Remarks by UN Resident Coordinator, Dr. Coumba Mar Gadio: Launch of the 2020 Human Development Report, 5 March 2021

HDR 2020 launch

  • Honourable Minister of National Development Planning, Mr. Alexander Chiteme
  • The Permanent Secretary, National Development Planning and Administration, Ministry of National Development Planning, Mr. Chola Chabala
  • The Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Lands and Natural Resources, Mr. Ndashe Yumba,
  • Senior Government representatives
  • Honourable Members of Parliament
  • Excellencies, Ambassadors, High Commissioners, and Heads of Cooperation
  • The Resident Representative of the United Nations Development Programme
  • UN Zambia colleagues
  • Members of the civil society
  • The media
  • Ladies and Gentlemen

I am honoured to be with you today in this virtual platform on behalf of the United Nations Development System in Zambia to witness the launch and dissemination of the Global Human Development Report 2020 under the theme “The Next Frontier: Human Development and the Anthropocene”.  For the UN family, it is always a great moment to see influential flagship publications such as the Human Development Report to be disseminated across the globe as a tool for shaping the discourse around human development.

This Report in particular fulfils one of UNDP’s calls which is to analyse and advocate on critical human development issues.

This 30th anniversary edition of the Human Development Report is timely and very relevant to everyone everywhere in the world for it addresses one of the long outstanding challenges of human development ‘the Anthropocene’, which is the new geological age we now find ourselves in, whereby human activity is shaping the planet, to a greater extent than the planet shapes human activity. The Human Development Reports have focused on ways to expand people’s choices and their ability to live a long healthy life, to have access to schooling, and to make a decent livelihood, and to be able to achieve their full potential.

For the UN System here in Zambia in particular, this report provides timely theoretical and empirical reference materials for the development of our Country Analysis and new Cooperation Framework that will form the basis of our support within our next programmatic cycle. This report's findings and recommendations provide ‘food for thought’, data and background information to inform the design of policies towards sustainable development. The United Nations remains committed to work with the various partners, the Government and beyond, on advancing sustainable development in the Republic of Zambia.

The Human Development Report is being launched at a time when the world is grappling with the health and socio-economic effects of COVID-19. Zambia has not been spared with now about 79,000 confirmed positive cases and over 1,000 COVID-related deaths. The UN has supported the Government to prepare the COVID-19 Multi Sectoral Contingency Plan, Socio Economic Response Plan and Economic Recovery Plan. 

The UN has supported the Government in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic since the first cases were reported in Zambia in March last year. The support has been provided through the established response structure across nine pillars to ensure a coordinated response on coordination, Risk Communication and Community Engagement, Surveillance, Infection Prevention and Control, Case Management, logistics, laboratory, planning and continuation and sustaining of essential health services.

The support includes purchase of over 100,000 PCR tests for detecting COVID-19, 318 oxygen concentrators, and rehabilitation of three oxygen plants, training of over 12,000 health care workers and equipping them with personal protective equipment and another 4,800 healthcare providers being trained in detecting, referring and managing cases among children, pregnant and breastfeeding women.

We have also provided close to 265,000 households, equivalent to about 1.5 million people, including refugees, with emergency cash grants to supplement losses in household livelihoods due to the pandemic. Other support has included safety, health and sanitary training for informal cross-border traders and provision of 210,000 medical face masks and 25,000 disposable hospital gowns to frontline workers in refugee settlements.

As for the procurement of COVID-19 vaccines, we have supported the government to enroll in the COVAX facility.

While COVID-19 has absorbed the world’s attention, pre-existing crises continue. Bringing things closer, we can easily relate to the on-going efforts to recover from the droughts and floods and other factors that subdued economic growth and still threaten the well-being of many Zambians. Globally, biodiversity is plunging, with a quarter of species facing extinction, many experts believe we are living through, or on the cusp of, a mass species extinction event, the sixth in the history of the planet and the first to be caused by a single organism - us.

The strain on our planet mirrors the strain facing many of our societies. Planetary imbalances (the dangerous planetary change for people and all forms of life) and social imbalances exacerbate one another. As the previous edition HDR 2019 made plain, many inequalities in human development have been increasing and continue to do so. Climate change, among other dangerous planetary changes, will only make them worse. Social mobility is down, social instability is up.

COVID-19 is just the tip of the spear. Scientists generally argue that we are now entering a new proposed geologic epoch—the Anthropocene—in which humans are a dominant force shaping the future of the planet.

The question is: What do we do with this new age? Do we choose to strike out on bold new paths whose ambitions in the face of uncertain futures are the expansion of human freedoms while easing planetary pressures? Or do we choose to try—and ultimately fail—to go back to business as usual and be swept away, ill equipped and directionless, into a dangerous unknown? This Human Development Report is firmly behind the first choice, and its arguments go beyond summarizing well-known lists of what can be done to achieve it.

The 2020 Human Development Report questions the very narrative around “solutions to a problem,” which frames solutions to discrete problems as somehow external, somewhere “out there,” disconnected from ourselves and from one another. Once solutions are discovered, the storyline goes, we need only to implement them as panaceas everywhere. Technology and innovation matter—and matter a lot, as this Report argues—but the picture is much more complex, much more nonlinear, much more dynamic than simple plug-and-play metaphors. There can be dangerous unintended consequences from any single seemingly promising solution. We must reorient our approach from solving discrete siloed problems to navigating multidimensional, interconnected and increasingly universal predicaments.

Given the deep interconnection of planetary and social imbalances noted in the Report, I want to emphasize today the importance of ensuring justice, equality, and human rights as part of this process. This becomes clear in three different ways:

First and foremost, human rights are an end in themselves, and they are crucial for peace, security, stability, and human development at all levels. Second, human rights lead to more equal societies, and those are less likely to push communities into marginalized and informal livelihoods that often harm nature. Examples include the illegal exploitation of nature (fishing, hunting, mining, farming, etc.) or environmental pollution due to poverty and a lack of alternatives.

Strong rule of law and governance also keep in check negative externalities resulting from industrial or economic growth.

Third, as the Report makes clear, equity and human rights are critical for the protection of our planet because they empower people of all backgrounds to become part of the solution as active agents of change, not only in their own lives but at the societal level.

We, as the UN in Zambia and globally, will therefore, continue to champion a human rights-based approach to sustainable development which recognizes that transforming our economies and societies must have equity, justice and human rights at its centre. This is at the centre of our Cooperation Framework with the Government of the Republic of Zambia.

To conclude, I wish you all fruitful engagements on the critical issues the Human Development Report brings to us, especially the Next frontier: human development and the Anthropocene on-going efforts in driving Sustainable Development in Zambia.

I look forward to our continued partnership as we stride, together, the implementation of Zambia’s Vision 2030 and the Decade of Action of the Agenda 2030.

I thank you.

Speech by
Coumba Mar Gadio
Resident Coordinator
Coumba Mar Gadio, PhD
UN entities involved in this initiative
United Nations Development Programme