India has called for prioritising the needs of the poor and vulnerable through digital initiatives, emphasising that disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted that technology and people-centric solutions should become a critical component of nations' development paradigm. In his first public remarks at the UN since assuming charge late last month, India's Permanent Representative to the UN Ambassador T S Tirumurti on Thursday said that the global outbreak of COVID-19 has triggered a health crisis which has quickly transformed into an economic, social and humanitarian crises with potential long-term effects on development prospects.
"It is hard to imagine how the world would have coped with such a disruption by COVID-19 without the digital tools that we possess today. Hence, technology and digital people-centric solutions should become a critical component of our development paradigm," Tirumurti said at the 2020 Annual Session of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Executive Board on Thursday. "Prioritising the needs of the poor and vulnerable will have to receive the highest priority with respect to digital initiatives," he said.
He said that nations are seized with the impact of the pandemic, reviewing their developmental priorities and reallocating their dwindling resources. "We need to re-prioritise the UNDP priorities as per the partner countries' new development priorities to, at the very least, mitigate the consequences of this COVID-19 crisis," he said.
While the 2030 development agenda remains a long-term target for nations, the envoy said it is possible that the short-term and even medium-term priorities for countries may be slightly different though not necessarily contradictory. "UNDP should be nimble enough to react to these changed immediate set of priorities of partner countries," he said.
Tirumurti noted that it is equally important to focus on specific priority sectors since developing countries may be hit in varying degrees during the pandemic depending on their worst affected sectors, such as tourism. "Reprioritising naturally puts the focus on the health sector as well as social protection," he said, adding that the UNDP is embracing digital technologies but underscored the need to promote this in partner countries in a big way.
He pointed out that in recent years, India has undertaken transformative development and people-friendly programmes fully integrated through digital technology. UNDP administrator Achim Steiner cited India's example of using digital technology in its development agenda and lauded an initiative that connects the last district health centre in terms of a national and state platform for managing vaccine supplies.
"We have literally jumped 20 years in terms of ensuring custody and the chain of supply... and not running out of vaccines in these remote centres. This is now being exported to a number of countries by India itself," Steiner said. Tirumurti stressed that the coronavirus crisis has also underlined the need for partnership, ensuring that no one is left behind and in prioritising the needs of the most vulnerable.
He said that India has taken every effort, despite the difficult circumstances at home, to extend its support to partners around the world. "From the supply of essential medicines, testing kits, personal protective equipment to deployment of rapid response teams to developing an information exchange platform and to conducting courses by our premier healthcare institutions under our flagship Indian Technical and Economic Cooperation programme, for India, development partnership is critical to South-South Partnership," he added.
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