UN body calls for protection of COVID-hit people in Asia-Pacific

By Yi Whan-woo

The member countries of the U.N. Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) endorsed an action plan last week aimed at collectively enhancing regional cooperation for the protection of people in their respective societies.

The plan, brought up during the Sixth Session of the Committee on Social Development in Bangkok, Thailand, Oct. 21, came in response to the need for better protection of people hit by the COVID-19 pandemic and the need for expansion of healthcare and other social services for those affected.

The 53-member ESCAP serves as the U.N.’s regional hub promoting cooperation among Asia-Pacific countries to achieve inclusive and sustainable development.

The action plan will provide member states with a shared vision, strategy and platform for promoting partnership and peer learning and identifying needs for technical assistance. The plan further aims to accelerate implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

“In times of socio-economic crisis, social protection is our society’s primary line of defense,” U.N. Under-Secretary-General and ESCAP Executive Secretary Armida Alisjahbana said in her opening speech. “We need to invest in comprehensive social protection systems and to monitor our progress in achieving relevant targets of the 2030 Agenda to ensure an inclusive, resilient and prosperous Asia-Pacific.”

Sri Lankan Ambassador to Thailand Samantha Jayasuriya echoed a similar view, noting COVID-19 has affected all population groups in the Asia-Pacific, with the elderly, women, the disabled and migrants at even greater risk.

“This vulnerability is not inevitable,” said Jayasuriya, who served as the chairwoman of the sixth session.

The committee also endorsed a framework for monitoring progress of the Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development and the Asian and Pacific Ministerial Declaration on Population and Development.

Both commitments address inequalities in access to health, education and social protection, and pledge to tackle such problems, emphasize the value of investing in women and girls and strengthening access to services focused on sexual and reproductive health.

The committee pointed out levels of social protection coverage remain “strikingly low in Asia and the Pacific,” with just over half the population having no access to any social protection scheme.

“Insufficient investments in social protection has proven a persistent reason for these gaps. The pandemic has further perpetuated pre-existing inequalities, including gender inequalities,” it said.

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