Opinion Editorial by the United Nations Resident Coordinator to Maldives, Catherine Haswell: "As we conclude a challenging year, it is crucial to enhance collective efforts and work in solidarity to achieve long-term sustainable development".
The year 2020 is one we will never forget. The severe impact of the pandemic has made us think differently, act quickly and change our daily habits. It has changed what we value and how we spend our money.
In theory, we know what to do about it. To respond to complex crises – economic, social, health – it makes sense to look at the whole picture and decide the priorities in a clear and systematic approach.
But when you’re in the middle of a pandemic, it’s really difficult to appreciate its true severity.
Early in 2020, the immediate priority was preparing for the virus, preventing its spread, and treating those who became ill. As the pandemic evolved, people lost their jobs and salaries, schools were closed and parents had to find new care arrangements while children lost priceless days of education. Travel was restricted and women were subjected to an appalling increase in violence. We all know friends or family who had COVID-19 or, devastatingly, were bereaved. Over time, we all noticed how our own ability to cope with new stresses, domestic pressures, and loss of earnings became much more difficult. The terrible toll in mental health will be a legacy we will live with for years to come.
Now, watching the sun set over 2020, while we are not yet at the end of the pandemic, we are better placed to see what we’ll face in the Maldives in 2021.
We know, above all, that we need a clear plan to get us out of this mess. But do we have a shared vision for our future across the country, across party lines, genders, generations and communities? What will it mean to build back (or forward) better? What is our national vision for the Maldives through to 2030, and for Maldives’ commitment to achieving all 17 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)? As UN Secretary-General Guterres has said, the SDGs light the way for what is needed for us to enjoy development and prosperity in a way which also protects our planet. In the Maldives, it means how to expand opportunities for everyone, regardless of where they live, while living in harmony with, and protecting, the oceans and islands upon which our survival depends.
Every country must have its own plan. Sustainable development is a long-term agenda, with many milestones. From our experiences across the world, countries without a clear, determined, and costed plan will not achieve the SDGs. The UN is supporting countries to develop longer term strategies so they can meet their targets.
It’s easy to be pessimistic or feel disheartened. It can seem as impossible as swimming from Haa Alif Atoll to Addu City. But let’s leave the swimming to the 1,100 species of fish in Maldivian waters we must protect, and focus on what we can do to turn things around, and why we must get there.
First, actively engage in the local council elections next March. Communities can decide who will best represent them, who has the best plans, who will ensure that the most vulnerable are protected. Local communities understand the challenges of climate, environment and natural resources and know exactly where the balance is between growth and environmental decline. Get involved, challenge your leadership on how to deliver development without increasing emissions or dependence on imported food.
Second, support your mothers, daughters and sisters to stand for election in the Women’s Development Councils and ensure that half of the population can be a part of developing these plans. We know that the lives of women and girls are improved dramatically when women are decisionmakers. The UN and our partners are already training women in leadership
Third, be part of the solution. The task ahead is complex and we all have a role to play. It’s not just down to government. We need business, civil society organizations, faith leaders, young people, and communities. We need to step away from social media keyboards and meet each other or in real life (with physical distancing) to debate ideas and find solutions. We must listen to other people’s views, including those with whom we disagree. We need respect, solidarity and tolerance.
Lastly, share your ideas with us for a sustainable Maldives. In January, we will start the broadest consultations to design our support to the Maldives for the next five years. We need a clear sense of priorities and challenges, so we need to hear from you. You’ll be hearing from us, so watch this space!
The end of the year is traditionally a period of reflection. In the UN’s 75th year, 2020 was an important lesson about the fragility of both our planet and our future. It has taught us, once again, how we must pull together if we are to achieve the 2030 Agenda.
I’m optimistic that we can make these changes. It will take all of us, working together, with a willingness to increase our ambition, and step up to our commitments. The UN will stand shoulder to shoulder with the Maldives as we chart this future together.
I wish you all a healthy and happy 2021.