By Matt Maura
NASSAU, BAHAMAS — If the global COVID-19 Pandemic has taught regional countries one lesson, it would be the need for regional planners to place greater focus on building resilience at the front end of all future planning to create sustainable, preventative programmes for potential crises.
Minister of Social Services and Urban Development Frankie Campbell told CARICOM delegates that while the COVID-19 Pandemic has dealt regional, small-island development states such as the Caribbean a “vicious blow,” it has also presented countries with opportunities for additional human growth and social development.
Campbell was addressing the closing session of the 40th Meeting of the Council for Human and Social Development (COHSOD) on Gender held virtually June 3-4 under the theme: “Strengthening Gender Equality in COVID-19 Response and Recovery in the Community”.
The Bahamas served as Chair of the 40th Meeting of COHSOD – a Caribbean Community (CARICOM) body that consists of Government Ministers of Member States. The Council is responsible for the promotion of human and social development throughout the Caribbean Community.
“There is no doubt that COVID-19 has dealt regional countries a vicious blow, but I am also satisfied that it has caused us to come to the realization that it cannot be business as usual; that there must be greater focus on resilience on the front end; that there must be sustainable, preventative programmes that are the norm so that when we do find ourselves facing these types of crises, those programmes — having been already established and sustainable — would kick in and jumpstart the road towards recovery,” Campbell said.
The 40th Meeting was held against the backdrop of the socio-economic fall-out the global COVID-19 Pandemic has had on regional countries in general and regional women and girls in particular.
Campbell told his virtual audience that the presence of the COVID-19 Pandemic has also had a negative impact on the socio-economic development of global countries, pointing to a World Health Organization (WHO) report which showed a “drastic” increase in physical and/or sexual violence, usually from an intimate partner, in global women.
He said the 40th Meeting of the COHSOD Ministers and regional officials, allowed the Community to put its collective brain trusts together so as to devise and develop the kind of strategies and programmes to address any potential negative socio-economic fall-out that could be associated with any future crises.
“If we learn anything from our experiences as a Caribbean Community, it has to be that there will be various crises – man-made or otherwise — from time to time. For example, we are in the Hurricane Belt, and so it is important for us, in our discussions, in our deliberations, to speed up and accelerate the interventions that we have been talking about for more than 25 years and ensure that they are in place so that we are prepared to deal with whatever crisis that might arise,” Minister Campbell added.
The WHO report addresses other social ills that have been exacerbated in the region as a result of COVID-19 including reports that indicate children are facing “a rapid increase” of online child abuse and bullying, with girls encountering increased sexual abuse and harassment. WHO further reported older persons are not only struggling with greater health risks but also elder abuse, while homeless persons – because they are unable to safely shelter in place – are more exposed to the dangers of the virus.
Additionally, WHO reported that Persons with Disabilities (PwDs) could be left without vital support due to social distancing, and those in prisons, in migrant detention centres, or in mental health institutions, face higher risks of contracting the virus because of confined spaces.
Regional officials say the loss of household incomes and protracted school closures in some communities, may also place adolescent girls at an increased risk of sexual exploitation, harassment, early unions, and child marriages.