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Governo Italiano

Covid and Cooperation. An interview with the Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Emanuela Claudia Del Re (L'Espresso)

Date:

05/18/2020


Covid and Cooperation. An interview with the Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Emanuela Claudia Del Re (L'Espresso)

We are still in the middle of a medical emergency. Phase 2 has just begun. Concretely, beyond the rhetoric linked to the confinement of Italians and the lack of protection of personal freedom, what is the Italian response to the COVID 19 pandemic?

International cooperation is currently engaged in providing a health response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which is the first frontier in the global fight against coronavirus. On the one hand, this response concerns the development of timely interventions for the prevention, containment, control and treatment of the disease; on the other, it focuses on research, development and equitable distribution of a vaccine against the coronavirus and further effective diagnostic and treatments. There can be no single Italian response to the global health crisis because of the evident interconnections clearly emerging in this scenario. Italy's policy will support the multilateral approach to the crisis, emphasising the collective character of the issue. Therefore, from an operational point of view, the objective is to strengthen coordination and partnership among the Donor Countries. Italy is on forefront of the global response to COVID-19 thanks to the high level of expertise in the health sector. For this reason, we have already made significant proposals, such as establishing an international alliance for the vaccine research, recently announced by Minister Di Maio in the G7 Ministerial communication, to maximise joint efforts and strengthen the international structures already operational in this field. We are always proactive in proposing and supporting and also thanks to the decisive Italian commitment, WHO and other global health actors, including CEPI for vaccine research, GAVI for distribution, and the World Bank, have recently launched the ACT platform (Access to COVID-19 Tool Accelerator).The mission of this platform is accelerating the development, production, and equitable access to new vaccines and diagnostic and treatments against the virus. On May 4th, Italy, together with other European partners, hosted theGlobal Conference to finance the health response to COVID-19. The Conference was chaired by the President of the European Commission Van der Leyer and attended by the President of the Council of Minister Giuseppe Conte. The EU was present together with France, Germany, United Kingdom, Norway, Canada, Japan, Saudi Arabia. It was a fruitful event,and, on that occasion, the international community raised €7.4 billion to speed up the health response to COVID-19 confirming its awareness that this emergency needs a collective mobilisation. We reaffirmed Italy's role as a responsible and supportive actor, announcing a contribution of €140 million in favour of the ACT platform.

To what extent are multilateralism and international cooperation with other nation-states essential in terms of security and protection, also considering a possible risk for social security posed by the possible economic recession?

I am a firm supporter of multilateralism, more than ever before. However, we must deal with that subject carefully to avoid erroneous or simplistic perceptions. Global solidarity is fundamental; it is an enormous social, economic, and political achievement, but it is also and above all a collective interest because viruses do not know no borders.Considering the levels of mobility of today's society. If we defeat COVID-19 in our country, we will have to avoid contagion, especially from neighbouring countries. We must join, promote, participate in global initiatives; it is in our interest, and we cannot be excluded from the decision-making process that would go ahead anyway because it is crucial. Within this framework, we must pay the utmost attention to countries with fragile health systems, which reflect the existence of equally fragile socio-economic systems and pose a risk in terms of security. In this regard, there are many potential spill-over effects because the lockdownmeasures have broken the cycle of solidarity networks that allow vulnerable communities to survive, exposing them to all forms of exploitation, hunger, and social disorder. For this reason, the international cooperation becomes of formidable strategic importance. For Italy, it is an integral and qualifying part of foreign policy in the more comprehensive European and international framework. I consider Development Cooperation as the most critical operational instrument of the Italian foreign policy. Italy has always used this instrument to promote fair, environmentally friendly, participatory, and shared social development for the societies of our partners countries. We are strongly committed to allow their growth and development, without distracting attention from our interests, both in terms of undoubted economic advantages and concerning joint activities, such as the fight against smuggling of migrants and terrorism. Today it is evident that without this partnership amongItaly and developed and developing countries it is not possible to lay the foundations for a global balance in all areas; a vital balance to ensure peace and prosperity. I would like to point out that our cooperation objectives, also foreign policy objectives, are the pivotal elementof the 2030 Agenda adopted by the United Nations in 2015. The programme summarises the reflections and experiences of years of work, creating a highly structured reference architecture to facilitate the achievement of sustainability objectives in terms of Official Development Assistance for developing and less developed countries. The current situation imposes to rethink some strategies. In the framework of COVID-19 crisis, we intend to allocate part of the cooperation, already allocated in the 2020 budgetary law, to the pandemic global response to support the health systems of countries that have strong weaknesses in this sector. We will pay attention to health, WASH (water, sanitization, and hygiene) and food security sectors, another example of the consequences of the crisis that we will try to avoid.The global lockdown has put the fluidity of food distribution chains at risk and threatened the food security of many vulnerable countries, especially in the African continent. It is important to underline that none of our European and global partners (also those, like us, who are heavily affected by the virus) have abandoned cooperation and humanitarian aid to weakest countries; on the contrary, they are investing more resources to fight the pandemic that is breaking out globally in many areas already vulnerable because of the prolonged humanitarian crises. This shows that the contemporary vision of international and development cooperation has developed broader and more complexstrategies and a different vision compared to the past. Those who believe that the paradigm is still ‘countries of the rich North that help the South, do not consider the fact that South-South dynamics are now also fundamental in this framework. We need to update the planisphere: countries that used to be beneficiaries are now also producers of cooperation.The perspective has changed. The approach is increasingly inclusive, open to different options for action, always within a framework of national and international interests. International Cooperation cannot be considered as an instrument that creates competition between states except in the field of investments that these states decide to make. However, as far as I am concerned, I think that not only funds should be considered to measure when a country is aware of the necessity to be part of this global commitment, but also quality. In terms of quality, Italy is undoubtedly a winner.

