People & Society

A global call for a global crisis

Since the COVID-19 pandemic hit the world late last year, various United Nations organizations and departments have shown concerns over the devastating and tumultuous impacts of the epidemic. 

The epidemic has hit all walks of life. Healthcare sector is burdened with thousands diagnosed with the virus and inadequate facilities to deal with the magnitude of the crisis, unemployment is at an all-time high, economies are collapsing, and the world is plummeting towards recession. The segment worst affected by this pandemic is the youth.  

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Source: The Hindu

Youth and young people have been at the center of United Nations’ efforts towards a sustainable future for years. Lots of initiatives, programs, and movements to achieve the SDGs were built keeping the 1.2 billion people (ages 15 to 24) into consideration.

In its latest endeavor, the UNDGC, Civil Society Unit consulted and invited youth from all over the world on an open call, to talk about the challenges their countries are facing in such times, the relief efforts announced by their governments, their coping mechanisms, and the contributions of the civil society in their communities. 

The Community Call attempted at discourse on all areas of life with young speakers: activists, policy makers, healthcare workers and staff, entrepreneurs, and digital experts from all around the world. 

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The chat was hosted on Zoom. Jeff Brez, Chief of the Civil Society, Advocacy and Special Events Section, Department of Global Communications, presented the opening remarks thanking all attendees to join and the Steering Committee to organize the call. 

“UN believes in youth. We need you now, more than ever,” he said as he tried to set the tone of the event. “We are facing an unprecedented event.” 

“Why are we here? UN has a youth strategy. We want to work alongside young people, to create the change we envision as partners of the UN.” 

Read: 5 things young people can do to join the global #COVID19 response 

Mr. Brez furthered the discussion by mentioning that youth has been an integral part of UN events in the past and have been issued grounds passes, so they learn, participate and contribute to the UN mission and mandate. In these trying times, the need to flatten the curve was reinforced by him. “We need youth to work as solutions catalyst. Now is the moment we need youth to identify innovative solutions for flattening the curve.” 

Brez emphasized the importance of inclusion, capitalizing on the World Autism Awareness Day which coincidentally fell on the same day. He quoted the Secretary General Antonio Guterres and said that people with autism have a right to education and employment on an equal basis with others. “We must ensure that a long disruption caused by the #COVID19 crisis does not result in rollbacks of the rights they have worked so hard to advance,” quoted the Secretary General in his tweet. 

Mr. Brez said that with online learning rapidly taking over the world, people with autism are bound to meet hurdles but should not be excluded at any cost. He prompted participants to join conversations online by tweeting on the #AutismAwareness hashtag. 

The rest of the session was marked by experts and civil society contributors. Steve Chui, Youth Representative to UNDGC invited speakers to share ideas on the fight against COVID19. 

President of Tommy Foundation, Sugey Cruz, built on Jeff’s efforts to highlight the plight of autistic people reaffirming that remote learning will turn out to be a huge inhibitor. There will be an influx of online content and YouTube videos which they will find hard to keep pace with. She said that we, the youth, will have to make efforts to not let people feel isolated. 

Cruz also mentioned that parents, the Gen. Y, are also on the spectrum and the younger population will have to find a way to balance things and take them along. 

Olumide Idowu, the co-founder of International Climate Change Development Initiative, addressed one of the most pressing issues linked to the contemporary situation. He discussed how misinformation and fake news is creating a panicky situation, not just in Nigeria, but all around the world. He talked about the contribution of Nigerian youth in combating misinformation and their volunteering efforts in spreading awareness on the Coronavirus. 

Two healthcare professionals were invited to share their thoughts on the situation and how they’re dealing with the crisis. Justin Pagan, Associate Patient Care – COVID unit at Mount Sinai Hospital, New York expressed concerns over the growing numbers of cases. “Patients are doubling because of which there is a significant plunge in quality patient care. Medical professionals cannot dedicate a lot of time to patients and the challenge is adjusting to the rapid pace.” 

Pagan fears that the scarcity of quality medical care will take them over soon but they are tackling the ordeal on a day-by-day basis. He emphasized the need for global solidarity and partnerships to move forward. 

