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Rowley: COVID-19 a threat of unmatched proportions


Rowley: COVID-19 a threat of unmatched proportions
Dr Keith Rowley (FILE)

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United Nations – Trinidad and Tobago Prime Minister Dr Keith C. Rowley says the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic presents “an existential threat of unmatched proportions” to human health and safety around the world.

“It has overwhelmed health sectors, disturbed global trade and food supply chains, crushed the travel and leisure industry, as well as disrupt the basic livelihoods of people around the world,” Rowley told the virtual United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) Debate on Saturday.

“Alarmingly, the pandemic has intensified the vulnerabilities of small economies and has rendered us more susceptible to exogenous shocks. Further, COVID-19 has threatened to reverse the gains, which our societies have achieved towards attaining our sustainable development goal (SDG) targets,” he added.

Stating that the twin-island republic’s prospects for achieving sustainable development hinge heavily on the safety and security of its people, Rowley said the global pandemic has exacerbated the threats posed by the illicit trafficking in small arms and light weapons, piracy, trafficking in persons and cybercrimes.

“Given our ardent desire to free our society from the effects of the prevalence of unregulated small arms and light weapons, Trinidad and Tobago remains fully committed to the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), which we view as indispensable in addressing the menace of the illicit arms trade,” he said, adding that Trinidad and Tobago attaches “great importance and remains unwavering” in its support of the mandate of the International Criminal Court (ICC), which was established to hold those who commit heinous crimes accountable under international law and to act as a deterrent to would-be perpetrators.

“We, therefore, continue to urge those states, which have not yet done so, to support the ICC,” he added.

Prime Minister Rowley said his administration remains attentive to the needs of all children, with special emphasis on those who are most affected by COVID-19 pandemic, such as those living in extreme poverty, those suffering from mental health ailments, those with special needs and those who have lost loved ones.

“As we navigate through these challenging times, we remain committed to ensuring that no child is left behind in our campaign to build back better’” he said, noting that the pandemic has accelerated his government’s thrust towards a digital transformation of the public sector.

He said as the country adjusts to the “new normal”, the government has “quickly adapted” to utilising remote platforms for conducting business instead of the traditional in-person meetings.

“We are optimistic that our greater reliance on digital platforms will result in opportunities for our young people in fields related to cyber technology and cyber security,”

Rowley said as a Small Island Developing State (SID), Trinidad and Tobago remains at high risk of being affected by the harmful effects of climate change, “which have already been manifested in coastal erosion resulting from the rise in sea level”.

He said in this regard, his country continues to place emphasis on multi-pronged approaches for future adaptation to and mitigation of climate change, within the constraints of our limited financial capability.

“We, therefore, remain committed to achieving our sustainable development through a combination of collaborative approaches and improved partnerships with stakeholders.”

Rowley said the COVID-19 pandemic, coupled with the significant decreases in energy prices, has precipitated the acceleration of efforts aimed at the diversification of the republic’s economy.

Rowley said the government has allocated resources and increased investment in the agricultural and tourism sectors, as it recognizes the need to build resilience in these areas through incentives, policies, programs and public private partnerships.

Additionally, he said engendering investment in agriculture will “inevitably lead to a reduction in the demand for certain imported foods, preservation of our limited financial resources and the achievement of a more food-secure nation.

“We will also continue to encourage the participation of women in agri-business, agriculture and tourism, as we remain seized of the fact that women not only undertake the role of ensuring that their families receive the nutrition they need to be healthy but are sometimes the breadwinners.”

Rowley said that the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) has cautioned that a debt crisis is looming for the economies of the Latin American and Caribbean sub-region, “which will compound their high debt to GDP (gross domestic product) and debt service ratios.

“Despite the middle and upper-income status of many economies in the region, a strong case exists that these countries are deserving of special consideration for debt relief,” Rowley said, strongly urging the international community to assist with the financial support needed by developing countries, including middle-income countries like Trinidad and Tobago, to meet their development commitments.

As the global body begins the Decade of Action and Delivery to implement the Sustainable Development Goals, Rowley said it is important to ensure that no country is left behind.

On that note, he said Trinidad and Tobago maintains that the economic, commercial and financial embargo imposed against Cuba, undermines the country’s potential to achieve sustainable development.

In his address, Rowley said Trinidad and Tobago reiterates its call for the unconditional lifting of the economic, commercial and financial embargo against Cuba.

“We have noted that, despite the blockade, the Government of Cuba has demonstrated the true spirit of multilateralism by providing health care personnel to assist countries in different regions of the world in their fight against COVID-19.

“We commend and thank the Government and People of Cuba for this humanitarian gesture,” he said, urging member-nations to continue to support the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) initiatives, encouraged by Norway and Barbados, to bring all elements in Venezuela to accept dialogue and human rights as “their guiding lights, as we look forward to fair and peaceful elections there in the near future, and trust that a satisfactory outcome would lead to a resumption of normalcy in our Caribbean shores, as we all aspire together to achieve together in this region”. (CMC)

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