Today the world is facing an unprecedented crisis, one that most global leaders and commentators have described as the most trying event since the World War II. The world is running against time, trying to catch up with a virus that has come upon it with such vehemence and ferocity as never seen in the last 100 years.
The coronavirus is a global pandemic that requires a global response. We must all work together and bring together bilateral and multilateral action. Indeed, now more than ever is the time for togetherness. As individuals we do have to keep distance, but as a community we have to come together.
Already, the crisis has translated into human tragedy. In Europe a staggering almost 90,000 people have lost their lives, and globally more than two million have tested positive. Also, in Nigeria, we already see the impact of the pandemic in people’s everyday life. Even if numbers of COVID-19 affected people are still lower in Nigeria, we cannot discard the risk that also here the pandemic could get a firmer grip. I wish to commend the Nigerian authorities for taking bold measures to limit the spreading of the virus, flattening the curve, reducing the adverse economic effects and increasing availability of testing and treatment. Some states are doing more than others, but overall a strong and necessary response based on science.
Nobody, and no country can fight this scourge alone. This is not a moment for blame games, but for uniting forces. This historic crisis requires a fast, massive and coordinated response to protect everyone, save lives and tackle the economic fallout. What we do today will to a large degree lay the cornerstones of the Nigeria of tomorrow. Both looking at how we tackle the crisis now and finding sustainable ways to rebuild the economy.
And Africa and Nigeria matter. As stated by the High Representative/Vice-President Josep Borrell, “We are looking in particular at Africa because we want to underline that we will not forget about our sister continent when addressing this global pandemic. We cannot look only at the problems in Europe because the problems in other regions will be, sooner or later, also our own problems. That’s why we must act collectively at the global level.”
This is truly more than ever a time for solidarity. With those falling ill no matter where they are, but also solidarity between nations. As the Commissioner for International Partnerships, Jutta Urpilainen, underlined recently, “COVID-19 must be fought globally. The EU support is focused on the people most at risk. Africa and Nigeria are vital priorities, and must not be forgotten or left alone. Now more than ever we want to show solidarity with our partners.”
There is no greater way to demonstrate this by the fact that despite the current devastation in Europe, the European Union remains committed to our friend and partner, Nigeria. That is why we have teamed up in Europe and together with Member States upscaled and redirected our support.
We welcome the initiative by the Government of Nigeria to adopt a National COVID-19 Pandemic Response Plan accompanied by the required coordination structures and for the United Nations to echo that effort with the establishment of the One UN COVID-19 Basket Fund. This provides the opportunity for a stringent, coordinated and transparent approach.
In Nigeria, the EU is providing the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) with a N21 billion (€50 million) contribution to the UN COVID-19 Basket Fund with the purpose of supporting Nigeria’s national response plan. This is so far the largest single grant contribution to the response in Nigeria and the largest support that the EU is providing anywhere outside of Europe and our immediate neighbourhood. The objective of the action is to ensure optimum care of the confirmed COVID-19 cases and contain a further spread of the outbreak through an inclusive and nationally owned COVID-19 response. Hopefully more partners, international and private sector alike, will use this Basket Fund as the preferred funding modality in the fight against the virus. Establishing the One UN Fund is an excellent example of multilateralism in practice
The fund will procure and provide the most urgently needed in Nigeria. This includes equipment and commodities required to respond to the outbreak, including those required for surveillance, prevention and control as well as clinical management, improved testing capacity for the NCDC’s Lab network, technical support provided to expand communication and community engagement, maintenance of essential health services as well as cash or food transfers.
For the response to be effective it needs to build on Nigerian leadership, Nigerian policies and Nigerian priorities. Focussing of course on the immediate needs, but being very aware as well of the impacts for the most vulnerable in our societies, those who are at greatest risk from the economic consequences: the IDPs; women and children facing intensified risks of gender-based violence; persons with disabilities; older people and poor people depending on the informal sector to get them food on the table every day. They all depend on the government to rapidly upscale support and to provide the necessary safety nets.
Everything will be bought directly by the UN in a quick and transparent manner, setting aside bureaucracy. We count on the support of the Nigerian authorities to help providing the steering, but also the necessary logistical support so that the goods we procure will make it directly to Nigeria without deviation. Having the necessary permits to bring in the goods without delay through airports and open ports will be vital. In a nutshell, smooth processes for import and wider distribution are of utmost importance.
The European Union is demonstrating what it means when it talks about European and global solidarity based on facts, commitments and verifiable actions. As European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen rightly said, “The virus knows no borders. This global challenge needs strong international cooperation.”
History will judge us on our ability to convert words into action and transforming every naira put into the fund to real, tangible results. That must be our ambition.
To all Nigerians, I wish to repeat: You are not alone. We stand with you shoulder to shoulder. As international community, as the European Union.
•Ambassador Karlsen is head of the European Union delegation to Nigeria and to the Economic Community of West African States