The Poverty and Shared Prosperity 2020 report provides recommendations for a complementary two-track approach: responding effectively to the urgent crisis in the short run while continuing to focus on foundational development problems, including conflict and climate change.
1. Closing the gaps between policy aspiration and attainment
Too often there is a wide gap between policies as articulated and their attainment in practice, and thus between what citizens rightfully expect and what they experience daily.
Policy aspirations can be laudable, but there is likely to be considerable variation in the extent to which they can be realized, and which groups benefit from them. For example, at the local level, those who have the least influence in a community might not be able to access basic services. At the global level, political economy concerns will be reflected in the extent to which rich and poor nations get access to finite global supplies of medical equipment. It is critical to forge implementation strategies that can rapidly and flexibly respond to close the gaps.
2. Enhancing learning, improving data
Much about the novel coronavirus remains unknown. The speed and scale with which it has affected the world has overwhelmed response systems in rich and poor countries alike. Innovative responses often come from communities and firms, which may have a better sense of the problems that should be prioritized and may enjoy greater local legitimacy to convey and enforce difficult decisions such as stay-at-home requirements. The faster everyone learns from each other, the more useful it will be.
The Republic of Korea’s widely applauded response to COVID-19, for example, has been attributed in part to intentional efforts to learn from its “painful experience” when responding to the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus in 2015.
3. Investing in preparedness and prevention
“Pay now or pay later” may be a cliché, but in the current moment the world is surely learning this lesson again, the hard way. Prevention measures often have low political pay-off, with little credit given for disasters averted. Over time, populations with no lived experience of calamity can become complacent, presuming that such risks have been eliminated or can readily be addressed if they happen.
COVID-19, together with climate change and enduring conflicts, is reminding us of the importance of investing in preparedness and prevention measures comprehensively and proactively.
4. Expanding cooperation and coordination
Contributing to and maintaining public goods requires extensive cooperation and coordination. This is crucial for promoting widespread learning and improving the data-driven foundations of policymaking, and for forming a sense of shared solidarity during crises and ensuring that the difficult policy choices by officials are both trusted and trustworthy.
Finally, effective responses must begin by recognizing what makes these challenges not just different and difficult, but so consequential for the poor. Failure to act comprehensively and urgently will create even bigger challenges in the future. As important as it is to address these shocks currently, there must be relentless focus on the ongoing development agenda of promoting inclusive growth, investing in human capital and productive assets, and protecting them if countries are to sustain poverty reduction.
But reversing even a massive reversal of fortune, such as we are seeing with COVID-19, is necessary and possible. It has been done in the past, in the face of what were regarded at the time as insurmountable challenges – eradicating smallpox, ending World War II, closing the ozone hole – and it will be done again in the future.
No country acting alone can adequately control, much less prevent, the type of emergency the world is now experiencing. Future preparedness, prevention, and crisis responses must be global and collaborative. Reversing even a massive reversal of fortune, such as we are seeing with COVID-19, is possible. It has been done many times in the past and it will be done again in the future. To address development challenges, whether large or small, the world must commit urgently to working together for resilient recovery and ensure no stone is left unturned to help millions like Tucker and those in her village.