Challenges and Opportunities for the United Nations


Post – Covid -19 Challenges and Opportunities for the   United Nations, WHO and UNICEF -Globally and Locally-Role of Developing Countries with Reference to India

(Dr. K.M. George, President, Sustainable Development Forum, (SDF) India;


Corona and Covid-19 have become synonymous to an unparalled  pandemic the world over. It has assumed various vicissitudes.  Covid-19 is   experienced now in   213 countries and territories. Even the mighty nations like the superpowers are scared of the unknown virus on account of its unpredictable aftereffects.   Infected people the world over stand today at 75,20,232 while the death toll is 420, 583.

 Many were caught unawares in countries like Italy, America, Russia, Brazil, Spain, UK, etc. to mention a few.  May be the success story of South Korea, Japan, Singapore, Taiwan and the wonder story of New Zealand must be an eye opener to world organizations like the UN and WHO. Even the mighty America must humble itself to learn the lessons from others by shedding its holier than thou attitude and from being a bullying nation of self-righteousness.

The magnitude of COVID -19 is alarming. By mid-June 2020, the number of infected persons stand at 75,20,232 the world over with a death rate 4,20 583. USA stands with 20,72,274 infected people and 1,15,291 deaths; Brazil 7,75,581 and 39,803, Russia 5,02,436 and 6,532; India 2,97,001 and 8,321; UK 2,91,409 and 41, 279; Spain 2,89,360 and 27,136; Italy 2,36,142 and 34,167; Peru 2,08,823 and 5,903; Germany 1,86,600 and 8,845; Iran 1,80, 156 and 8,584.

Now an attempt is made to   depict the incidence of the   pandemic globally a few days back, in Annexure -1.

It may be inferred from the Annexure that the pandemic has struck the world at large with varying degrees of intensity and damages. As the WHO has opined that one has to realize that   we have to live with the virus as we did with HIV—AIDS for the last a few decades. It is said that SMS is going to be our future life style. SMS means soap, mask and social distancing.

How Prepared were the governments to handle it?

By hindsight it is a sad commentary on the preparedness of many sovereign governments. Italy with a huge old age population was totally unprepared to face such a calamity.  America with its   over rated self-confidence, Spain save its south region with its silly approach became huge victims of this pandemic.  A few countries like India did well in pronouncing the lock down but with little preparation for its migrant labourers with in the country numbering millions form its Northern and Eastern regions to return home. Finally, millions were to be transported by busses and trains. Many perished while on travel in buses and trains. It was an affront on human dignity. There is one typical incident of a   small child in Bihar State railway station, trying to wake up his dead mother by pulling the blanket covered over her dead body, attracting   world attention of the insensitivity of the authorities!

 There were dreadful scenes of migrants walking for thousands of kilometers as reported in the media.  Unfortunately, even the Supreme Court of India did not intervene at that juncture where it was utmost required. However, it was forthcoming subsequently, as if it had second thoughts when somebody somewhere tried to prick its conscience.

Had there been at least one fortnight given to   all those who wanted to go home by special trains, busses and planes, much of the subsequent sufferings could have been averted.

Millions of Indians stranded in the other countries could have gone home had there been enough notice given to them, particularly those in labour camps living in the Middle East—Gulf Regions. It is a cry on spilt milk now as time and tide wait for none.

Both proactive prudence and sagacity were   given amiss by the governments when it came to impulsive nationwide   declaration of the lockdown for reasons better known to the policy makers and their advisers. Admittedly the lockdowns and the social distancing    did keep the community spread at bay in many a country by braking the chain. Nonetheless, the voice of the people, particularly the marginalized and the destitute were not given a decent hearing. Had there been fuller   people’s participation, the pandemic would have been tamed and brought under human command and control more easily without giving an impression of coercive style of implementing the lockdowns.

The Way Forward

Having said the above and pinpointing the magnitude of the global ramifications of the malady, let us collectively consider the way forward to mitigate the damages it has done to the economy and the lives of millions of people.

India Specific Challenges and Prospects

It is inferred by informed sources like The Economist, “The COVID-19 leave behind us a smaller economy, which it describes as “the 90 percent economy”, for at least another 12 months because of fear and economic uncertainty. The “new normal” would be more fragile, less innovative, and more unfair (inequalities will deepen).

