Amanda Serumaga, UNDP Resident Representative Mauritius and Seychelles during the launching of the Human Development Report 2019 in Seychelles

As many of you may recall in January 2013, Tropical Cyclone Felleng caused severe flooding and landslides especially in the South of Mahe. The World Bank estimated the damage and loss of this event alone to be in excess of 100 mn/- Seychelles Rupees. Since then, Seychelles has not been immune to cyclonic weather, with Cyclone Fantala ravaging the outer islands not once but twice.

More recently, the development of twin cyclones in the Indian Ocean last week, make Seychelles even more vulnerable to the impacts of changing weather patterns. Many of you may have seen photographic evidence of the rough seas in the south of Mahe- making all the islanders wary of the potential threat to come.

The events shaping the global narrative currently are a distillation of the intertwined challenges that will come to define the twenty-first century: that of the climate crisis, automation and inequality.

The environment, rising fuel costs and a lack of jobs, migration are just some of the issues driving recent protests around the world. People are increasingly taking to the streets because they feel that economic and political structures are rigged against them.

These grievances support the core analysis of the new UNDP’s Human Development Report , which presents decision makers with the choice to overturn deep-rooted systemic drivers of inequality.  In doing so, there is the opportunity to simultaneously eliminate extreme deprivation while equipping everyone to live with dignity, manage the fallout of our planet heating up and benefit from modern breakthroughs in artificial intelligence and robotics.

Inequality is not inevitable, but it will only get harder to correct humanity’s current self-destructive trajectory. The climate crisis is already hitting the poorest communities the hardest and earliest. These are same people that are also missing out on the opportunities needed to get ahead, like a university education. Even the most basic human needs are still not being met for many.

The odds are clearly stacked, in a wide range of ways, along gender, ethnic, linguistic, class and sexual orientation lines – to name but a few. Women represent the largest systematically disadvantaged group worldwide and are facing a backlash to their empowerment. The new UN report details how the proportion of people biased against at least one form of gender equality has grown over the decade 2005 to 2014 in half of the 77 countries assessed, now rising to 90% of men and 86% of women. Additionally, the more power is at stake, the higher the resistance, with a woman facing more intense opposition in running for office than voting.

These statistics speak to just one of many pervasive and pernicious inequalities that exist in the world and are driving frustration and resentment. But with the scale and scope of the challenges mapped out, how do we respond?

For starters, a relatively low national income is no excuse for inaction. Countries with fewer resources at their disposal might take inspiration from Seychelles, which espoused free compulsory 9-year schooling which has created a highly literate population and a high level of human development as shown by the HDI which has continued to improve over the years.  The concerted effort in early childhood care and education across the country, has secured a double win through facilitating early childhood development and freeing up mothers’ time, and has increased women’s participation in economic activities. Today women make up over nearly 50% of the labour force in formal employment. Those national policies made Seychelles being, this year, the first African country to move into the very high human development group according to the Human Development Report 2019.

A wide range of countries with a broad assortment of health systems and incomes –ranging from   Japan, Rwanda, Vietnam and Seychelles – have all worked to either create or expand their universal health coverage programmes.

Looking to expand opportunity and fight poverty, I am proud to say that UNDP will continue its work in Seychelles to support programmes addressing the double challenge of boosting resilience to climate change while improving sustainable livelihoods, sustainable production and consumption in agriculture. The ongoing Ecosystem Based Adaptation project aims to reduce the vulnerability of the Seychelles to climate change, focusing on two key issues—water scarcity and flooding by restoring ecosystem resilience and functionality to manage and mitigate climate change risks. The Climate Smart Agriculture project supports farming communities by reducing the water and energy consumption in agriculture improving the productivity and yield and also bringing this sector one step closer to having ‘’green’ or environmentally sustainable farms. On La Digue, the GCCA+ project aims to mitigate the impacts of climate change along the coastline and reducing the impact of salt water intrusion into the fresh water streams.

Furthermore we are excited to announce that we will soon be implementing two new projects- one that will  undertake a comprehensive Ridge to Reef  approach addressing the  ‘whole island’ priorities of biodiversity conservation and management from upland forests to the coast and the second focussing on the restoration of Coral reefs to meet a changing climate future.

Countries will not be able to beat inequality on their own, however. As with the climate crisis, collective action is an essential part of the solution. For example, international collaboration will be required to tackle tax evasion and prevent a race to the bottom on corporate taxes and environmental standards. Moreover, new standards need to be developed to make sure that new generations of digital firms make markets more efficient, satisfy labour regulations and pay their fair share of taxes.

On gender, policies should seek to change social norms and eliminate discrimination through education, awareness and changing incentives. And to ensure that everyone benefits from the latest technologies, UNDP hopes to see more measures like free broadband and electronic medical records to micro-target those left furthest behind.

Returning to consider the sense of disenchantment and dispossession underpinning many of the year’s protests, leaders must redouble their efforts to remove the alienating, insurmountable and unfair obstacles their citizens face in achieving the life they want for themselves. Governments must drive radical reforms to enable their citizens to thrive rather than just survive in an era of climate crisis and technological transformation. If they don’t, the current growing unrest might set off a decade of turmoil and uncertainty.

Inequality is not inevitable. We in UNDP stand ready to support the government here to make the difficult choices needed to provide all citizens – now and in the future – with a fair and dignified lot in life, powered by technology, shielded from prejudice and protected from an increasingly unforgiving climate.

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