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Shaping peace together

Opinion Editorial by the United Nations Resident Coordinator to Maldives, Catherine Haswell, on the occasion of the International Day of Peace.

21 September 2020, MVT 12:42
A young child pictured in a small boat docked at Thulhaadhoo, Baa Atoll. PHOTO: NASHEETH THOHA / UN MALDIVES
21 September 2020, MVT 12:42

As years go, 2020 is unprecedented, with the level of suffering witnessed on a global scale. COVID-19 is transforming the way that we way interact with each other, and with the rest of the world. Human suffering is at the core of the pandemic as people experience uncertainty, isolation, financial hardship, fear, illness, and death. Economically the country is among the most affected in the region, with its heavy reliance on tourism. Old or young, male or female, Maldivian and foreigner alike – no-one has been left untouched and the most vulnerable within the community and the front-line workers continue to be hit the hardest.

For the last decade, Maldives has been trying to find a common platform through a new democratic system of politics, even as it shows itself to be a leading global voice for climate change and among the Small Island Developing States (SIDS). While prosperity has shaped a better future for the country within only a generation, it threatens to be swept away in a matter of months. The majority of the population has been very significantly affected by the health, social and economic impacts of the crisis, while many continue to voice their feelings of marginalisation from the economic benefits and political processes marking the decade-long transition. The country with its fragmented geography and polarised political landscape is potentially more vulnerable than ever to political and social differences. Rapid changes are both a risk, and an opportunity.

Over the past 20 years, I have witnessed numerous examples where seemingly intractable situations were at least temporarily resolved, including when all sides of a debate believed that access to lifesaving medicines for children was undeniable, or that civilians were off limits where it came to military actions. Two things are needed to get there. The first is a place for dialogue. The second calls on us to find common ties that connect us to our shared experience of humanity, which is even more profound during such a crisis as the one which we are jointly experiencing.

UN Resident Coordinator to Maldives, Catherine Haswell, has 23 years of development and humanitarian experience in Asia, Africa, Europe and the Middle East. For the last decade she served in senior roles in the UN Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) and Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (UNESCWA) in strategy and programme management. In her most recent role in UNECE, she has led on deployment of regional technical cooperation expertise to countries in Europe and Central Asia in support of the 2030 Agenda. Prior to that, Ms. Haswell served as an adviser on humanitarian and development policy and programmes to senior mission leadership of integrated political and peacekeeping missions in Iraq, Liberia, and Sudan (2005-2009). PHOTO/UN MALDIVES

The impacts of COVID-19 will undoubtedly be felt for years to come. However, it also offers us an opportunity to come together in solidarity in the fight against the virus and its negative impacts. It provides us with a renewed chance to build back better with more resilient and sustainable communities through more inclusive processes. What vision do we seek? A narrow, political one which speaks to our own interests or those of our supporters? Or one that seeks and listens to views across the entire country, and brings everyone into the conversation on our common future?

While the virus has exposed our many differences, while increasing competition and suspicion, and continues to cause us great anxiety about multiple uncertainties, this is the time that we need to set aside our differences, whether political, social or personal, and shape a future of solidarity. It requires courageous leadership, where all political parties agree to set aside their differences to focus on the tough choices needed to protect our children’s future. To demonstrate and lead by example through compassion, patience and kindness. And the willingness and conviction to look at our economic model and consider alternatives which better protect Maldivians in the face of future uncertainty, and strengthen the country’s resilience from external shocks.

On September 21, we mark International Day of Peace, with Member States dedicating 24 hours to strengthening the ideals of peace, and taking time to reflect on what it means for our future. This year, it has been clearer than ever that we are not each other’s enemies. Rather, our common enemy is a tireless virus that threatens our health, security and very way of life. To mark its 75th anniversary, the UN has invited everyone worldwide to join UN75, the largest and furthest-reaching global conversation on building the peaceful and prosperous future that we want. As we battle COVID-19, your voice is more important than ever. The world is invited to unite and share thoughts on how to weather this storm, heal our planet and change it for the better. After 55 years of Maldivian membership in the UN, what is the legacy that we leave for future generations in this beautiful country?

Divisions will serve only to slow down the country’s recovery and give the enemies of peace the opportunity to undermine social cohesion. We must place democratic participation and civic duty as the bedrock of our society and country. Working in unity and finding common ground are the only solutions and effective road to recovery from the pandemic. We cannot achieve sustainable development without ensuring that all are included, with effective means of dialogue to resolve conflicts and disagreements in place, and that a united focus remains on building a better future that leaves no one behind.

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