Dr. Muhammad Ali Siddiqui, a physician and researcher based out of New York presented a lot of pleasant and practical solutions to combat the virus. He started off by mentioning the same formula prescribed by the World Health Organization – social distancing due to social density and hygiene, although he advised mobility to be accompanied by any kind of protective mask. 

“Our mortality rates are much higher than that of Germany for the simple reason that they’re using any kind of homemade mask when they move around when we aren’t,” he said. He also gave a formula to boost immune system and battle depression where he directed attendees to consume oranges and fish, take Vitamin E and C supplements and neighborhood walks practicing safe social distancing, release stress through some physical workout, and reconnect with family and friends over instant messaging and video calling apps. “Patients that have strong support systems recover faster,” he claimed. 

Xiaoning Liu of Viva la Vida attested to this claim. She said that art and creative forms of expression helps us channelize our energy into something productive. In China, they started the #ArtsDefeatCOVID19 movement, for young people particularly, to share their experiences through art.  

Dr. Siddiqui later acknowledged the efforts of www.doctorswithoutborders.org, a humanitarian medical organization treating patients with the greatest need.  

Dr. Johanna Schwarz, Youth Rep, DMUN e.V from Germany shared the success story of a youth task force advising digital transformation to businesses and various sectors in the country. She said that when they were putting together a hackathon for young developers, they were targeting a couple of hundred software engineers to come up with solutions to tackle the virus. To their amazement, 46000 people joined in this exercise and brainstormed over 1500 potential solutions to solve problems arising in liquidity, financing, medical solutions etc. “It became the biggest hackathon ever to be hosted.”

Schwarz requested the rest of the people to educate themselves, exploiting this opportunity to the fullest.   

Stephany Hemelberg, a social media and marketing expert from Colombia furthered the need for digitization and told participants how her team is helping companies move their operations online. Hemelberg focused on youth being productive, resourceful, and creative. She also said that online forums such as Reddit and the ones they’ve created put out a lot of ideas, designs and patents for novice medical technologies and equipment like respirators and masks and such collaborative and sharing efforts are needed on a global level.

She particularly stressed on the importance of keeping small businesses going in such times. “Small businesses have a huge economic responsibility. In Colombia, they contribute 30% to the GDP.” 

Joyce Lee from Singapore added to the corporate social responsibility lying on the shoulders of big businesses. She opined that it is time for them to give back through whatever resources they have. 

The Coronavirus pandemic has severely hit some of the most vulnerable groups and while most speakers painted a more holistic picture, some of the experts shared insights into the aftermath of the crisis. Filling for Geraldine Pomato Kalezic of Wikimujeres, Stephany Hemelberg talked about how women are held in quarantine with their perpetrators and how instances of domestic violence have skyrocketed. “There has been a 30% increase in cases of violence against women in Colombia.” There have been many other reports by prestigious media outlets highlighting the same issue. Kalezic’s organization Wikimujeres, is playing its part in addressing this. 

Because this prevalent epidemic has collapsed economies, some activists fear masses losing sight of the most significant catastrophe of the century that is the climate emergency. 

Agnes Hall, Digital Organising and Campaign Director at 350.org, spoke about how they have started responding with a campaigning response to the crisis. She mentioned the #JustRecovery principles that lay the framework for governments and authorities for a reasonable bailout plan, which are: 

  1. Put people’s health first, no exceptions 
  2. Provide economic relief directly to the people
  3. Help workers and communities, not corporations
  4. Create resilience for future crises
  5. Develop solidarity across borders 

A lot of participants shared what their countries and governments are doing in the midst of this catastrophe, including M. Bakhrieba from Saudi Arabia. He said tough decisions like shutting down the Holy places in the country were essential to stop the spread of the virus. The Saudi government is also keeping tabs on prices of essential goods and commodities. 

The most important outcome of this call was that every participant and speaker expressed hope and optimism despite the gruesome numbers. People have come together and have shown that societies can coexist, and that was the consensus throughout. 

The chat ended with a live demonstration of yoga by Aishwariya Narasimhadevera, the former co-chair of the UNCSC Youth Sub-committee, and a power packed performance of a song of hope and inspiration by Lamboginny. “I am you, you are me, together we are United Nations,” chanted the entire group before everyone signed off, with promises to return for another round of call and solutions brainstorming. 

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