A German-language version of this op-ed was published in Austrian daily Die Presse on 23 October 2020.
Over 40 million cases, over 1.1 million deaths. On the 75th anniversary of the United Nations, the world finds itself tragically united by the COVID pandemic. Every country in the world is affected, rich and poor, developed and developing.
And yet in this dramatic human crisis, coordinated action and solidarity are at risk as we continue to face COVID’s seemingly endless domino effect.
School closures and the digital divide are creating lasting learning deficits. Women’s share of unpaid care has increased, further compromising their job market prospects. Up to 115 million additional people may be pushed into extreme poverty this year, according to the latest World Bank projections. Hard-won development gains are under threat.
COVID doesn’t discriminate, but the vulnerable are hit the hardest. The crisis has exposed the many ways in which the world has failed to support them – inequalities of access to health care, four billion people with no social protection – and has laid bare the fragilities within our systems.
To recover better for a fairer future, we need international cooperation now more than ever.
We must remember, the UN was created in 1945 not because countries were doing well on their own, but because a post-war world was determined to learn from the mistakes of the past, to “save succeeding generations from the scourge of war” and “promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom,” as stated in the landmark UN Charter.
Over the past 75 years, we have seen that when we join efforts, we can triumph over diseases like smallpox, roll back hunger, put in place human rights standards and mechanisms to uphold them.
Progress has been neither linear nor sufficient, but we have always been stronger together.
And now, in the pandemic, the UN has played an essential role, reaching millions around the world with life-saving humanitarian and food aid. The Secretary-General has been a voice for the voiceless, calling for urgent debt relief and supporting inclusive approaches through the UN framework for the immediate socio-economic response to COVID-19.
Such is the power we have, united.
That is why in the COVID response, recovery and beyond, we need to renew our commitment to a strengthened multilateralism and get back on track towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.
We need to align financing with the SDGs and invest in education and opportunities for youth everywhere, empower women and give more space to inclusive innovation. We need to guarantee the rights of all and enable all to shape our collective future.
The UN family in Vienna - one of just four UN headquarters - is contributing to these efforts by promoting peaceful uses of nuclear energy and outer space cooperation; working to end nuclear testing and enable industrial development; protecting health and advancing justice.
The global pandemic hasn’t stopped multilateral diplomacy at the UNO City, even as we have had to adapt practices to keep staff and visitors safe.
Over the past month, major meetings, such as the International Atomic Energy Agency’s Board of Governors and the 10th Conference of the Parties to the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime, took place in a hybrid format, with up to 75% of delegates joining online and taking part in the proceedings in the UN’s six official languages, thanks to state-of-the-art remote interpretation capabilities.
With the support of our host country Austria, we have been able to innovate to serve multilateralism in this 75th year of the UN, which also marks the 65th anniversary of Austria’s UN membership, and 60 years of Austria’s contribution of troops to UN peacekeeping missions.
So much can be achieved together. For the UN’s 75th anniversary, we surveyed more than one million people around the world. They called for countries to join efforts for fairer societies, for better access to basic services and equal opportunities. Let us listen to their voices and seize this moment.