Despite making progress in addressing the pandemic, 2022 saw a surge of new cases, caused by Omicron, the latest COVID-19 variant. Governments were expected to urgently respond by re-opening COVID-19 wards, expediting distribution of booster shots, implementing containment measures and providing social assistance to vulnerable households.
The continued mutation of the virus could have been prevented if developed countries only prioritize global public health and welfare over profit. As COVID-19 vaccines are still patented and production is still restricted, mutations are expected to subsist as the world’s poorest still fail to get a single dose.
As donor countries and multilateral institutions seek for the revival of old systems under the banner of “new normal”, “build back better” and “green recovery”, we see that the world’s richest countries are miles ahead on the path to recovery and development. Meanwhile, the least developed and developing countries are still reeling from the impacts of the pandemic on their already vulnerable health, social, economic and political systems.
The breakdown of institutions that have led to widespread conflict and fragility in Myanmar, Palestine and Afghanistan have also not been resolved. With the lack of support and assistance from development cooperation actors to address the long-standing causes of conflict, long-term resolution and recovery remains out-of-reach for the peoples of the region.
With these in place, there is a need to remain vigilant and critical of development cooperation policies, discussions and trends. As the region’s marginalized and vulnerable shoulder the burden of the health, development, and climate crises, the work in ensuring a people-centered, rights-based and climate-resilient recovery and development must be continued and further intensified.
As RoA-AP remains steadfast in its mission, here are five (5) major areas that are important for the network to continue engaging this 2022:
Decreasing Official Development Assistance in Asia Pacific, in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic and accompanying development challenges, further exacerbates inequalities
While official development assistance (ODA) provided by donor countries reached “new” heights in 2020, it remains lacking for developing and least developed countries which face the shocks of COVID-19, development challenges and the climate crisis. While donor countries have not been upholding their 0.7% GNI commitment, the year 2020 also saw a decline in the ODA allocation of countries, especially with the United Kingdom slashing their aid budget. Furthermore, COVID-19 vaccine donations are also being considered as a part of, rather than an addition to ODA, further diminishing much-needed aid.
On top of decreasing ODA, policy conditionalities attached to aid burdens recipient countries as these are usually based on donors’ geo-political interests that may harm the sovereignty, security and development of the marginalized. Furthermore, the provision of ODA, largely in the form of loans rather than grants, leads to the accumulation of debt by already vulnerable economies, resulting in debt distress. The failure to allocate sufficient ODA to countries, groups and sectors that need it the most also harms the recovery of the region. While donor countries and the global North bounce back from the pandemic, the least developed and developing countries are left even further behind.
‘New Normal’ COVID-19 recovery programs continue to preserve exploitative systems, putting the lives of the marginalized and vulnerable at more risk
Two years into the pandemic and despite national vaccination programs, the peoples of Asia Pacific are still seeing a rise in cases and threats to their daily lives. The pandemic and its impacts on society have exposed persisting inequalities within and among countries rooted at the neoliberal economic world order. The pandemic disproportionately impacts the vulnerable, such as the Indigenous Peoples, workers, farmers, fisherfolk, rural women and children, and urban poor, among others. These groups are further marginalized by vaccine inequality, due to the unwillingness of donor countries to waiver patents and restrictions for the local production of vaccines, and their hoarding of vaccine supply of developed countries.
In the “New Normal”, neoliberal systems are preserved and business as usual processes still prevail, which are indeed ineffective in addressing the compounding crises the world faces today. Mechanisms for recovery, purported by donor countries, multilateral institutions and the private sector, such as digitalization and other technology-focused projects fail to deliver assistance to the people who need it the most. Despite national, regional and international efforts in dealing with the pandemic, there is still a lack of a holistic, people-centered and rights-based recovery plan from governments, donor countries, and multilateral institutions.
Prioritization of private sector financing in development leads to the accumulation of profit at the expense of the peoples of the region
In the face of decreasing ODA and economic shocks, donors, multilateral institutions and developing countries have called to augment the private sector’s role in development. Private financing, either through blended financing or public-private partnerships (PPPs), espouses a corporate-driven recovery agenda that focuses on amassing wealth, rather than contributing to genuine development. International Finance Institutions (IFIs), in carrying out their corporate strategies, have pursued priorities and projects that further endanger people’s development, security and the environment.
Data derived from the CSO Aid Observatorio platform has exposed how the Asian Development Bank (ADB) serves as a driver of fragility in the region, and how the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) has worsened existing disparities through its infrastructure projects. In partnering with repressive governments, these banks have financially supported democratic backsliding and human rights violations. The banks’ lack of inclusive, participatory processes and grievance redress mechanisms for communities, people’s organizations and civil society organizations also contribute to the shrinking of civic spaces.
Increasing militarism in the region erodes democratic spaces and enables grave human rights violations
Asia Pacific is increasingly seen as a battleground between the competing superpowers of the United States and China. The pursuance of the United States’ Pivot to Asia strategy in order to “contain” China’s influence signals an intensified military and economic presence under the Biden administration. The devastating effects of the American deployment of military troops and securitization of aid can be clearly seen in Palestine and Afghanistan, where social unrest has culminated in the collapse of institutions, widespread violation of rights and loss of lives.
Governments also utilized the pandemic and containment measures to rid people of their rights and attack civil society. Even with the threats from the virus and the authoritarian governments, protests were mobilized in different parts of the region against inefficient pandemic response and oppressive, anti-people policies.
At the start of 2022, increase in fuel prices compelled protests against Kazakhstan’s authoritarian and corrupt regime, which led to a violent crackdown on activists and censorship. Myanmar’s nationwide civil disobedience movement and resistance has survived for a year, despite continuing threats from the military junta. Activists in India and the Philippines continue to protest against their respective anti-terror laws, which have been used by the government to imprison and silence activists, human rights defenders and journalists. Civil society in different parts of the region have shown solidarity with one another, exhausting available means to make themselves heard.
Multidimensional crises in fragile and conflict-affected states heighten the need for a people-centered implementation of the Triple Nexus approach
In light of the worsening state of conflict and fragility aggravated by the pandemic and current political climate, environmental degradation and climate change serve as risk multipliers. Especially in fragile and conflict-affected states, climate finance is insufficient to implement mitigation and adaptation measures. The promotion of profit-oriented and false solutions awards greater risks to already vulnerable states. While conflict-affected states remain ill-prepared for political, economic and environmental disasters, frontline communities face the brunt of these crises.
The interconnectedness of these development issues also requires an interlinked and holistic approach, which the Triple Nexus or humanitarian-development-peace (HDP) programming can provide. The Triple Nexus approach is seen as an opportunity by civil society to address the compounding needs of fragile states. However, a rights-based, people-centered implementation of this approach is crucial in order to prevent cases where development actors play a role in exacerbating conflict. As the DAC Recommendation on the HDP Nexus marks its third year of adoption, there is a need to scale up advocacy and monitoring efforts in conflict-affected, fragile states in order to assert a rights-based approach to development, democratic ownership, sovereignty, and inclusiveness.
With these priorities in mind, the Reality of Aid-Asia Pacific, with the leadership of its Steering Committee, is resolute in maximizing available spaces and pave pathways for effective engagement and relations with key development actors. As we continue to consolidate the membership, we will ensure that our voices and positions are heard in key policy arenas; we will ensure to contribute, critique and respond to policies and resources critical for the region’s sustainable development.
At a time of multiplying and compounding crises, 2022 presents an opportune time to forge through these challenges and to foster solidarities in pursuing a common goal of attaining a rights-based, people-centered, and climate-resilient development for all.