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COVID-19 threatening development gains in Cape Verde: a UN Resident Coordinator blog

A poet and composer named Jotamont wrote that the islands of Cape Verde are “ten little grains of land” in the middle of the Atlantic—a small archipelago nation, 500 kilometers off the west coast of Africa.

From the coast of any island looking away from any of the others—it is ocean as far as the eye can see.

Just over 550,000 people who live on the islands call Cape Verde home, as do another million who are abroad.

The country has scarce natural resources, depends heavily on imports, is subject to extreme drought and other climate shocks. Fully a quarter of its gross domestic product is based on tourism and almost 10 per cent on remittances.

UN stands with Cape Verde

UN Cape Verde
UN Resident Coordinator in Cape Verde, Ana Patricia Graça (left) discusses a reforestation project with local participants.

The United Nations has stood with Cape Verde country through its 45 years of independence. Building food security in the 1980s, achieving vaccine independence in the 1990s, so that the country no longer had to rely on the UN or Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, to procure vaccines. Cape Verde is on track for the certification of elimination of mother-to-child transmission of HIV. Free access to education and social protection are on the rise.

With these and other advances, in 2008 Cape Verde became the third country globally to graduate from least-developed-country to lower middle-income country status. But with COVID-19, public revenues are expected to decrease by 25 per cent and unemployment will double. Recession is hitting the most vulnerable, jeopardizing decades of development gains.

With the pandemic crisis striking a hard blow to the country’s economy, the UN Country Team in Cape Verde rapidly shifted to emergency development mode, advising the government and reprogramming more than half of its annual joint work plan of  $17 million and mobilizing an additional $6 million for immediate response, to save lives and sustain the economy.

All hands on deck

The whole planet is a single island. We are all neighbours, and we must move forward united and in solidarity. UN Resident Coordinator for Cape Verde, Ana Patricia Graça

The UN, the World Bank, and the government produced a first socioeconomic impact assessment, bringing on board other entities such as the African Development Bank and the European Union. This assessment undergirded a National Response and Recovery Plan to guide the response to the pandemic.

During the crisis, and with UN support, over 7,000 children under 12 months of age received a third dose of the DPT vaccine; 700 community health workers kept essential health services going; more than 65,000 kids continued school through distance learning; 25,000 children received meals at home; and over 100,000 people received cash transfers.

We have accomplished much, thanks to a strong partnership with the government, civil society, and the international community, but we still face big challenges as a small island developing state, hit hard by COVID-19. We need to reduce the cost of energy and water, make our economy greener and bluer and put people front and center to recover better while creating a better future for the country’s young people.

Best practices

As Cape Verde has benefited from the UN, the country also contributes to the UN, serving as an example of best practices in South-South cooperation and a pioneer of, and test case for, UN reforms. In 2005, the country became home to the only UN Joint Office that houses three agencies (UNDP, UNFPA and UNICEF) working under one leader, and one team serving all three agencies’ mandates. We hope that this office, still thriving today, is an inspiration for other small island developing countries to maintain a strong UN presence, which is critical for small islands.

We were amongst the first eight countries in 2008 to pilot ONE UN, Delivering as One. UN Cape Verde was an early adopter of UN INFO—a system to help track how the UN supports governments to deliver on the Sustainable Development Goals—and one of the first countries to commit to the Integrated National Financing Framework.

Whole planet, ‘a single island’

This work sounds technical, but the goal is to help make the UN the most high-impact organization it can be, to deliver on the SDGs. And not just for the sake of these ten grains of land out in the ocean, but for the world.

In the mid-Atlantic between Europe and the Americas, we in Cape Verde might feel isolated geographically but we have much to offer to Africa and beyond.

During this, the 75th anniversary year of the United Nations, and as we reach the end of 2020, we are reminded once again, that all of us on Earth are connected. The whole planet is a single island. We are all neighbours, and we must move forward united and in solidarity.

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