Disaster Looms in India, Bangladesh as COVID-19 Stalls Cyclone Harold’s Rescue Operations, UNCTAD Chiefs Say

technological solutions should take into consideration the higher risk for the elderly in the case of COVID-19.

Millions of people in India and Bangladesh are bracing for
devastation as Cyclone Amphan makes landfall.

Most vulnerable populations and structurally vulnerable
countries such as Small Island Developing States (SIDS) are particularly
exposed to multiple shocks.

For them, the impacts are devastating, by pushing households
into deeper poverty and wiping out years of gains made in sustainable

Director of the United Nations Conference on Trade and
Development’s (UNCTAD) Technology and Logistics Division, Shamika N. Sirimanne,
and Economic Affairs Officer, Clovis Freire, are worried by the looming natural

According to them, COVID-19 lockdowns hampered Cyclone
Harold rescue operations.

In April, cyclone Harold devastated SIDS in the Pacific,
including Fiji, Solomon Islands, Tonga and Vanuatu, causing loss of life and
extensive damage to crops and infrastructure.

In the meantime, five months after the coronavirus disease
first emerged, it has reached 216 countries, areas or territories,
causing over 318,000
confirmed deaths and more than 4.7 million positive cases

The pandemic has pushed the global economy into a recession,
with millions of people losing their jobs and livelihoods.

Increased human activity and deeper global interdependence
have created a complex and unpredictable threats, and more often than not, they
manifest as multiple shocks in terms of health emergencies, economic
crises, conflicts and natural disasters.

‘’there is a need to
address multiple shocks—as opposed to the silo approach practised by many
countries of handling one crisis at a time without understanding and addressing
their interlinkages.

‘’The way to go about it is to get ready in advance, by
building resilient communities that are better prepared to withstand, adapt to,
and recover from shocks.

‘’Resilient communities empower their people to absorb and
adapt to shocks. Their economies can adapt and self-organise to continue
functioning in times of crises. And they carry out their activities without
harm to the environment.’

Continuing, they said, ‘’Science, Technology and Innovation
(STI) have a critical role to play in building resilience to multiple shocks.
First, technologies, particularly digital technologies, have played a vital
role in empowering and giving a voice to people, including those most

‘’They extend access to education and health, assess and
monitor the health and environmental risks, connect people within and outside
the communities, and enable early warning systems. When disasters unfold,
people immediately turn to the social media platforms they are most familiar
with to both seek and share information.

‘’Second, innovation is the key driver of diversification
and economic development, which increases the ability of economies to adapt to
shocks and thrive. And innovation is critical for economies to adapt and
continue functioning at times of crises.

‘’An example was the quick move to remote forms of working
in many knowledge-intensive sectors during the COVID-19 pandemic.’’

Many businesses are transitioning to e-commerce to keep
operating. In Senegal, for instance, the government has facilitated this
transition by fast-tracking the implementation of e-commerce policies and
reforms, based on recommendations of UNCTAD’s e-Trade readiness assessment.

‘’New technologies and innovative products and services hold
the promise of decoupling economic development from environmental degradation,
and promoting sustainability. A new development is citizen science, which uses
the latest technologies to engage volunteers to carry out tasks such as data
collection in support of scientific explorations.

‘’This approach combines the Internet, smartphones and
social media with low-cost sensor networks to provide extensive and real-time
information for community resilience in developing countries, as well as
improving data provision in data-scarce regions’’
, the UNCTAD officials said.

However, the application of STI for resilience does not go
without its challenges.

There are technical challenges in the compatibility of data
and underlying enabling technologies, and for prudent collection, storage and
use of data acquired for monitoring and contact tracing.

There are social challenges given that resilience is not
neutral but reflects social norms and competing interests within the community.
For example, technological solutions should take into consideration the higher risk for the elderly in the case of COVID-19.

That requires a targeted approach for increasing awareness
and building capacity for people to benefit from the technological tools.

Market challenges are related to the scalability of
technological solutions for community resilience to move beyond the prototyping

A recently launched report by
 discusses these challenges and the application of STI
for resilience.

Prepared to ignite a policy dialogue among STI ministers and
other stakeholders at the Commission on
Science and Technology for Development
 (CSTD), the UN focal
point for STI for development, the report highlights new technological
solutions, the role of citizen science and new approaches to innovation for

The report serves as a valuable resource for building
longer-term resilience to multiple and interrelated shocks through STI, helping
governments and other stakeholders to be better prepared to deal with shocks
and recover much stronger.


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