Denise Antonio | The year of testing, agility and innovation in response to crisis
The year 2020 was one of great testing, reflection, and recalibration for all of us due in large part to a global pandemic that redefined all we knew about crisis response and management. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Multi Country Office in Jamaica saw how COVID-19 threatened to derail the targets we had meticulously set in partnership with the Government and people of Jamaica, and more so, to impact lives and livelihoods while overturning national development gains – in just weeks. This is the nature of crisis after all, but never had we imagined the scale of the disruption. The setbacks surprised us, but it also dared us, challenged us to be agile in finding ‘work-arounds’ and other viable solutions to support Jamaica in this time of crisis and to give more weight to crisis prevention and recovery in our future programming.
Like every development partner, we were impacted, concerned, cognizant of the need for unprecedented creativity and innovation, powered by teamwork.
In consultation with the Government, we reset our priorities and work modalities with the aim of sustaining our support to Jamaica’s national development aspirations as well as Bahamas’ ongoing hurricane recovery programme. Technology became the backbone of our operations: We implemented unprecedented tele-working arrangements, leveraging digital software and hardware to connect our staff in a virtual office space. Meanwhile, we met virtually with government and other partners to determine their most urgent COVID-19 response and recovery needs. We got to work mobilising resources from UNDP core funds and repurposing project funds with the kind permission of donors like the European Union and Global Affairs Canada. We revised implementation methodologies, fast-tracked activities that did not require physical interactions and extended projects where necessary due to inevitable implementation lags.
Our resulting package of COVID-19 response projects and services were designed to make a modest contribution to containing the economic fallout as well as disruption in basic social services experienced due to the pandemic. To this end, we scaled up existing initiatives led by the Government in addressing the needs of vulnerable populations to reinforce the social safety nets of the country. These efforts included the provision of relief packages containing food and sanitation items to low-income female headed households; income-replacement grants to household workers, and business-stimulation grants to micro, small, and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs). UNDP also supported the Government in bolstering its capacity to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic by rolling out the pilot phase of a digital platform designed to coordinate, monitor, and track local and international support in times of emergency. Given the evolving development challenges experienced from COVID-19, continued emphasis will be placed on strengthening national institutions to deliver basic services and social protection to the most vulnerable as well as to monitor environmental issues.
Our COVID-19 crisis support also extended to economic policy advisory knowledge management services. Leveraging our global knowledge network and local expertise, UNDP produced policy papers featuring robust analysis of the response to the COVID-19 health crisis and its economic and social impacts on Jamaica and The Bahamas, while offering tailored policy prescriptions for consideration.
Essentially, crisis forecasting, prevention, and recovery became a cornerstone of our policy response and support. It was always a feature of our project portfolio, never its bedrock. COVID-19 changes everything.
Other aspects of our crisis portfolio focused on hurricanes and Climate Change. In 2020, UNDP’s support to The Bahamas was tailored to build resilience in the wake of the category five hurricane Dorian the previous year. In 2020 we strengthened our partnership with the Government of The Bahamas to enhance its institutional capacity to build resilience to climate change and natural disasters through the approval National Recovery Policy and Implementation Plan by the Cabinet and production and distribution of a “Build to Code” manual. UNDP is particularly proud of the Caribbean region’s first mobile Technical Assistance Centres which have been deployed to Abaco and Grand Bahama to provide door to door hurricane resilient home repair and advice services to homeowners impacted by Hurricane Dorian. A Cash-for-Work Programme provided emergency livelihood support to the most vulnerable while helping in the post hurricane cleanup of select places on the islands.
Through the completion of the Monitoring and Evaluation Framework for the Water Sector Policy, the capacity of Jamaica’s Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation has been strengthened to bolster resilience against climate shocks and to safeguard the vulnerable against preventable waterborne and sanitation-related diseases.
There was progress in other areas of our portfolio, notwithstanding the crisis, but also due in large part to the agility of our response and the efficient deployment of technology. For example, Jamaica made further progress in advancing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) in 2020, with UNDP support by building capacity to monitor progress of implementation efforts and also building capacity to leverage innovative financing mechanisms for further localization of the SDG.
Notably, the capacities of public-policy and rule-of-law institutions and civil society organizations to advance human rights and justice sector reform were strengthened. This included strengthening the technical capacity of human rights and civil society institutions in legal reform efforts and improving access to legal information and services by operationalization of two legal mobile units, the development of justice related Information Education and Communication materials, and an interactive portal for justice sector users.
UNDP continued is support to Jamaica’s policy framework for natural resources management by supporting development and approval of the Minerals Policy in 2020. Our environmental and climate change portfolio continued to be robust in 2020 despite the challenges as we supported strengthening local capacity to fulfil obligations under international conventions and the development of national implementation plans.
Additionally, we supported targeted interventions designed to impact Jamaica’s public sector energy bill through the introduction of renewable energy and installation of energy efficiency technologies at four health facilities, consistent with Jamaica’s national energy security and efficiency goals.
I take my hat off to a great team and great partners. I wish to thank the Governments and people of Jamaica and The Bahamas for their continued leadership and accessibility as we seek to better the lives of our people consistent with national development priorities. We especially thank our donor partners, the European Union and Global Affairs Canada for their support in reallocating funds under UNDP implemented projects to COVID response and recovery. Finally, a big thank you to Team UNDP for tirelessly working to bring agility and responsiveness to UNDP’s interventions in 2020.
Though fraught with challenges, 2020 has taught all of us enduring lessons:
1. We must be more serious about strengthening crisis response and prevention, ensuring adequate forecasting, capacity building, planning and mitigation. Crisis is inevitable, differing only in scope and impact. We must be more prepared
2. We fully support efforts to advance the digital society and economy and call for greater levels of investment in supporting infrastructure, training and policies to enable this sooner rather than later. By enabling digital tools and resources and migrating many functions into these spaces, UNDP has been able to continue its support of the government and people of Bahamas and Jamaica.
3. Policies must be agile in responding to crisis. Emergency safeguards must empower people to act quickly and decisively when required while adhering to sound principles of fairness and transparency. UNDP’s global policy amendments in response to the pandemic, enabled our field offices to mobilize quickly and efficiently to support the countries we serve.
Going forward UNDP Multi Country Office in Jamaica renews its commitment to strengthening capacities for crisis prevention response and recovery and technology transfer and adaptation, bringing greater levels of responsiveness and agility to our support, especially when crisis knocks. These are crucial next steps as we recalibrate for a future that may hold unpleasant surprises in store. We must be ready.
- Denise Antonio is UNDP Resident Representative to Jamaica, Belize, Bermuda, Cayman Islands, The Bahamas and Turks and Caicos Islands. Follow her at @Antonio67Denise