The UN Resident Coordinator in the Islamic Republic of Iran, Ugochi Daniels says the United Nations agencies in the Islamic Republic of Iran are supporting local authorities in their demanding drive against COVID-19 outbreak. Under harshest US economic sanctions, Iran is also one of the hardest hit countries in the West Asia since the unknown disease was first reported in February 2020. Iran Daily interviewed Ms. Daniels who has been coordinating efforts including all UN agencies, INGOs and the international community by maximizing UN global response capacities to support the Iranian government’s fight against the deadly coronavirus. She also replied to the daily’s query on reforming the UN Development System. Full text follows:
Iran Daily: Would you please elaborate on the United Nations’ activities, operations and measures in the world in general and, particularly, Iran to fight COVID-19?
Ugochi: Let me start by saying that the COVID-19 pandemic took us all by surprise. I don’t think any of us could have imagined at the beginning of 2020 just how much death, grief and harm a virus could cause. Six months later, we have over 750,000 deaths worldwide, and almost 20,000 here in Iran alone (https://covid19.who.int/). And the numbers are still climbing faster now than they were back in May. It is heart breaking for families and nations. I will take this opportunity to extend, on behalf of the UN family in Iran our deepest condolences to those who have lost loved ones and wish speedy recovery for those affected.
Besides, it is now all too clear how much the virus has disrupted our daily lives – how it has impacted the economy, employment, businesses, welfare, social life. And how much a small but highly contagious and potentially deadly virus can change our societal and cultural norms.
Talking economy, almost all countries in the world will experience shrinking budgets. Worldwide the decline is estimated at a 5.2% causing a global recession - much worse than the one in 2008.
To get through this, we need global leadership that effectively combats the virus and at the same time gives us hope. To me the big hope in this situation is our ability to work together, to find solutions together, to show solidarity, to help each other. And this is exactly why we need the United Nations. I want to take this opportunity to thank Iran, which was one of 51 founding members in 1945, for demonstrating vision and action back then in 1945, and now for allowing us to respond globally to an unprecedented world crisis.
In 2020, the UN is marking its 75th anniversary, which means that the world organization over time developed institutions, procedures and knowledge and gained the relevant experience to deal with a crisis of this scale. And here in Iran, all UN entities have been extremely active supporting the national response. As the UN Resident Coordinator, I have coordinated our efforts by including all UN agencies, INGOs and the international community, and by maximizing UN global response capacities to support the Government’s fight against the virus.
From day one, The World Health Organization (WHO) has been leading on the global health response. They provided technical guidance on how to treat and care for the infected, how to stop the virus from spreading and coordinated many of the hundreds of research projects around the world, all aiming to find a cure and a vaccine. Iran is contributing quite substantially to the global Solidarity Trial, looking for best practices when treating COVID-patients, and is also conducting work to find a vaccine.
As not all countries are the same, WHO sent out delegations to tailor our joint responses to local needs. In March, a group of WHO experts visited Iran, working with health authorities, doctors and researchers on how to design and develop the national fight against the virus.
But the health response cannot stand alone. Vulnerable societies and groups are suffering tremendously all over the world. For example, the UN’s food agency, the World Food Program, has warned that the number of people living on the brink of starvation could double by the end of 2020 to 260 million people – that is a quarter of a billion people. To help respond to the Coronavirus, and to mitigate some of the serious consequences that the pandemic has had on particular groups that were already unfortunate or in need of assistance, UN agencies in Iran in June launched a COVID-19 Socio-Economic Recovery Program, encouraging international development partners to contribute funds.
Together with other initiatives, the UN has budgeted over US$ 300 million this year alone on top of what we normally spend in Iran. We are all extremely concerned about people who have lost income or jobs, the elderly, the sick, children with disabilities and so on. And we are targeting these groups with the activities under the recovery program.
Since the outbreak of the pandemic in February 2020, UN Iran has already done a lot in cooperation with the Government. I just checked our reports on how many people we reached with our response. We estimate that UN Iran has provided assistance to some 16 million individuals and over 11 million households in Iran.
What activities has the UN conducted on a global scale and in Iran to tackle the spread of misinformation on COVID-19?
It has been really scary to see how much misinformation is being circulated. The UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said at one point that we do not only have the COVID-19 pandemic, we also have a “dangerous epidemic of misinformation”. I agree with him.
For us, at the UN globally and in Iran, it has been a matter of providing reliable, trustworthy information. The UN has experts in so many fields, and we know how to coordinate and lead large scale cooperation. And how to share important knowledge and lessons learned. It has been crucial in the fight against COVID19 to identify the facts, research results and best practices. We have issued how-to-advisories available on UN websites, social media and the traditional news outlets such as newspapers, radio and television.
While working to support the Government and respecting rules and regulations, we have encouraged others to share our targeted information, too. We need not only to support professors, doctors and researchers looking for treatments, cures and vaccines. We also need to ensure that people with little resources in suburbs, villages or settlements know how best to protect themselves against the virus. We all have an important role, but we need to learn how to play it.
To highlight just how serious fake news can be, the UN launched a separate initiative called “Verified”. I encourage everyone in the media and beyond to take a look at the initiative. It gives everybody the opportunity to become an “information volunteer” helping the campaign to raise public awareness and provide people with verified information about the pandemic – in order to fight misinformation.
At our office here in Iran, the UN has done its utmost to communicate the most important and trustworthy data and messages in an easy-to-understand manner to the general public. We share everything on our bilingual website in Farsi and English and we put the most important facts onto our social media platforms.
I know I can speak on behalf of all UN leaders and staff in Iran when urging everybody to trust only official sources and think twice before sharing information.
What measures have so far been taken globally and, in particular, in Iran for reforming the UN Development System and, among other things, making it more integrated? What are the challenges ahead?
In every country, the UN must adapt its activities towards the specific local context.
This approach, a reform of the United Nations Development System (UNDS) started on 1 January 2019 at the request of the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. It aims at changing the way the UN works as a trusted, reliable, cohesive, accountable and effective partner to countries around the world to achieve sustainable development. The reform makes the UN more integrated and more focused on delivery on the ground, responding to national needs.
In Iran, the reform strengthened the UN Country Team, making it more agile, efficient and innovative to assist the Iranian people at this extraordinarily challenging time.
As I mentioned in the beginning, this year the United Nations marks its 75th anniversary thanks to our founding members such as Iran. This year we can also highlight the 70th anniversary of UN's presence in Iran - we opened our first office in Tehran in May 1950.
So, the UN and Iran go way back, we have a long common and important history that we keep building on and developing.
Regarding challenges ahead for the United Nations and the world, here is an important thing in these troubled times. What kind of future do we want, what kind of world do we want to leave to the next generations?
The UN Secretary-General has decided to mark the birth of the United Nations by launching the world's biggest conversation about the future. At one point I feared we had to cancel every initiative around the anniversary because of COVID-19.
But the pandemic has shown us just how important this conversation is - because we cannot go back to where we were - we have to learn from this crisis, aim high, and build a better future together. For this conversation about a new world globally, the UN has created what we call the One Minute Survey. Everybody is invited to have their say, express their dreams. The Survey is on the UN Iran website in Persian and English and I can personally guarantee that it only takes one minute to answer a few questions and write down what is important to you.
I am proud that the UN is working hard every day to shape a safe and sustainable future - together.
The UN here is for you and with you.