India needs to assess the damage to different sectors of its economy and the challenges to revive and rebuild in view of massive reverse migration, job losses, healthcare deficiencies, and fund constraints beset   with many a sector.

This would entail addressing structural deficiencies.

 Policy makers and planners are called up on to focus on the following.

A)           Containing the menace of unemployment

The lockdown   resulted in a situation of massive unemployment. The reverse migration of millions of workers was the biggest tragedy. They desperately wanted to return home after eight weeks of lockdown. Most of them have lost their jobs, dear ones and hopes. Many who walked miles from big cities like Mumbai too   far off villages had perished half way like the Israelites walked with Moses to the promised land!

The  Mumbai-based Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy -CMIE- opines that  by the end of April, 72 million had lost their jobs; labour force (either working or looking for jobs) had reduced to 362 million from 434 million a month earlier; labour force participation rate -LFPR- had dropped to 35.4% of the population and the rank of  those desperately looking for jobs had swollen to 85 million. These numbers are scary and are likely to worsen in June-July 2020. The situation may go from bad to worse.

Unemployment was bad even before the coronavirus pandemic. The Periodic Labour Force Survey -PLFS- of 2017-18 had revealed that the unemployment rate had touched a 45-year-high; about 9 million had lost their jobs between 2011-12 and 2017-18; labour force had fallen to 495 million and the LFPR to 36.9% during the same period.

B) Boosting up Government Medicare

Scientific studies suggest that COVID-19 could last for two or more years, warranting the continuation of social distancing for a long period. This means India needs to keep its public healthcare system   very robust for a long time, and not go back to its excessive reliance on private healthcare.

C)            Initiation and stepping up of institutional mechanisms and leadership

The absence of appropriate institutional mechanisms and leadership in responding to the current crises is too obvious to miss or ignore.

Unlike the US Congress, the Indian Parliament is nowhere in the scene when the country is facing unprecedented health and economic crisis.  It is suggestive that India is a kind of absentee democracy in any major crisis. This must be a matter of introspection for the policy makers in legislative and judiciary   realms alike.

D)           Power and funds to states governments

The state governments are at the forefront of the COVID-19 battle. They would also play an equally critical role in the revival and rebuilding of the economy. Kerala has demonstrated how effectively the pandemic can be managed at the state level. One of the keys to the success was the delegation of power to district administrations, municipalities, and panchayats for lockdowns, contact tracing, quarantine or running of community kitchens.

Initial impact assessment of COVID-19 on the global economy   is very   gloomy. This is an indication of what can be expected. India needs to assess the damages to different sectors of its economy and the challenges to revive, and rebuild in view of massive reverse migration, job losses, healthcare deficiencies, and fund constraints.

E)            Scaling up public spending to infuse life into the economy

Economists, management   experts, health practitioners and sociologists are of the unanimous view that the COVID-19 pandemic calls for loosening the purse and keeping fiscal austerity aside in the current crisis.

Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz, who was once part of the global drive for fiscal austerity, wrote a paper ‘Four Priorities for Pandemic Relief’ on May 1 tells the US that “the true danger is austerity” at this time. He advised,” higher government investment in education, infrastructure and technology to boost growth because not doing so would be counterproductive and slow down GDP growth”. 

  Our own Nobel laureate Abhijit Banerjee has been consistently advocating   for opening the fiscal gates and spending more. The former governor of the Reserve Bank of India, Prof Raghuram Rajan argues in the vein. States are demanding for liberal relaxing of fiscal deficit norms from 3% to 5% of their GDP.  It is time for the Government of India to be pragmatic in such a calamity with magnanimity.

Now it is fair to flag a few policy issues for the UN and the national governments in general and for the Government of India in particular.

1)            It is time for the UN bodies and national governments to think globally with locally focused action plans to   regain the tempo of economic growth process and recapture human dignity, instead of getting into acrimonious accusations of the origin and the spread of the virus or sentimentally and unilaterally declaring to withdraw from WHO and other agencies. Global actions are required to fight this malady with concerted efforts. All need to grow up in stature as statesmen. At the end of the day, we must dance like New Zealanders, after winning the war against Covid 19.

