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We need G7 guidance to fix three big problems from the pandemic

We need G7 guidance to fix three big problems from the pandemic
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What made the Greatest Generation great was not only its ability to rise to the occasion in a world that was torn apart, but its understanding that with steady, competent leadership, the pre-war path of isolation and nationalism was not sustainable. The post-World War II order would require international cooperation. 

The world is again torn apart because of the coronavirus pandemic and its fallout. The path forward is unclear.  There is, however, an opportunity for an international, modern-day equivalent of the Greatest Generation to create a path of shared and sustainable recovery.

There are three components that global leaders, particularly those representing democracies and open markets, must address: a global strategy for dealing with the pandemic; the economic crisis; and international security threats, particularly those that interfere with recovery.

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As imperfect as it is, the G7 could lead a global effort, establishing a permanent secretariat to bring together governments, international organizations and civil society in response to the pandemic and its aftermath. At the same time, the G20 could serve as a “board of directors,” offering guidance and support for work being done by the G7 secretariat.    

The G7 has shown leadership in responding to dramatic global change by supporting the creation of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development after the fall of the Berlin Wall; the Financial Affairs Task Force (FATF) in response to money laundering and the terrorist threat; and the Global Fund to fight AIDS.  

The first, immediate step is to deal with the pandemic. There is a precedent for a positive global response to health crises, whether it be malaria, AIDS, Ebola or another threat. International organizations all have a role to play, as does civil society. The G7 could organize the effort to get information, medicine and other materials, as well as health care personnel, to each nation according to its needs. World Bank President David Malpass recently pointed out several key priorities for dealing with the crisis, including ensuring food security, strengthening health systems and supporting vaccine development. 

Best practices can help make certain the response is effective and transformative. The work being done in India’s Dharavi community in Mumbai, which became well known from the film “Slum Dog Millionaire,” is an example of best practices, both with respect to health care and economic recovery that could be used by other similar communities. The G7/G20 can help manage distribution of assistance, but the most effective way to do that is to directly engage communities, helping them tailor their responses to the specifics of their situation. 

The other dimension to the pandemic problem is how to ensure the global economy is on a path of recovery that is inclusive and sustained. Carmen Reinhart, the World Bank chief economist, and her husband, economist Vincent Reinhart, wrote a compelling article in a recent edition of Foreign Affairs about a “pandemic depression.” There is a yin and yang dimension to the pandemic and the press for an economic recovery. The pandemic must be managed and mitigated in order for the economic recovery to be successful. At the same time, there is an inevitable pull to regularize quickly national and international economic activity to try to prevent a deeper economic crisis.  

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A key to not artificially rushing the recovery is patience.  A call for patience must be backed by political leadership, assuring people that their basic needs will be met during this crisis. The United Nations Development Programme recently released a report that recommends a temporary basic income for the most vulnerable in 132 developing countries. The report points out that “(t)he idea of a temporary basic income arises from an unprecedented set of responses to an unprecedented crisis.” Communication and transparency among governments and international organizations are feasible and necessary, both with respect to assessing needs and the efficient distribution of resources.

The security dimension of pandemic-related problems is connected to both health and economic concerns. Lebanon is such an example. The tragic explosion at a sea port in Beirut, as well as poor governance and its handmaiden, corruption, are not the result of the pandemic, but the pandemic certainly has exacerbated the situation. The World Health Organization recently stated that three of Beirut’s hospitals are out of service and 50 percent of the city’s health care centers are nonfunctional.  All this is occurring as the coronavirus is spiking in Lebanon. 

It would be a mistake to view the situation in Lebanon with its collapsed government and social unrest as an isolated incident. Haiti, like Lebanon, has problems that predate the pandemic, but the pandemic has made the situation there worse, with gangs challenging the government and the rule of law. The pandemic has created political problems throughout Latin America as well.   

These are examples of what could happen if countries don’t work together to address the problems that are facing all nations, rich and poor. As World Bank Managing Director Axel von Trotsenburg recently said when discussing the situation in Lebanon, “(E)ngaging all stakeholders (e.g. the International Monetary Fund, United Nations, European Union) in recovery and reconstruction is critical. … Guiding principles for conducting this engagement will be transparency, inclusion and good governance.”  

If nations in general and democracies in particular are to survive and thrive, they will have to show they can provide answers to the three big problems facing all nations and people — managing the pandemic, responding to the economic crisis the pandemic has helped to create, and managing the security issues and unrest that are a result of the pandemic. Working together under G7 leadership, with governments, international institutions and civil society, this generation of democratic, political leadership can rise to the occasion and become a worthy successor to the Greatest Generation.

William C. Danvers most recently was a World Bank Group Special Representative for International Relations. He previously was deputy secretary general of the OECD and worked on national security issues for 35 years in the executive branch, on Capitol Hill, for international organizations and the private sector.