Anyone who has ever had the honour of being the UN Secretary General’s envoy to Egypt, will be struck by the historic relationship, especially now as the organization celebrates its 75th anniversary. Egypt is a founding member of the UN and has had enormous influence in the way the organization has taken shape over the course of its lifetime. The 32 UN agencies and 2,000 UN staff in Egypt today are part of an organization that continues to prove its relevance to the challenges of current day Egypt. Working in close partnership with the Government, Civil Society and increasingly the corporate sector, we strive to be at the cutting edge of the development debate.
It will come as no surprise that the COVID-19 outbreak increased the vulnerability of those whowere already in marginalized situations and exposed the weaknesses of health and education systems, as well as social safety nets in many countries.
Egypt is an exceptional case among countries in a similar situation, as it maintains its economic growth. The economic and social stimulus packages of 63 Billion Egyptian Pounds that were rolled out over the last months, including additional funding for the health system, were based on the foundation of macro-economic stability that Egypt attained since 2016. Health systems, while placed under stress, showed remarkable resilience and early measures to stop the spread of COVID-19 had the desired impact.
While we do not yet have hard data, some of the trends are becoming visible; The economy lost some 130Billion Egyptian pounds in volume and the labour market shrunk by no less than 8 percent during the second quarter of 2020.Women and youth seem to have been pushed out of the labor market at a disproportionate rate and will struggle to find jobs in the months to come. Vulnerable migrants and refugees, who mostly work in the informal sector for daily wages, have fallen on very hard times with little prospect of the situation easing. An increasing number of female-headed-households, who are estimated to make up 22 percent of the total households, are among the most vulnerable segments of the population. The initial closure of the schools has affected an estimated 25.3 million students in the country; disrupting their education and depriving them of peer interaction, which can hinder their social and behavioral development.There are reasons to fear that prolonged closure of the education system could have many undesired outcomes such as an increase in early childhood marriages and other harmful practices to women and girls.
People worldwide worry about the future impact of climate change. Our inability to stem the climate crisis and the destruction of the natural environment is viewed by many as the most overwhelming long-term concern. Our planet is warming, and climate change is becoming an existential crisis.
Egypt’s fertile delta has been designated by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change as one of the three “extreme” climate change vulnerability hotspots in the world; increasingly susceptible to sea level rise and extreme weather events as global warming progresses. There is an opportunity here; Egypt stands to gain enormously from the transition to a green economy; it could become a market leader in climate adaptation technology; and it could emerge as a global export hub of renewable energy. For sustainability to become a reality, we need to increasingly be able to spot the economic opportunity and unlock new market potentials that add to economic activity and growth.
The UN – at its 75th anniversary - will continue to support the government in its efforts to translate macroeconomic gains into lives of dignity, prosperity and well-being for all people, including vulnerable groups and to combat the impact of climate change. The UN family stands ready to support Egypt in these important endeavors, based on its expertise, mandates and comparative advantages - to deliver on the promise of the SDGs to ensure that no one is left behind.
* Richard Dictus, UN Resident Coordinator in Egypt