President Ashraf Ghani’s Keynote Speech at the Special Session of the UNGA in Response to the Coronavirus Disease ‎COVID-19 Pandemic

President Ashraf Ghani’s Keynote Speech at the Special Session of the UNGA in Response to the Coronavirus Disease ‎COVID-19 Pandemic

Thank you, Mr. President, for giving me the floor and for organizing this Special Session of the General Assembly.

I also want to thank the President of Azerbaijan, as the Chair of the Non-Aligned Movement, for taking the initiative to organize a Special Session on the COVID 19 pandemic. I welcome the opportunity to share with you what we have learned here in Afghanistan in dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic and how it has informed us in preparing for the second wave.

I would like to offer my condolences and sympathies to all those who have lost a loved one to COVID-19, and to those who have suffered the most losses from this pandemic, including the United States, Brazil, and India.

Dear Colleagues and Friends,

The COVID 19 pandemic came to Afghanistan at the end of February via Herat province, which shares a border with Iran.

We moved quickly in anticipation that the virus would hit us hard. After analysis and consultation with diverse groups across Afghan society, we planned the response to the pandemic according to five phases of the crisis—acknowledgment, diffusion, adversity, relief and recovery.

The virus peaked in June with an infection rate of 76%, and then went into steady decline, with the infection rate fluctuating daily between 6% and 25% during the Fall.

As a result of our urgent action, we managed to maintain relatively low mortality rates. We managed our response to not jeopardize livelihoods in the long-term or increase already high levels of poverty and food insecurity.

These are the lessons we learned:

First, the vast scale of the disruptive and destructive effects of the COVID-19 pandemic is becoming clearer by the day. We saw the short-term impacts almost immediately — the loss of lives, the loss of jobs, the downturn in the economy. But the medium to long-term impacts, we have not yet fully grasped. So, while we cope with the immediate impact, we need to look ahead and prepare for the long-term effects.

Second, the impact of the pandemic has been global. No country has been left untouched. And yet, the response has been largely national. We have been unable, as an international community, to fully take advantage of the interconnected nature of our work to combat the disease.

The world had an opportunity to respond to the pandemic with an unprecedented level of unity and solidarity. Instead, we have experienced divisions.

A global focal point would have made the response more effective and coordinated, and global resources should have been mobilized on a larger scale. We commend the Secretary-General and the United Nations for their role and tireless work.

Afghanistan is proud to have contributed to the global response as a co-coordinator for COVID-19 related initiatives in the General Assembly together with Croatia. The Omnibus resolution facilitated by our Permanent Mission created a common normative framework for the response. It is now up to all of our Governments to implement the resolution and better coordinate our response to the second wave and the socio-economic impacts.

Third, this pandemic has not been a leveler as expected; but instead, it has exacerbated existing gaps and inequalities across developed and developing nations. Countries in special situations have been especially hard hit. For example, we as a poor country, like many others around the globe, were not able to design and implement effective stimulus packages. We also had to be very careful in instituting lockdowns to avoid inflicting serious damage on our economy and peoples’ livelihoods, which could have inflicted more suffering than the virus itself.

This will continue to be the case even as a vaccine becomes available, because administering a vaccine requires capabilities and infrastructure that poor countries simply do not have. The role of multilateral organizations in the joint distribution of the vaccine will be critical. Our call for the vaccine to be a global public good must be loud and clear.

Now, the second wave of the pandemic is at our doorstep. We face this wave during the winter season, with very little understanding of how cold weather, particularly under conditions of poverty, will affect the nature of the pandemic.

We now know that women have suffered the most as a result of the pandemic, and experienced higher levels of insecurity. Today we must take a strong stand against domestic violence and reaffirm our support for the Secretary-General’s call for peace at home. Ending the shadow pandemic affecting millions of women and girls is critical for a fair and protected world for all.

I hope that as we enter the second wave, we as an international community will be able to draw from the lessons learned.

For one, a clear, phased approach needs to be designed and replicated nationally, regionally and globally. This approach should be informed not just by the information provided via instant analysis, but more importantly by patterns that emerge in the way the virus has manifested globally.

Secondly, now we are in a better position to plan to ensure food security and basic human security in the face of subsequent waves. We must make sure that supply chains that were disrupted during the first wave are either restored or alternatives put in place to ensure basic needs are met.

The pandemic transformed the way we do business, the way we communicate, the way we live. But it’s not all negative. COVID pushed the digitalization of the world at a speed that was inconceivable. And moving into subsequent waves of the pandemic, we need to embrace digital technology to further a global dialogue around policy, accessing and distributing the vaccine. To take advantage of these technologies, more must, however, be done to address the digital divide.

We will not be able to return to our pre-pandemic ways of communicating and governing. The pandemic opened up new possibilities for coordination and cooperation; for example, tele-medicine and distance learning. We need to embrace this change.

Lastly, because the first and second waves have exacerbated structural poverty and increased situational poverty, we must create a common approach to securing livelihoods and ensuring momentum in the economy while also promoting COVID awareness.

Afghanistan is located at the heart of Asia. We have many open or semi-open borders and frontiers. This means we can be either a center for spreading the virus, or containing it. We are trying to be the latter, and we hope we can achieve that if we work together as a global community to act upon the lessons learned from the first wave.

Thank you.