How could the protracted pandemic impact the complex system of food supply chains, involving farmers, food storage and processing systems, transport, and others? And how is the Government putting in place measures to stem this problem?

Italy is fully aware of this issue. According to FAO, COVID-19 pandemic is directly affecting the food systems of states and this has direct impact on food supply and demand but also an indirect impacton the reduction in purchasing power and in the ability to produce and distribute food. No doubt that if the pandemic continues for a long time, there will be significant effects on the complex food supply chain system also involving farmers, food storage and processing systems, transportation, and others. In these days I have participated in numerous international discussions on this issue to respond to emergencies but also to identifyforms of prevention. We are not facing a food shortage problem, but rather a logistics one exacerbated by insufficient coordination on border closure regulations, health, supply chain, and labour standards. Italy has great experience andcan share its best practices in the field of organic crops, protection of the territory and enhancement of local realities. Also, we have promoted the creation of a Food Coalition: an innovative multilateral and multi-sector mechanism able to create a network of international solidarity to respond to new critical issues in the food supply system. Through the Food Coalition we intend to mobilise human and financial resources at both public and private level; provide technical and scientific support to policymakers; establish the basis for an open dialogue between all stakeholders at all levels; promote initiatives to raise awareness of the general public. Our proposal on the Food Coalition, immediately supported by of many countries, responds to the call of UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to create an international mechanism promoted by FAO, WFP, and IFAD, the three UN agencies based in Rome. The initiative is aimed at conducing targeted studies and research on the post-COVID scenario and develop guidelines to mitigate the effects of the crisis.

There have been cases of social unrest in Africa, such as the dangerous crowd of people lining up for food in some African cities, where the lockdown has made it difficult for the poorest to get food. Is there a real risk of these phenomena in Italy too?

Every time we see images like those, African people queuing to receive food, we are deeply touched. The problem lies precisely in the change that the lockdown has imposed on systems that, particularly in vulnerable countries, rely more on social support networks than om government policies. For these vulnerable groups getting food has become a real challenge. Around 80% of the world's extreme poverty is concentrated in rural areas, and climate change exacerbates the effects of food insecurity. In developing countries, the negative economic impact of drought, which is intensifying due to climate change, falls on agriculture. Extensive literature has described for years the deleterious effects of malnutrition on immune responses that fail to cope adequately with pathogens and infections, underlining that the problem is particularly severe in low-income countries. The real problem is not the shortage of food, but rather the drastic measures introduced in response to the virus by various countries globally, such as border closures, movement restrictions and disruptions in the shipping and aviation sectors, which have made it more difficult to continue food production and transport goods internationally.

I find it paradoxical to compare those situations to stockpiling at the supermarkets and shelves left empty in Britain, for example, when Premier Johnson declared the health emergency. It is clear, however, that COVID-19 and the lockdown forced us to change our habits, including our food habits. But the supermarkets in Italy, even in the most acute phase of the pandemic, have always been well supplied, and the easing of restrictions with the start of Phase 2 will benefit the entire food sector. We must protect this system because it crucial for our economy. A prolonged crisis due COVID-19 could represent a test for food supply chains, a complex network of interactions involving farmers, agricultural involvements, processing plants, shipping, retailers and more.

The pandemic has created a health emergency and at the same time, a food disaster. It is, therefore, necessary to develop strategies to avoid it. Italy has excellent experience in this. How can resilient agricultural systems and production chains be supported to adapt to the emergency?

Italy emphasises the proper functioning of the agri-food sector during COVID-19 emergency, but also aids vulnerable groups and the needy, and fightagainst food waste. These were the themes and guidelines of my introductory speech at the meeting of the Group of Friends of Food Security and Nutrition, an informal group of 41 countries, that I chaired together with my counterparts from Canada, Egypt, and Brazil. We are facing a period of recession, and we must rethink the management of the food industry on a global level to avoid unforeseeable economic and socio-political effects. We must focus on the rural world involving local communities. We must work synergistically to keep global supply chains functioning. It is essential to find creative economic solutions to meet liquidity needs, including thinking about the subsidy mechanism and imagining a more flexible financing system. Finally, we must stop all export restrictions and enhance the role of the private sector. These interventions must be sustainable, not distorting the market and promote innovation. we must also consider a new model of agriculture that promotes sustainable production chains, support for small producers and cooperatives, enhancement of female entrepreneurship and the involvement of local communities.

There is a clear risk that poverty, dependence on food imports, price increases due to the pandemic and other problems could lead to a fatal short circuit, with obvious security and migratory repercussions on our continent too. What are the national and international measures to stem these phenomena?

In this case, it emerges how fundamental the action of the Italian cooperation is. Our programmeswill create the conditions for safe and regular migration flows. It is a priority expressed in various ways. First of all through initiatives aimed at the creation of employment and social inclusion in the countries of origin and transit, both by financing and strengthening the capacities of existing micro-enterprises, and by creating a favourable environment for the birth of new ones, so that migration is not a necessity, but a choice. In this context, one of the characteristics of our approach is the involvement of diasporas as active players in the development of countries of origin. I have seen many projects in many African countries, and I have seen the effect they have on individuals, on communities. These are high-quality projects with strong sustainability. I stress this because the selection of projects and implementing CSOs is profoundly serious on the part of our International Cooperation Agency, and this is reflected in the effectiveness of the intervention. Moreover, we have real "traditions" on the ground; I would say, in several countries - for example, Burkina Faso or Ethiopia - where our excellent diplomatic relations are also based on the presence on the ground of Italians who have been carrying out cooperation projects for years, allowing a sustainable development that would have been difficult to carry out otherwise given the scarce resources of the countries. Also, in the health field, several senior representatives of the institutions have told me that the Italian projects have enabled their countries to cope with situations that are difficult for them to manage without help.

As far as migration is concerned, COVID-19 emergency and the consequent closure of borders in many countries of origin and transit of migratory flows encourage Italy to strengthen integration activities and assistance to refugees and migrants on the move, especially in Africa. It is therefore essential that the urgent interventions for the pandemic do not make us lose sight of the needs of developing countries: the fight against the virus must go hand in hand with the structural aid to the most vulnerable groups. Today offer medical support to countries of origin and transit in to control the spread of COVID-19, butItaly has been financing such activities since 2017 thanks to a special Migration Fund of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The project specifically aimed at the protection of migrants and their integration into local communities, as well as at building activities for the benefit of the authorities responsible for combating illegal immigration regarding the rights of migrants. We are currently planning further assistance activities in Niger together with UN organisations, both to strengthen the response to the epidemic and to improve the living conditions of migrants. I have personally visited several projects funded by us too, in Agadez, in the Niger desert as well as in Tigre in Ethiopia. These are projects, whose positive impact is tangible, which also act on the host communities, promoting a strong awareness of the risks associated with illegal migration.

Is there the risk of non-tariff and restrictive measures on imports of Made in Italy products, unacceptable for our country, even if there is no scientific evidence on the transmission of the virus through food?

There is the risk and it is a risk that directly affects our national interests. We are strongly reaffirming to all our interlocutors, both bilaterally and multilaterally, that non-tariff restrictive measures on imports of Made in Italy products based on "health" considerations are unacceptable for our country. For me, some of the measures proposed are even grotesque, because they are the result of arbitrary non-scientific reflections, with intentions perhaps aimed at affecting our competitiveness. There is no scientific evidence on the transmission of the virus through food: labels such as "virus-free" are unacceptable.

What is the current situation in Africa concerning COVID emergency and what are the findings about recent scientific discoveries to eradicate diseases such as malaria?

There are no accurate statistics, but, to date, the cases of COVID-19 in Africa are around 70 thousand with about 2500 victims. The health response to the pandemic in Africa represents the first frontier in the global fight against the coronavirus and one of the main areas of intervention of international cooperation, primarily to support countries with, particularly fragile health systems. It concerns, on the one hand, timely interventions for the prevention, containment, fight against and treatment of the COVID-19 disease. On the other hand, it focuses on the only long-term solution to the crisis: research, development and equitable distribution of a coronavirus vaccine and further effective diagnostic and therapeutic treatments. A serious problem, however, is that the fight against COVID in these countries will divert attention from the ongoing battles to prevent the traditional diseases that kill hundreds of thousands of people every year in Africa alone. For example, the fight against malaria is one of the Agenda 2030 objectives. It is one of the main areas of intervention of the Italian cooperation. In 2001, as part of the Italian Presidency of the then G8, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria was launched, and we hosted the first funding conference in Rome. Since then, the Global Fund has become the most important global fund for health in developing countries: it has saved 32 million lives and had a decisive impact on the fight against the three diseases. But this is just one example. Italy is still the world's ninth-largest donor to the Global Fund and the sixth-largest donor to the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation (GAVI), which has immunised 760 million children and has had an enormous impact on both the containment of infectious diseases and the infant mortality rate and, together with our partners, we aim to reach more than 1 billion children by 2025. A new prototype anti-malarial vaccine was recently launched in Malawi and will soon be extended to Kenya and Ghana. The goal is to vaccinate around 360,000 children a year in the three countries to assess the vaccine's ability to reduce child deaths and their safety in the context of routine use. Gavi and the Global Fund, in coordination with WHO, are funding the first phase of testing in these three countries with just under $50 million. The vaccine is considered a complementary tool to be added to the package of measures recommended by the WHO for malaria prevention, which includes the use of insecticide-treated mosquito nets and the prompt use of anti-malarial testing and treatment.

As Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, she opened in the context of the 72nd World Health Assembly held in Geneva in May 2019 the presentation event of the "International Day against Child Diarrhoea", which was attended by national delegations and representatives of the leading international organisations involved (in addition to WHO, UNICEF, Un-Water, the International Committee of the Red Cross, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, UNHCR and others). What are the issues that have emerged most concerning this problem?

When I saw some data indicating that more than 530,000 children under the age of 5 die in the world every year due to diarrhoea, I could not help but think about doing something about this terrible situation. If you believe that those children could be saved if only, they had access to safe drinking water and proper hygiene, you are truly appalled. Clean water, washing hands with soap, good personal hygiene and food, health education on how infections spread. That is why I proposed to establish an International Day against Child Diarrhoea to make all governments aware of adequate, fair, and sustainable management of water resources, especially for the most vulnerable communities. Diarrhoea kills not only in poor countries, but also in the peripheries of Western states, including the USA and Europe: it is a problem that affects everyone, everywhere in the world, and it is only by working together, synergistically, that we could ensure the survival of thousands of children. This initiative of mine, carried out by MAECI, which I hope to present also at the next United Nations General Assembly in New York in September, has obtained the support of many countries and numerous institutions, including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, with which we are questioning how to intervene to maximise the impact of the actions that will be developed on the ground. I would also like to recall that Italy is among the signatories of the UN resolution that establishes access to drinking water and sanitation as an "essential right to the full enjoyment of life and all human rights". I thought of including the establishment of the International Day against Child Diarrhoea in a path already taken by our country which, in the wake of the SDGs of Agenda 2030, intends to invest more and more so as not to leave anyone behind.

How is ii possible to strengthen the efforts to improve access to drinking water and sanitation in crisis contexts and in the areas where scarcity of primary resources exacerbates these issues?

