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Inequality pushing world to 'breaking point': UN

July 18, 2020

UN chief Antonio Guterres has taken aim at rich countries for failing to help the developing world through the coronavirus crisis. The pandemic, he said, has revealed the "delusion that we live in a post-racist world."


The coronavirus has brought the world to "breaking point," exposing deep global inequalities and discrimination across societies, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said Saturday.

Delivering a lecture for the Nelson Mandela Foundation, the head of the UN compared the pandemic to an "x-ray" that has revealed "fractures in the fragile skeleton of the societies we have built."

"It is exposing fallacies and falsehoods everywhere: The lie that free markets can deliver health care for all ... the delusion that we live in a post-racist world. The myth that we are all in the same boat."

"While we are all floating on the same sea, it's clear that some are in superyachts while others are clinging to floating debris," he said.

Read more: Coronavirus exposes the divide between China's rich and poor

 Power imbalance

The coronavirus has infected more than 14 million people, led to almost 600,000 deaths, and caused economic chaos in countries around the world. The UN has appealed for $10.3 billion (€9 billion) to support poor states hit by the pandemic but has so far only received $1.7 billion.

Guterres lambasted rich countries for focusing on their own survival and failing "to deliver the support needed to help the developing world through these dangerous times."

"Entire regions that were making progress on eradicating poverty and narrowing inequality have been set back years, in a matter of months," he said, adding that the crisis could trigger "famines of historic proportions" and push 100 million more people into poverty.

He said factors such as systemic racism, the legacy of colonialism and lack of access to technology had helped create inequalities on an international level — and that world leaders had simply looked the other way.

"The nations that came out on top 70 years ago have refused to contemplate reforms needed to change power relations in international institutions," he said, pointing to the UN Security Council, where Britain, China, the United States, France and Russia have veto power.

Read more: Under coronavirus lockdown, Delhi slum residents struggle to get water

Inequality starts 'at the top'

Guterres stressed that there needed to be change "at the top," starting with a new model for global governance that could create "equal opportunities for all and respect the rights and freedoms of all."

He said this new model should give developing countries more say in decision-making, establish a more inclusive multilateral trading system and ensure equal participation in global institutions. There was also a need for a new generation of social protection, he added, such as universal health coverage, and perhaps a universal basic income.

World leaders had a choice, Guterres said: "Will we succumb to chaos, division and inequality? Or will we right the wrongs of the past and move forward together, for the good of all?"

Guterres' speech, delivered online, marked what would have been the 102nd birthday of anti-apartheid activist and former South African President Nelson Mandela.

How the coronavirus affects the poor

nm/sms (Reuters, AFP, AP, dpa)

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