2)            As the most vulnerable are children below the age of 10 and senior citizens above 65, conscious efforts are required to give special attention to this target group in health care, education and boosting immunity targeted to them.

3)            UN must prepare a roadmap under its concerned agencies like WHO, FAO, UNICEF, ILO, and WFP, to mention a few, to launch emergency programmes and projects aimed at the most vulnerable sections of the population with the active participation of the local people, NGOs and governments to address the felt needs on a phased manner. There is a need for addressing immediate short-term needs like food, shelter, medicines, water, clothing etc. Also, we need to consider medium term plans to augment the   income generation, asset creation and employment promotion programmes.

4)            There is a big danger of massive unemployment and starvation in the near future in several regions and the resultant social unrest, looting and armed robbery, etc. A stich in time saves nine, says the old adage. We must be proactive and pragmatic as policy makers. Good governance must guarantee   food security to its citizens along with basic needs including health care.

5)            FAO, WFP, UNICEF and WHO must embark on a massive rebuilding programme with minimum leakages, so that beneficiaries get the critical help meant for them, keeping the administrative cost at bare minimum. By the rule of thumb, 90 percent of the funds must reach the ultimate beneficiary, keeping 10 percent for administrative overhead costs.

6)              A massive impact assessment must be undertaken by specially trained team of experts to ascertain the   socio- economic    repercussions of the pandemic by uniformly designed questionnaires and trained staff so that the rebuilding strategy must be uniformly evolved taking into consideration the local compulsions as exceptions. Admittedly there is no, one size fits all criteria to be insisted on.

7)            UNICEF has a never before challenge to address the needs of under age children, who are below ten years, to equip them to become immune rich and study brilliancy oriented programme during the on line educate system.

8)            Many children in tribal areas and slums   are without the   required gadgets like TV or smart phones and internet connections. It is a challenge and opportunity alike for the UNICEF, so that school drop outs are contained with best incentives. UNICEF to think globally and act locally to make them people friendly with the local government support.

9)            Food security must be the non-negotiable creed for UN under its   arms like WFP and FAO. It must be comprehensively addressed by appropriate programmes and policies on war footing along with governments.

10)            Critical areas like Food Security, Education and Medical Support, in slums and tribal areas along with rural areas must be accorded top priory.

11)          Public distribution system must be made fool proof and the grains, pulses and   cooking oil must reach the   target groups without leakages. How to operationalize   it, is the task of the government machinery and the local NGOs.

12)          The poor must be the real target group for rehabilitation. They were missed out while planning the lockdown as thousands of them form big cities in India had set out on foot for their native   villages to escape starvation, unemployment and disease during the   pandemic. The distance was thousands of miles.  Several perished on the way without reaching their destinations, awakening the   collective conscience of social media and judiciary in India.

13)          As practiced in a few countries even prior to Covid-19, all must use the new mantra of SMS—Soap—Mask and Social distancing.

14)          Lockdown was successful. It was helpful to contain the spread of Covid 19 to a great extent.   But   breaking the chain was achieved by social distancing and wearing of mask and hand cleaning by soap / sanitizer. This must be continued even after the pandemic is over.

15)          As the world continues to combat the spread of the novel coronavirus, Israel remains on the frontlines of the battle, spearheading efforts to treat patients and find a vaccine. All out efforts must be made to develop   a vaccine which can address this pandemic in its various forms and hues due to mutations. This is the million-dollar challenge to policy makers and   researchers alike including WHO.   Care must be exercised   not to spread the valuable resources too thinly in the development of a vaccine. Pharma companies must pool their wherewithal under   a coordinated leadership of any one mutually agreed up on agency or agencies so that the aim is achieved with in the shortest time span. Economically  well off  nations  must  reduce  the  budgetary allocations  meant  for  the  defence purposes,  for  this cause  as   it is  for  the  wellness  for  the world  at large. In a way they it would   champion the cause of the SDGs of the UN too in this process making the way for a Nobel price.

