By Dr. Samuel Doe, UNDP Resident Representative
We live in a world of increasing worry and uncertainty owing to crises and shocks, economic hardships, inequalities, political turmoil, climate emergencies, polarization, and weak service delivery systems. This is happening at a speed and scale beyond what humans have ever experienced.
The Covid-19 pandemic now in its third year has triggered reversals in human development, devastated economies, exacerbated gender inequality and continues to spin off new variants. The global monkeypox outbreak also emerged hot on the heels of COVID-19 while the War in Ukraine has caused more human suffering and is blamed for the record inflation, rising commodity prices, increasing cost-of-living and a looming global food insecurity crisis that threatens to reverse human development further.
The climate emergency is also worsening the situation owing to the destructive human actions against planet earth which are forcing nature to fight back, and it’s doing so with increasing rage as evidenced in rising temperatures, fires, floods, drought and storms in different parts of the world.
As a developing country, South Sudan is among the countries hit hardest, further compromising its capacity to address systemic problems of state-building, humanitarian crisis, intercommunal violence, a fragile political and security situation, extreme poverty and natural disasters such as flooding and drought.
The country continues to face high and persistent humanitarian needs with the number of people needing humanitarian assistance reaching a record 8.3 million out of an estimated population of 13 million! Almost four million people remain displaced by conflict, with nearly 1.6 million people displaced internally and some 2.2 million living as refugees in neighboring countries.
This context makes the focus of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP’s) 2021/2022 Human Development Report relevant for South Sudan. Produced since 1990 and now in its 32nd year, the theme of this year’s report is reflective of ongoing global socioeconomic challenges: “Uncertain Times, Unsettled Lives: Shaping our Future in a World in Transformation”. The report will be globally launched on 8th September 2022 and in South Sudan, the report will be launched on September 9th, 2022.
Human Development is reversing
The report shows that for a second consecutive year, Human Development is reversing setting us back to levels recorded in 2015 which was the start of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Developmentand the adoption of Paris Agreement in 2016.
According to the report, 90% of countries saw their HDI decrease in either 2020 or 2021.
Impact on health
The report notes that almost 1 billion people—roughly one in eight of us— are living with a mental disorder, such as post-traumatic stress disorder and depression which are a leading cause of disability and reduced economic output.
“Mental disorders weigh on human development in many ways. A health issue themselves, they are often linked to other health challenges. They can impede school attendance and learning, as well as the ability to find a job and be fully productive at it.”
The report found that uncertainties undermine people’s mental wellbeing through four main pathways: traumatizing events, physical illness, general climate anxiety, and food insecurity.
Keeping hope alive
So where do we go from here for a more hopeful future? How do we find new paths? There is opportunity in uncertainty especially if we act now and accelerate action towards human development and unleash people’s potential to be agents of change. We must defuse tension, polarization, rebuild trust and allow everyone to be part of decision-making.
Navigating uncertainty requires open and inclusive dialogue, to explore what communities want for their futures and involving them in prescribing solutions to holdups to their growth. We must ease mental distress, mitigate crises, and build psychological resilience to help us navigate an uncertain world. This includes significantly expanding access to mental health care – often a privilege accessible only to a few. The report says that “on average, countries spend less than two percent of their health care budgets on mental health!”
There is also need for increased focus on investments, insurance, innovation as pathways to enable people to thrive in the face of uncertainty. Investment —from renewable energy to preparedness for pandemics and extreme natural hazards— to ease planetary pressures. Insurance—including social protection— to prepare our societies for the contingencies of an uncertain world. Innovation in its many forms—technological, economic, cultural—to respond to the unknown challenges that humanity will face.
We can accomplish a lot if we work together towards shared goals. Where we go from here is up to us.