‘Irresponsible’ to cut aid now: Q&A with UNDP’s Steiner | Business and economic news

New York, USA – Developed countries should do more for less fortunate countries in a world with “more conflict, more refugees and more displaced persons since World War II,” a senior UN official told Al Jazeera.

The world is “in a bad place and things could easily get worse,” Achim Steiner, administrator of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), told Al Jazeera.

He noted a trend among rich developed countries to cut back on development finance and humanitarian aid, even as the need has increased.

Food and fuel prices have soared recently. Millions have been impoverished in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Emerging economies are facing major debt crises. Hunger is rising amid economic and climate change indicators. Humanitarian calls for protracted conflicts like Yemen are increasingly falling on deaf ears. And a devastating war is raging in Ukraine, Steiner said.

“I am deeply concerned that the post-Cold War euphoria just 30 years ago had us looking in a sense beyond history to a world that was smarter and more intelligent, that would not look to conflict, war and invasion as a way of resolve political differences,” he told Al Jazeera.

In his conversation with Al Jazeera this week, Steiner discussed UNDP’s aid efforts in Ukraine and his views on the setbacks of the UN’s 2030 Sustainable Development Goals, how a global recession could spark political crises, and whether the energy crisis has soiled plans. to move to a greener world.

*This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.

Al Jazeera: How has the word changed since we last spoke last year?

Achim Steiner: The words that come to mind are disruption and sadness. Disruption as the effects of COVID-19 still play out in so many countries and economies. And distress because of the additional challenges in the geopolitical arena with the Russian war in Ukraine, with the now pretty obvious ripple effects in virtually every country in the world in terms of fuel and food costs.

Al Jazeera: Is enough being done to address increasing humanitarian needs worldwide?

Steiner: We have seen some of the richest countries try to respond to this crisis with more humanitarian funding, but the number of people who are starving or near food shortage has doubled. And we see that the humanitarian calls are not getting enough money. And so in countries like Yemen, UN agencies like UNICEF and the World Food Program have had to scale back their programs, even though we’re almost at the maximum level of need.

Al Jazeera: After a deadly global pandemic and currently a war in Ukraine, would you say the international community is aid fatigue?

Steiner: You would think this is a time when nations, especially wealthy, but really the international community, are stepping up to international institutions facing crises. But we don’t necessarily see that yet. The funding gap, the slow pace at which we are accelerating in providing additional liquidity to many emerging economies that are already facing a major debt crisis. At UNDP, we currently estimate about 80 countries that are vulnerable.

Al Jazeera: Do you see a major recession on the horizon for the global economy?

Steiner: We have millions of people impoverished by the pandemic. Developing countries are currently facing an extremely risky period, both from a financial and fiscal sustainability point of view, but also from a political point of view, because we know that when countries default, as happened with Sri Lanka, for example, access to basic stocks from daily consumption, be it food, cooking oil, even fuel for motorcycles for transporting people and goods, if they cease to exist and people go hungry, you can very quickly get into a political crisis.

Al Jazeera: How has the UN turned its 2030 development agenda now that we have had a global pandemic and a major war in Europe?

Steiner: I don’t think anyone should be surprised that in the midst of a pandemic, which has never been factored into the design of that timeline and the quantitative indicators, we will have to rethink some of them. They are just not feasible. And in that sense we have indeed had a major setback. We have more hungry people in the world again, we have a lot more poor people. Let me also be very clear, nothing in what we see now would lead me to conclude that we should abandon the Sustainable Development Goals.

Al Jazeera: As for Ukraine, UNDP is helping and trying to support Ukrainian authorities in maintaining the functionality of their government and services. What does that amount of aid look like?

Steiner: Eight million people are internally displaced and another five to six million are refugees. These people have lost their ability to earn a living. We are currently reviewing disaster recovery programs that support the government. Some of this could involve using digital e-government platforms so that IDPs can quickly enroll and receive some of the social security benefits they need.

A worker removes debris from a car garage building destroyed by a Russian missile as the Russian attack on Ukraine continues, in Dnipro, Ukraine [File: Mykola Synelnikov/Reuters]

We’re also looking at supporting small and medium-sized businesses that may have been disrupted. It is estimated that 42 percent of these companies have stopped working. We are also involved with the national authorities to remove unexploded ordnance and create the conditions for people to return to their homes safely.

Al Jazeera: How much funding do you see Ukraine will need for reconstruction and reconstruction in the future?

Steiner: If you take the figures from the Ukrainian government, the estimate abroad is around $100 billion. But that’s just the physical destruction of buildings, condominiums, bridges, factories. Rebuilding an economy costs hundreds of billions of dollars and it is more than just rebuilding a bridge. You have to rebuild the electricity supply networks, the transport infrastructure, the ports, the export economy.

Al Jazeera: Fuel costs have skyrocketed since the beginning of the Russian war in Ukraine. Do you see more countries abandoning plans to invest in renewable, clean energy infrastructure?

Steiner: Some think we should suspend our response to the threat of climate change and go back to essentially the energy economy and infrastructure of the 20th century. I think this is a wrong conclusion. There is no doubt that we are in a short-term crisis. There are those who say, “Oh, look, Germany is going back to coal.” But this is really the only response the world has, because it is so vulnerable to these shocks in the global energy markets.

A woman waits in line in an auto rickshaw to buy gasoline due to fuel shortage, amid the country's economic crisis, in Colombo, Sri Lanka
A woman waits in an auto rickshaw at a petrol queue caused by a fuel shortage, amid the country’s economic crisis, in Colombo, Sri Lanka [File: Dinuka Liyanawatte/Reuters]

The real solution is to invest heavily in renewable, clean energy infrastructure. Right now, anyone who claims that investing in fossil fuels is the cheaper option is simply not looking at the numbers.

Al Jazeera: Governments printed tons of cash to stabilize economies during the height of the pandemic. What are the lessons we see now?

Steiner: No one could have foreseen that in the tail end of the pandemic we would suddenly have a war that would have such a disruptive effect on the global economy. There is enough money in our global economy to get us out of any crisis. Global wealth is currently estimated to be over $470 trillion. And as US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen recently said, we already have the money to solve most of these short-term problems, but our financial system is just not aligned and our financial policies are not designed to address these problems in any way. to grab. that will help the world recover quickly.

Al Jazeera: So where are we now?

Steiner: With many countries with their backs against the wall, especially in the developing world, with no more resources left in the public treasury. Stabilizing the global economy, stabilizing domestic economies and strengthening our ability to withstand shocks, I would say is in the best interest of those who have the resources to move forward. And that is why we also see an increasing frustration of countries with each other, including, I must say, the decision of some developed countries in the midst of this crisis to reduce their development funding. This is shortsighted, irresponsible and ultimately self-destructive.

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