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Building back from COVID-19: ensuring socioeconomic protection

Updated: Apr 5, 2020

Aminath Mihdha

This article is part of Covid 19: Stimuli and Beyond edition of the Journal of the Maldives Economic Review, Volume 1, Issue 3, March 2020

Infectious diseases know no borders, the magnitude of the current COVID-19 is impacting everyone across the world, leaving fear, disruption and uncertainty. The current public health pandemic is hitting hard on the health systems, and the sudden disruptions and diversion of resources are impacting communities, across all sectors in all the countries. For a resource limited island nation relying heavily on tourism with major markets arriving from Europe and China which are evolving as the epicentres of the current pandemic, this sudden disruption come with a heavy price for the Maldivian industry. On this backdrop, the construction industry and related businesses employ a significant majority of expatriates, whose living conditions are not only substandard, but who have limited access to the health facilities in the Maldives. Unless closely monitored, an outbreak within the community will immensely increase the public health costs of detecting, diagnosing and treating the COVID-19 cases in the Maldives. The ramifications are already being felt by small businesses, who given the nature of this outbreak are having to close their businesses for a prolonged period resulting in reduced income and loss of productivity due to missed work. The focus of every government is currently addressing the immediate healthcare crisis and ensuring timely procurement of urgently needed health and medical supplies. While the medical team is addressing health care, time is now for the government to strengthen the procurement supply chain of medical supplies and address the inefficiencies in the current procurement methods by ensuring transparency in purchasing and tendering for the protective care and other immediate medical necessities. Lessons from the 2004 tsunami crisis response has shown that inequitable crisis management only deepen the governance challenges. Prudential measures in procurement of medical supplies will not only reduce the costs associated with inefficiencies but also strengthen the current medical procurement systems. A strategy to mitigate the impact of the pandemic and to build back better, must be a multifaceted response by government authorities, donor community, private sector and civil society actors alike. Experiences from China and South Korea has shown that stronger public health measures should be coupled with innovative business continuity plans and behavioural changes, and active participation of the community. While the immediate response diverts all the existing resources to manage the current crisis, national contingency plans are strengthening the existing detection, prevention and surveillance measures, it should also include a comprehensive approach to strengthen the current national health systems. The government has announced a fiscal support package which includes loans and deferred payments. What is missing is a social protection package for vulnerable sectors. The impact of the current crisis will be felt hardest by the most vulnerable sections in the society. In the current context, the lower income groups and those operating in the ‘gig-economy’, those relying on incomes from a family member working in a resort, and the expatriate labor force which includes a large portion of internally displaced persons (IDPs). The current crisis calls for improved business and human rights measures in the Maldives. This is an initiative that can complement the current policy on internally displaced persons in a cost-effective manner ensuring their labor and human rights. Since the COVID-19 outbreak, governments across the globe are promoting social distancing and in extreme cases, curfews and closure of businesses indefinitely. In the frontline of this immediate closure is the tourism industry. Social distancing and the curfews will hit the underserved small businesses with limited capital and with no means of working remotely. The financial support package for small businesses and temporary fiscal measures can be complimented with technical support educating and promoting remote working capabilities and resiliency planning. Lessons from this pandemic will pave the way to improving our health systems, rethinking urban planning and labor markets, moving to sustainable consumption patterns and supply chains, and improving partnerships with businesses and social sector so that the spread and impact is minimised in the short term, and future shocks are better mitigated. About the Author Ms Aminath Mihdha is a development practitioner based in UNDP Asia Pacific Regional Office as a Partnerships and Resource Mobilization Consultant. She has over 12 years of experience in the areas of development cooperation, public-private partnerships and resource mobilization. Ms Mihdha holds a Master’s degree in Development Economics from the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, and Bachelor degree in Economics and Public Policy from Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand.

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