Saying “we are at the breaking point,” the United Nations secretary-general has made a sweeping call to end the global inequalities that have been further exposed by the coronavirus pandemic.
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who delivered the Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture Saturday, said about the virus: “It is exposing fallacies and falsehoods everywhere: The lie that free markets can deliver health care for all, the fiction that unpaid care work is not work, the delusion that we live in a post-racist world, the myth that we are all in the same boat.”
He said, “COVID-19 has been likened to an X-ray, revealing fractures in the fragile skeleton of the societies we have built,” adding that developed countries have “failed to deliver the support needed to help the developing world through these dangerous times.”
The speech by the U.N. chief, known as the world’s top diplomat, took aim at the vast inequality of wealth — “The 26 richest people in the world hold as much wealth as half the global population,” Guterres said — and other inequalities involving race, gender, class and place of birth.
These identity politics, he said, are seen in the world’s fragmented response to the pandemic as governments, businesses and even individuals are accused of hoarding badly needed testing, medical and other supplies for themselves.
The legacy of colonialism still reverberates, Guterres added, and it shows in global power relations.
Developing countries, and especially African nations, are under-represented at the levels of power, including at financial institutions like the World Bank and political ones like the U.N. Security Council, whose five most powerful members — the U.S., Britain, France, Russia and China — date from the 1940s when the world body was created.
“Inequality starts at the top: in global institutions. Addressing inequality must start by reforming them,” Guterres said, offering some solutions.
A new generation of social protection is needed, including universal health coverage and perhaps maybe even a universal basic income, he said, adding “individuals and corporations must pay their fair share.”
Education spending in low- and middle-income countries should more than double by 2030 to $3 trillion a year, he said. And in the face of enormous shifts due to climate change, governments should tax carbon instead of people.
“Let’s face facts,” Guterres said in his address. “The global political and economic system is not delivering on critical global public goods: public health, climate action, sustainable development, peace.”
The U.N. chief called for a new model of global governance with inclusive and equal participation.
“We see the beginnings of a new movement,” he said, adding it’s time to right the wrongs of the past.
Breathtaking new infection numbers of the coronavirus around the world were a reminder that a return to normal life is still far from sight.
Johns Hopkins University says the global death toll from COVID-19 has surpassed 600,000.
The university’s tally as of Saturday night says the United States, fueled by the haphazard lifting of coronavirus lockdowns and the resistance of some Americans to wearing masks, tops the list with 140,103 deaths. It is followed by 78,772 fatalities in Brazil and 45,358 in the United Kingdom.
The number of confirmed infections worldwide has passed 14.2 million, out of which 3.7 million are in the United States. There are over 2 million in Brazil and more than 1 million in India.
The World Health Organization again reported a single-day record of new infections with 259,848.
A world where people can “go to work normally, travel on the buses and trains, go on holiday without restrictions, meet friends, shake hands, hug each other and so on — that’s a long way off, unfortunately,” without a vaccine, said epidemiologist John Edmunds, a member of the U.K. government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.