Nardos Bekele-Thomas is the UN Resident Coordinator in South Africa. Picture: Twitter
Nardos Bekele-Thomas is the UN Resident Coordinator in South Africa. Picture: Twitter

UN head in SA calls for faster implementation of SDGs

By Shannon Ebrahim, Group Foreign Editor Time of article published Apr 13, 2020

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The Head of the UN in South Africa has called the South African government’s approach to curbing the spread of Covid-19 impressive, saying the government should be congratulated. 

Nardos Bekele-Thomas, the UN Resident Coordinator in the country, has hailed the government’s whole-government, whole-society approach and its swift and decisive efforts, and says that UN agencies based in the country are supporting government efforts in responding to and mitigating the crisis. 

“The UN is assisting the Ministry of Health in its response plan to the pandemic, and we are looking at how we can assist in strengthening the national response,” Bekele-Thomas said. “We are expecting some shipment of personal protective equipment from the WHO in Geneva, which we will be distributing, along with the consignment donated by the co-founder of Alibaba Jack Ma. UNIDO and IFC are also supporting local manufacturing plans for masks and other personal protective equipment with small and medium enterprises.”

Bekele-Thomas says the UN is also appealing to the international community to enable the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) and UNHCR to address the basic needs of refugees and migrants, by providing food and non- food packages, meeting shelter needs and providing health services, to those in dire need. UN Women is working with the Ministry of Women to strengthen its capacity, and is strategizing on how to ensure that women feel more confident to report cases of gender-based violence. 

UNICEF is providing material in local languages, and digital voice for those with visual impairment, to support parents and caregivers to facilitate learning at home particularly for early childhood development, and supporting the expansion of child-line services to address violence and abuse against children.  UNFPA has put in place digital platforms to enhance information, communication, and education targeting South African youth with packaged WHO messages. The UN is also launching with civil society organisations, including SANAC, NEDLAC, and CSF a campaign called “I am, you are, we are together in the fight against Covid-19.”

“We are building coalitions around the government’s response plan, and next week we will launch a business coalition to compliment the Solidarity Fund of the business community. Last Thursday we held a virtual meeting with 100 members of the Diplomatic Corps,  yesterday we had a virtual meeting with civil society organisations. We are embarking on a socio-economic impact study, and we are creating a digitized platform for emergency needs assessment, response and accountability which will also serve as a resource mobilisation tool.  We have been in meetings this week with the EU, World Bank, IMF, and ADB to leverage funds for emergency services and supplies,” Bekele-Thomas told Independent Media in an exclusive interview. 

But Bekele-Thomas was also quick to point out that what makes it particularly difficult to deal with the situation in South Africa is that there are two countries in one, the HMIC and LDC, and we are still catching up with the unfinished business of the MDGs and the sluggish realisation of the SDGs, resulting in many unfulfilled promises. “We need to change the way we tackle economic development, and the focus must be on inclusive growth,” Bekele-Thomas said.

The UN Coordinator emphasized that South Africa has a major challenge in that 8 million of its citizens are living with HIV/AIDS, and their immunity is compromised. Of those, 2.5 million are not under ARV treatment. “We need to address how we preserve the gains made in HIV/AIDS, and do better in the future.”

“When people ask me when I think we are going back to normalcy, my response is that if we define normalcy as the status quo, then that is not normal. We need to opt for a better place than we were in before. This pandemic has revealed to us the serious deficiencies that exist in this country in terms of access to food, water and decent housing,” Bekele-Thomas said. 

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