GZERO Media Town Hall: Could our response to COVID help end poverty?

GZERO Media, in partnership with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Eurasia Group, today hosted its first virtual town hall on how to fight global poverty amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The panel featured Gates Foundation CEO Mark Suzman, Eurasia Group and GZERO Media President Ian Bremmer, and Vera Songwe, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa. The conversation was moderated by Africa No Filter's Moky Makura.

Watch the full video above.


Has the pandemic strengthened or weakened multilateral organizations?

Songwe:

  • It has reinforced and strengthened them, not weakened them, by creating space for larger collaborative platforms. At the UN, we are bringing in some of the leading economists and think tanks in the world to think about how we can respond to this crisis differently. Questions about inclusion and participation are already starting to come to the table, as the UN's open platform brings in civil society voices on this subject. The World Health Organization has been a shining light, guiding us in terms of the scientific evidence, while other institutions, like the Centers for Disease Control in Africa and elsewhere, have been particularly important.
  • But resources are slim. We need to shore these multilateral institutions with more professional and scientific staff, as well as more financing for the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, so they can respond in a timely manner to the economic aspect of this crisis.

How do we ensure that if a COVID-19 vaccine is developed, it can reach every corner of the globe?

Suzman:

  • Let polio be an example. Last week, Africa was officially declared polio-free by the WHO, meaning the only parts of the world that still have the disease are Afghanistan and Pakistan. That shows you what can be done, even in very challenging logistical environments. The world knows how to do it. GAVI, the Vaccine Alliance, has probably saved more lives in the last 20 years than any collaborative effort in human history. I'm relatively optimistic. It is challenging, but we know how to do it. We have the constructs, we have the supply chains, we have the health systems.
  • What we don't have is the money and resources to be able to procure at scale in sufficient volume. What is equitable distribution and how do you do it rapidly at a time when so many individual countries may try to lock up supply for their own citizens. It's an understandable impulse, but there's a risk that this kind of "vaccine nationalism" actually sets the world back.

Should low- and middle-income countries be entitled to debt relief amid the pandemic?

Bremmer:

  • Sure, but under what conditions? Austerity-based reforms that Western economists believe will create more sustainable long-term growth can cause enormous hardship for populations that you don't really want to hurt. Loans are also often attached to political reforms — and that's where China is going to be critical to the debt relief equation, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, where Beijing isn't going to demand the same kind of economic or political liberalization in exchange for support. Frequently the Chinese conditions are much more opaque, sometimes beholding these countries to China's economic and political interests, which may not be good for either the world or these countries' populations.
  • I think we have to worry that as the global order is fragmenting, especially as the US and China are at much greater odds with each other. We could well be fighting over conditionality and debt for some of the most vulnerable countries, and that's something that we're going to have to pay attention to.
Stay tuned for future GZERO Media Town Halls.


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Learn more in this episode of Eni's Energy SUPERFACTS series.

Over the past few years, we've seen three major emerging powers take bold action to right what they say are historical wrongs.

First came Crimea. When the Kremlin decided in 2014 that Western powers were working against Russian interests in Ukraine, President Vladimir Putin ordered Russian troops to seize the Crimean Peninsula, which was then part of Ukraine. Moscow claimed that Crimea and its ethnic Russian majority had been part of the Russian Empire for centuries until a shameful deal in 1954 made Crimea part of the Ukrainian Soviet Republic. Americans and Europeans imposed sanctions on Russia. But Ukraine is not part of NATO or the EU, and no further action was taken.

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"Neither America first, which is ultimately America alone, nor America the world's policeman," Sen. Chris Coons told Ian Bremmer in describing VP Joe Biden's approach to foreign policy should he win the presidential election in November. In the latest episode of GZERO World with Ian Bremmer, Sen. Coons provides details of how U.S. relationships with foreign governments and multilateral alliances could change in a Biden presidency. He also defended President Obama's track record, saying "I think it is a mischaracterization of the Obama-Biden foreign policy for President Trump to say that we were picking up the tab and fighting the world's wars and that we were disrespected." Coons stated that Biden would work to restore U.S. involvement in alliances like NATO, and shore up global support to pressure China on labor and environmental standards. The exchange is part of a broad conversation with the Senator about COVID response and economic relief, Russian interference in elections, and the 2020 presidential race. The episode begins airing nationally in the U.S. on Friday, July 10. Check local listings.

Jon Lieber, managing director for the United States at Eurasia Group, shares his insights on US politics:

How is coronavirus jeopardizing the legitimacy of a 2020 presidential election?

Well, what coronavirus is doing is a lot of states are worrying about people who aren't going to want to come to the polling places in the fall, and they're worried about a shortage of polling workers who are going to want to come out and volunteer to get sick by interacting with a bunch people in person. So, what they're doing is they're looking at making a shift to vote-by-mail. Most states allow some form of absentee balloting today. Five states just automatically mail you a ballot and they don't do any in-person voting. But the challenge here is that a lot of states are unprepared for the sharp increase that's expected. In the last election, 25% of ballots were cast by mail. You may see 50, 60 or even more percent of ballots cast by mail this time, which could overwhelm election administration, which happens at the state level.

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The United States and the European Union have comparable population sizes, but their COVID-19 death toll trajectories have diverged. As of July 8, the average number of new deaths every three days in the EU had fallen 97 percent since peaking at the beginning of April. The US number, however, has fallen only 67 percent over the same period. That means that although both regions' death tolls peaked with only two weeks difference, the EU has flattened its COVID-19 fatality curve faster than America. Some experts attribute the difference to EU countries' more robust public health systems and better compliance with mask-wearing and other social distancing measures.