilities that the energy sector offers with new renewable types of energy, along with the sector of the care economy – which has grown substantially due to the current health crisis – and the building of infrastructure to foster new forms of mobility, among other examples.

“There is a great opportunity after COVID-19 since it has exposed our region’s structural gaps. That is why it is so important to build back better and ensure there be a social State, not an authoritarian one. There must be a future with jobs, with work with rights. That is what we are looking for,” she concluded.