16)            In order to boost growth, the   engine of the economy must be geared up. Bank loans must be granted against the purpose and not based on   the security offered. Interest rates must be drastically reduced to make it affordable and   attractive. Again, for existing loans, repayment   and interest   must have realistic moratorium giving relief to the borrowers.

17)          There is a news item about   China   giving special training to the migrant workers numbering some 14 million. Taking a clue from its other developing countries must provide soft skill and other skill training to its migrant workers to equip them for the changing situations. India must   accord top priority to its   migrant works as well.

18)          India boasts about its   great achievement of sending back   some six million migrant workers   after they were making much noise at the middle of the lockdown periods. It was very poorly organized and planned with untold sufferings to millions both physical and psychological. If the urban labour needs to be addressed, the migrant labourers must be assured fair wages and adequate insurance coverage for themselves and their family members. Indian Economy can grow only with the active participation these workers unless it goes in big way with artificial intelligence enabled   robots in the factory premises. Adequate policies   and programmes must be in place to make it proactive.

19)          It is said that some 219 million Indian workers are employed under self-help groups popularly known as MGNREGA.They must be challenged to take up daily wage work as before with weekly payments through bank accounts to plug leakages immediately.

20)          There are some 633 million MSMES in India. According to the MSME Ministry’s financial year2019 annual report, the MSME sector is dominated by micro-enterprises.  Out of 633 million, 99.4 per cent are micro-enterprises while 0.52 per cent are medium. They are the real growth engines of the economy in terms of employment generation and the make in India brand ambassadors. These Micro, Medium, Small scale Enterprises must be given all out support, if we want the economy to make any turn around immediately. Adequate policy   and   money support must be accorded to them on war footing.

21)          It is a truism that India is an agrarian economy. The majority the population are engaged in the primary sector for their livelihoods. Both crop husbandry and animal husbandry dominate the rural economy. It is no exaggeration that some 65 to 70 percent are in the villages, mostly engaged in   agriculture, livestock rearing, fishing, etc., leave alone the   tribal and the aboriginals of the developing regions of the world. They are the backbone of the economy. Their produce must get remunerative price. It must cover cost of cultivation plus opportunity cost and a fair margin of profit. Otherwise, agriculture would become an obsolete way of living for the posterity. Governments must make   provisions for buy back of the produce with value additions. Here under the post-Covid 19 rebuilding of the economy must be accorded top priority.

22)          Public spending must be given priority   during this time. Programmes must be   taken up to expedite such spending   with a view to    reaching directly the masses the   benefits on a day to day basis.  As done during the Great Depression era, we too must   choke out plans   for expediting public spending to pull the economy   form    the   current abysmal conditions.

23)          The role of production oriented programmes and supportive institutions is of paramount importance under such a pandemic. Banks must be proactive without being over cautious of security of the loan. They must make sure the end use of the credit is not diverted. Credit absorption capacity and adequacy of the credit must be given due consideration while dispensing loans. Banks must become facilitators instead of becoming modern day Shylocks. There must be strict monitoring of the end use of credit by banks, instead of lamenting on huge non-performing assets portfolio (NPA).

24)          There is an urgent need to form a Water and Sanitation Missions -WSM- in all developing countries to make post -Covid -19 era to be a decade for collective wellness.

25)          The byword must be caution with Soap—Mask and Social Distancing (SMS).


I have received help at an early    stage of    the drafting of this paper from several professionals including Dr PO Abraham, Dr John Akkara, Dr Sojan Ipe, Mr. Ramamurthy, Dr N Tunwar, Dr M R Das, Mr.  K Kannan, Mr.  Kuriachan Thomas, Ms. Ildiko Rose; Mr. Thomas Mathew, Rev Dr. Abraham Mulamootil and Mr.  Binney Cherian. I am grateful to them. If mistakes any, are only attributable to me .


Country                Cases    Deaths  Region

United States    2,068,139             115,166 North America

Brazil     775,581 39,803   South America

Russia   502,436 6,532     Europe

United Kingdom               291,409 41,279   Europe

India      289,936 8,143     Asia

Spain     289,360 27,136   Europe

Italy       235,763 34,114   Europe

Peru      208,823 5,903     South America

Germany             186,547 8,845     Europe

Iran        180,156 8,584     Asia

Turkey  173,036 4,746     Asia

France  155,136 29,319   Europe

Chile      148,496 2,475     South America

Mexico 129,184 15,357   North America

Pakistan               119,536 2,356     Asia

Saudi Arabia       116,021 857         Asia

Canada 97,125   7,960     North America

China     83,057   4,634     Asia

Bangladesh         78,052   1,049     Asia

Qatar     75,071   69           Asia

Belgium                59,711   9,636     Europe

South Africa       55,421   1,210     Africa

Belarus 51,816   293         Europe

Sweden               48,288   4,814     Europe

Netherlands       48,251   6,044     Europe

Ecuador                44,440   3,720     South America

Colombia             43,682   1,433     South America

United Arab Emirates     40,986   286         Asia

Singapore            39,387   25           Asia

Egypt     38,284   1,342     Africa

Portugal               35,910   1,504     Europe

Indonesia            35,295   2,000     Asia

Kuwait  34,432   279         Asia

Switzerland        31,044   1,937     Europe

Ukraine                29,070   854         Europe

Poland  28,201   1,215     Europe

Argentina            25,987   741         South America

Ireland  25,231   1,695     Europe

Philippines          24,175   1,036     Asia

Afghanistan        22,890   426         Asia

Romania              21,182   1,369     Europe

Dominican Republic        20,808   550         North America

Oman    19,954   89           Asia

Israel     18,461   300         Asia

Japan (+Diamond Princess)         17,963   932         Asia

Panama                17,889   413         North America

Austria  17,034   674         Europe

Bahrain 16,667   34           Asia

Iraq        15,414   426         Asia

Bolivia   15,281   512         South America

Armenia               14,669   245         Asia

Nigeria  13,873   382         Africa

Kazakhstan         13,558   67           Asia

Serbia   12,102   252         Europe

Denmark             12,035   593         Europe

South Korea       11,947   276         Asia

Algeria  10,484   732         Africa

Ghana   10,358   48           Africa

Moldova              10,321   371         Europe

Czech Republic (Czechia)              9,826     328         Europe

Azerbaijan          8,882     108         Asia

Cameroon           8,681     212         Africa

Norway                8,600     242         Europe

Morocco              8,533     211         Africa

Malaysia              8,369     118         Asia

Guatemala          8,221     316         North America

Honduras            7,360     290         North America

Australia              7,285     102         Australia/Oceania

Finland 7,064     325         Europe

Sudan   6,582     401         Africa

Tajikistan             4,763     48           Asia

Senegal                4,759     55           Africa

Uzbekistan         4,717     19           Asia

Nepal    4,614     15           Asia

DR Congo            4,515     98           Africa

Djibouti                4,398     37           Africa

Guinea 4,258     23           Africa

Côte d’Ivoire      4,181     41           Africa

Luxembourg      4,049     110         Europe

Hungary               4,039     553         Europe

Haiti       3,796     58           North America

North Macedonia            3,538     169         Europe

Gabon  3,375     22           Africa

El Salvador          3,373     64           North America

Kenya   3,215     92           Africa

Thailand               3,125     58           Asia

Greece 3,068     183         Europe

Bulgaria                2,993     167         Europe

Bosnia and Herzegovina                2,832     161         Europe

Venezuela          2,738     23           South America

Ethiopia                2,670     40           Africa

Somalia                2,513     85           Africa

Croatia  2,249     106         Europe

Mayotte              2,226     28           Africa

Cuba      2,219     84           North America

Kyrgyzstan          2,129     26           Asia

Estonia 1,965     69           Europe

Maldives              1,962     8              Asia

Central African Republic                1,952     5              Africa

Sri Lanka              1,873     11           Asia

Iceland 1,807     10           Europe

Lithuania              1,752     74           Europe

Mali       1,667     96           Africa

South Sudan      1,604     19           Africa

Slovakia                1,541     28           Europe

New Zealand     1,504     22           Australia/Oceania

Slovenia               1,488     109         Europe

Nicaragua            1,464     55           North America

Costa Rica            1,461     12           North America

Lebanon              1,402     31           Asia

Guinea-Bissau   1,389     12           Africa

Albania 1,385     35           Europe

Equatorial Guinea            1,306     12           Africa

Mauritania          1,283     71           Africa

Madagascar        1,203     10           Africa

Paraguay             1,202     11           South America

Zambia 1,200     10           Africa

Hong Kong          1,108     4              Asia

Latvia    1,094     26           Europe

