BANGKOK – The United Nations has urged Southeast Asian countries, which have been relatively successful in responding to the coronavirus, to contain growing inequality exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“As in other parts of the world, the health, economic and political impact of COVID-19 has been significant across Southeast Asia – hitting the most vulnerable the hardest,” UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said on Thursday as he released his latest policy brief on the crisis.
“The pandemic has highlighted deep inequalities, shortfalls in governance and the imperative for a sustainable development pathway. And it has revealed new challenges, including to peace and security.”
In the report, which analyzes the impact of the pandemic on the region, the UN praised the efforts made by Southeast Asian national governments for their swift, early responses to tackle the initial outbreaks and lauded regional cooperation in containing the virus’ spread.
“Containment measures have spared Southeast Asia the degree of suffering and upheaval seen elsewhere,” Guterres said.
Indonesia, the world’s fourth-most populated country, has been the country most affected by COVID-19 in Southeast Asia, with more than 102,000 cases and 4,900 deaths. At the opposite end of the spectrum, Laos has reported just 20 infections and no deaths.
But the UN warned that the region’s overall success should translate to ensuring that the recovery from the pandemic “leads to a more sustainable, resilient and inclusive future for Southeast Asia” and urged governments to address socioeconomic inequalities highlighted in the report, which said millions of workers in the informal sector have no social safety nets amid widespread job losses caused by the pandemic.
As well as proposing increased investments in healthcare systems, the UN said the crisis represented a chance for national authorities in the region to “address poverty, inequalities and gaps in social protection and apply a gender lens to economic policies to ensure full participation of women,” said Armida Salsiah Alisjahbana, the Executive Secretary of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP).
The international organization also urged countries to adjust their policy-making to favor sustainable “greener” development to create more jobs in future and reduce the region’s reliance on fossil fuels.