His Excellency Abdulla Shahid Minister of Foreign Affairs
Special Session of GA in response to the COVID-19 pandemic
December 3, 2020
Mr. President, Mr. Secretary-General, Excellencies, Distinguished Colleagues,
I would like to thank the Chair of Non-Aligned Movement for taking the initiative to convene this very important meeting. I would also like to thank the Secretary General for leading the UN during this pandemic of unprecedented magnitude.
Multilateralism has been the bedrock of the post-war international order. For 75 years, the United Nations has been instrumental in addressing the challenges humanity has faced – from delivering humanitarian aid to responding to global pandemics, from poverty alleviation to conflict mediation and promoting sustainable development. Today, 75 years later, this organization is once again being tested by the ‘black swan’ event of our time – the COVID-19 pandemic.
This pandemic has left no country untouched, infecting more than 55 million people and claiming over a million lives. None of us anticipated the gravity of this virus and neither were we prepared for a crisis of this scale. The pandemic swept through a world in disarray, leading to catastrophic health consequences, disruption in education, and the stalling of economies, and pushing millions of families into poverty. The loss has been insurmountable.
When COVID-19 hit the Maldives in March 2020, our first priority was responding to the immediate health crisis. We acted swiftly to impose several restrictive and physical distancing measures to contain the spread of the virus. We announced a nationwide State of Public Health Emergency, closed all government offices, schools and universities, and eventually, imposed a full lockdown. We also took the difficult decision to suspend all on-arrival visas, thus shutting down the lifeline of our economy – the tourism industry. Life as we knew it came to a standstill. Never before had we seen our bustling capital city Male’ so eerily quiet and empty, nor our airport without a tourist experiencing true Maldivian hospitality.
As a Small Island Developing State that is heavily dependent on imports, the closing of our borders severely disrupted our supply chains. We, therefore, began to closely monitor our staple food stocks and stockpiled essential food items. Our empty, luxury resorts were converted into quarantine facilities, and across the country, several flu clinics were established. Despite our best efforts, we were powerless to prevent a community spread.
COVID-19 has highlighted what has been abundantly clear – while all of us are affected, not everyone is affected equally. In countries such as the Maldives, where tourism, both directly and indirectly, accounts for nearly 75% of our GDP, the loss has been incalculable. Our vulnerabilities to external shocks have been laid bare and our economy is expected to contract by nearly 30% this year alone. This, along with debt burdens, have made our position even more precarious. We welcome the G20’s announcement of a Common Framework for Debt Treatment beyond the Debt Service Suspension Initiative. These initiatives will greatly aid us as we embark on a path of resilience and recovery. In the same manner, we must ensure equitable access for the COVID vaccine once it is ready. This is a global problem that requires a global solution. We will not be safe until every single country is free from this pandemic.
However, debt relief and vaccines will only take us so far. SIDS such as the Maldives need structural change, innovative facilities as well as greater access to sustainable and concessional financing. This, Mr. President, must be based on a multidimensional vulnerability index.
In order to ensure that our development gains over the last few decades are left intact, President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih established a National Taskforce on Resilience and Recovery. The work of this taskforce is rooted in our firm commitment towards achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and ensuring that no one is left behind. Despite our best efforts, we cannot do this alone.
During these unprecedented times, we must draw strength from each other and be resolute in overcoming this crisis together. We are extremely grateful to our partners and friends in the international community who have helped us so far. These examples of international cooperation and solidarity are what will steer us to safety, and ensure that we build back better and more resilient. Indeed, the need for multilateralism has never been greater. I take this opportunity to reiterate the Maldives’ call for greater cooperation in the spirit of multilateralism.
Just as the COVID-19 pandemic ignored all borders and unleashed its devastation without any regard for the responsibility or resilience of a nation, so does climate change. While our commitment to overcoming the pandemic is unwavering, combatting the adverse effects of climate change at the same time will be a mountain that is too steep to climb. Climate change threatens our very existence. Let us ensure that building back better will not only mean fixing our economies but healing our planet as well. Let us ensure that we build back bluer, greener and cleaner.
Viruses don't respect borders. The only road out of this storm is the path of collective action. We need to heed the lessons this pandemic has taught us and fix the roof before the next storm hits. We must break the “panic-then-forget” cycle once and for all. The principles and values enshrined in the UN Charter are even more important to overcome the COVID-19 pandemic. I am confident that we will arise from this storm stronger and more resilient to respond more effectively to possible challenges the future may bring us.
I thank you.