Let me congratulate you on the first issue of UN Today. I hope UN Today will fill the dire need for a voice for UN staff in this age of upheaval. Hence, the focus on “The future of Work” is apt and timely.
As we hold this magazine in our hands, we are amid an escalating worldwide crisis, the Covid-19 epidemic. Bill Gates, the founder of Microsoft, wrote, “Covid-19 has started behaving a lot like the once-in-a-century pathogen we’ve been worried about. I hope it’s not that bad, but we should assume it will be until we know otherwise.”
These are times we feel like the whole world is collapsing around us. Many are seeing the face of death. The world economy may end up with a $3 trillion loss, and thousands will be left to fend for themselves.
These are all the times when the world may remember the UN. Thousands of UN staff were on the frontlines of disasters, crises and conflicts. The UN was there when the earth’s ozone layer started to disappear when the financial meltdowns happened, and today when the world is threatened by climate change. In 2000, the UN brought together 189 countries to proclaim the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Steven Pinker, in “Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress”, said this regarding the progress achieved by MDGs: “And here is a shocker: The world has made spectacular progress in every single measure of human well-being. Here is a second shocker: Almost no one knows about it.”
Coronavirus infections are not a new affliction on humanity. Coronavirus is striking us the third time in the last seventeen years. Four milder strains of coronavirus are always with us, causing common colds. Yet we don’t have a vaccine or an anti-viral drug. During the 2002 coronavirus infection, known as SARS, an attempt was made to develop a vaccine. The initiative by a company was abandoned after the SARS faded away in four months. Pharmaceutical companies will not have the interest to create a vaccine or a drug for which there are not enough patients. The deadly Ebola virus has been around since 1971, affecting mostly the sub-Saharan Africa, yet a vaccine was approved only in December 2019.
Even if we could contain Covid-19, infections like this will make more frequent appearances in the future. The current world system is unable to take any preventive steps. The pharmaceutical and medical “commodity” mindsets will not allow that to happen.
The last hope of the world is on the UN. The UN should spearhead a global imitative within the framework of public, public-private and civil society partnerships to develop vaccines and anti-viral drugs to prevent the next pandemic. We are in the third month of this crisis yet have not seen any long-term plans from any UN body or organization. Such a comprehensive action is not just the remit of a specific UN body, but the collective responsibility of the whole UN system and its affiliated organizations. And the UN can do it.
This is not the time for UN staff to be in the side-lines and watch the world being dragged into one crisis after another. We must make a collective appeal to initiate global action against pandemics. It is the responsibility of the UN Staff to rise and do what is required now. The future will judge us for what we did or failed to do.
Harikrishnan Tulsidas. Economic Affairs Officer, Sustainable Energy Division. United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE)