Life Has Changed

Magdy Martinez Soliman – UNDP Resident Rep Barbados and the OECS

… overnight. Everywhere the same picture: closed supermarkets, empty streets, schools out, silent nights, no planes on the horizon line, people staying at home…
This anxiously quiet wait, while our frontline workers fight the disease, is coupled with an information overload, which requires selecting what you read and whom you trust. UNDP has offered a fake news detection service to several countries, helping distinguish sophisticated falsehoods, intentional alarmism and pure scams, from reliable sources of data and advice. No, the ventilators for Barbados were not seized by the US; and the PPEs for Spain were not sequestered by Turkey.
The frontline is the health response. That response includes supporting the health workers, who are most at risk: testing capacity, labs, isolation centers, border controls, international cooperation, procurement of equipment, the race for the vaccine… all the while continuing to care for those who are ill, not only from Coronavirus, but also to face an overburdened hospital and physician network. The next trench focuses on our elders, those of us who are in risk groups, have underlying conditions, or are under duress because #StayingAtHome is a very different experience depending on what home you have. Some of our fellow citizens need to go out every morning to put food on their children’s table. COVID-19 is especially vicious towards the poor, the sick, people with disabilities and the seniors.
In the face of all egoisms that always emerge in disaster situations, we have a duty of care to the 7 billion people on this planet. After we focus on responding to the virus, we must make sure that we don’t wake up from the pandemic with ravaged economies that would make Caribbean islands and other nations retrocede 10 or 20 years in their development. The pandemic is moving like a wave – one that may yet crash on the systems and peoples least able to cope.
My organisation is working silently alongside the health responders and PAHO to strengthen their capacity by quickly mobilising markets in turmoil, full of uncertainties and speculative movements, and slowed down by hurdles and greed.
67,594 have died already, many in my country (13,341). Up to 25 million people could lose jobs, according to ILO. This would exceed the 2008-9 global financial crisis and would project around 30,000 income losses in Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean nations. For those who don’t have access to social protection, for whom being unemployed means no unemployment benefits, we need to reinvent the rules of solidarity.
Let me take a page from Nora Lustig and Nancy Birdsall and support the idea of social protection by the people, for the people. Don’t wait for the State to act. If you have a stable income, keep paying for those who work for you and don’t, even if they can’t come to work or you can’t go to them. Pay your hairdresser, nail salon and caretaker in advance for future services. Donate to your NGO who works for the underserved in your community. Tip generously when receiving deliveries. If you are a landlady, and your tenant lost her job, give her a rent holiday for a few months if you can afford it. If you are a teacher or have a skill that is good for kids, offer your neighbour’s children an online class or activity to keep them busy. If you have spare gloves or PPEs, donate them to the waste management workers or the police. And if you can shop online, offer some older people around you to buy their groceries.
Women are at the frontlines of the COVID-19 response. Globally women make up 70% of the workers in the health and social sector, and they do three times as much unpaid care work at home as men. Women will be disproportionately affected by the difficulties in the tourism sector, the retail industry or family agriculture. We will need a gender lens to read these impacts as well and tailor our response to specific needs. A response that needs to focus on health without losing sight of what allows us to get on with our lives, earn an income and provide for our next of kin. It begins with me. It begins with you.