Tunisia  1,087     49           Africa

Sierra Leone       1,062     50           Africa

Niger     974         65           Africa

Cyprus  974         18           Asia

French Guiana   917         2              South America

Burkina Faso      891         53           Africa

Jordan  863         9              Asia

Andorra               852         51           Europe

Uruguay               847         23           South America

Chad      846         72           Africa

Georgia                831         13           Asia

Congo   728         24           Africa

San Marino         691         42           Europe

Uganda                679         0              Africa

Malta    640         9              Europe

Sao Tome & Principe      632         12           Africa

Cabo Verde        616         5              Africa

Jamaica                605         10           North America

Channel Islands                565         48           Europe

Yemen  560         129         Asia

Togo      522         13           Africa

Tanzania              509         21           Africa

Réunion               486         1              Africa

State of Palestine            485         3              Asia

Rwanda                476         2              Africa

Mozambique     472         2              Africa

Malawi 455         4              Africa

Taiwan  443         7              Asia

Liberia   410         31           Africa

Eswatini               398         3              Africa

Libya      378         5              Africa

Mauritius             337         10           Africa

Isle of Man         336         24           Europe

Vietnam               332         0              Asia

Montenegro      324         9              Europe

Zimbabwe           320         4              Africa

Benin    305         4              Africa

Myanmar            249         6              Asia

Martinique         202         14           North America

Mongolia             194         0              Asia

Faeroe Islands   187         0              Europe

Cayman Islands 180         1              North America

Gibraltar              176         0              Europe

Guadeloupe       164         14           North America

Comoros              162         2              Africa

Guyana                156         12           South America

Syria      152         6              Asia

Suriname             144         2              South America

Bermuda             141         9              North America

Brunei   141         2              Asia

Cambodia            126         0              Asia

Trinidad and Tobago       117         8              North America

Angola  113         4              Africa

Bahamas              103         11           North America

Aruba    101         3              North America

Monaco               99           4              Europe

Barbados             96           7              North America

Burundi                83           1              Africa

Liechtenstein     82           1              Europe

Sint Maarten      77           15           North America

Bhutan 62           0              Asia

French Polynesia              60           0              Australia/Oceania

Botswana            48           1              Africa

Macao  45           0              Asia

Saint Martin       41           3              North America

Eritrea   41           0              Africa

Namibia               31           0              Africa

Gambia                28           1              Africa

St. Vincent & Grenadines             27           0              North America

Antigua and Barbuda      26           3              North America

Timor-Leste        24           0              Asia

Grenada              23           0              North America

Curaçao                22           1              North America

New Caledonia 21           0              Australia/Oceania

Belize    20           2              North America

Laos       19           0              Asia

Saint Lucia           19           0              North America

Fiji          18           0              Australia/Oceania

Dominica             18           0              North America

Saint Kitts & Nevis           15           0              North America

Falkland Islands                13           0              South America

Greenland          13           0              North America

Turks and Caicos               12           1              North America

Holy See              12           0              Europe

Montserrat         11           1              North America

Seychelles           11           0              Africa

MS Zaandam      9              2             

Western Sahara                9              1              Africa

British Virgin Islands        8              1              North America

Papua New Guinea         8              0              Australia/Oceania

Caribbean Netherlands 7              0              North America

Saint Barthelemy             6              0              North America

Lesotho                4              0              Africa

Anguilla                3              0              North America

Saint Pierre & Miquelon                1              0              North America

 Source: WHO


Case Comparison

WHO Regions


3,485,245confirmed cases


2,339,145confirmed cases

Eastern Mediterranean

696,841confirmed cases

South-East Asia

407,414confirmed cases

Western Pacific

194,470confirmed cases


150,102confirmed cases

Jan 31Feb 29Mar 31Apr 30May 31

Source: WHO

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