Worldwide, 780 million people have no access to drinking water, and 2.5 billion do not use adequate sanitation. We know that access to water and sustainable water management is becoming an emergency. Under the pressure of population growth, and due to climate change, per capita, water resources are continually decreasing. It is estimated that 1.8 billion people will live in areas with water scarcity in 2025, with significant consequences for both migration and territorial disputes. Water is an essential element in achieving the objectives of Agenda 2030, the fight against poverty, food security, sustainable agriculture, health and well-being, sustainable development of cities, management of terrestrial ecosystems and marine resources; water is essential to build resilience to climate change and disasters and to address the root causes of migration. Italy has adopted the right to water as an essential human right. And, as a long-term strategy in conflict prevention, Italy is actively engaged in the collective effort to ensure that climate change and water scarcity, due to the impact on peace and security, remain on the agenda of the UN Security Council for an adequate risk assessment, promoting the concept of preparedness of vulnerable countries. Water scarcity is a threat to development, peace, and security and ultimately to life. The African continent, with its frequent droughts, is one of the leading Italian priorities for cooperation in water resources management. The Lake Chad basin is one of the most compelling examples of water scarcity and its dramatic effects on livelihoods, food security, biodiversity and peace and security.

Italy is also proudly engaged in global partnerships in the Middle East, Asia, and Latin America. It has a long tradition and experience in water conservation and management. Among its main Italian development cooperation activities in this sector, there are the interventions in the WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) sector. Our experience, the multi-stakeholder and multi-objective approach that animates our cooperation since the beginning, a wide technical-scientific expertise on the subject, as well as a widespread and recognised presence of different actors of Italian cooperation in the sector are the basis of Italy's commitment to both interventions aimed at ensuring access to drinking water and the conservation and management of water resources in international cooperation. Our country has favoured drinking water uses, sanitisation and participation in the use of water resources for drinking purposes; considerable efforts have been made in the direction of a participatory management of water use in rural areas, favouring efficient irrigation interventions for agriculture.

Like Italy, we continue to be committed both bilaterally and multilaterally to improving access to drinking water and sanitation in crisis contexts and beyond. With our action, we intend to support participatory governance processes of local communities and water management for human and productive use, with inclusive and efficient approaches that take into account, in a modern perspective of sustainability, its social, economic and environmental implications. We also aim to strengthen institution-building processes aimed at combining multi-objective, multi-level, multi-stakeholderdecision-making processes, water resources management at the rural level both for human use andhealth services and for agricultural use for food production; access to water for human and food consumption must be considered as a decisive factor for the sustainability of development and the quality of life of people, closely interconnected with the food and nutritional security needs of each country, as well as a means of preventing more and more possible conflicts concerning the access to water resources.

What message do you feel to leave at the beginning of this phase2 to the many fellow citizens who have suffered and are suffering an extraordinary period of isolation?

A message of reassurance, which I also address to myself, of course. Italy and the Italians have shown themselves to be highly responsible, shrewd, determined and patient. We have succeeded in reversing the line of infection thanks to the commendable work of everyone, of our medical and health personnel who have never spared themselves working literally in the trenches, of those workers who have continued to ensure the functioning of some important sectors of our country such as supermarket employees, retailers, transporters, public transport drivers and many others. I would like to express my heartfelt thanks to all of them from the bottom of my heart. Today we mourn the loss of more than 30,000 of our fellow countrymen who were victims of the COVID-19. But they are not numbers, they are people with their history, with their own experiences. My closeness and moved thoughts go out to all their families. We are going through a tough and unprecedented experience. Most Italians have respected all the measures provided for by the Prime Ministerial Decree and the various regulations promulgated by the Ministries, with positive results that are before everyone's eyes. This is precisely the most important moment, the moment of recovery when it is vital not to lower our guard and not to give up: we must continue to be rigorous and respect the basic rules of social distancing. We must get used to a new "normality" and review some aspects of our "everyday life". I am sure that Italy will face Phase 2 with responsibility. We are all committed and working on getting the country back on track after securing the health of our citizens and, above all, our extraordinary health system, a flagship of our Italy. Our children, our young people, need to be reassured that commitment achieves results, that there is a causality between the actions that are taken and the results that are achieved. I believe that the simultaneous reaffirmation of this simple equation action=reaction is a fundamental element in this phase of recovery, a lesson we have learned from the COVID-19 that can turn the crisis into an opportunity. The awareness of personal responsibility, of the possibility of influencing collective destinies starting from individual choices, is the value that in my opinion, will determine a positive ontological turning point also for the years to come. In this hyperreal moment, there is a strong sense of community. The unity of intentions and actions is the only truly effective strategy at a national and global level. And Italy, a great country in the world, will be able to return to an that example of great values. We have always represented the history and will be the future.

 


Location:

Roma

Periodical:

L'Espresso

Author:

Giancarlo Capozzoli

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