A woman wearing a face mask walks under torii gates (traditional Japanese gates) as she visits a Shinto shrine on October 28, 2020 in Tokyo, Japan. Picture: GETTY IMAGESCarl Court
A woman wearing a face mask walks under torii gates (traditional Japanese gates) as she visits a Shinto shrine on October 28, 2020 in Tokyo, Japan. Picture: GETTY IMAGESCarl Court

In December 2019, Saudi Arabia assumed the presidency of the Group of 20 (G20), a great responsibility that the kingdom took on with great pride, humility, determination and honour.

Unfortunately, the Saudi Arabia presidency of the G20 occurred during the unprecedented crisis of the coronavirus pandemic, a human tragedy with serious effects on the world’s economic and social wellbeing. But it has also created an unparalleled opportunity to build a more inclusive and sustainable world.

G20 countries have a collective responsibility to seize this chance and pave the way for future generations. Saudi Arabia is determined to work closely with SA, a partner that shares Saudi Arabia’s deep sense of responsibility to make the opportunities of the 21st century available to all.

The Covid-19 pandemic has resulted in health, social and economic effects greater than anyone could have imagined. According to the UN, 71-million people are expected to be pushed back into extreme poverty in 2020. It is crucial at this time of challenge that G20 members work together to protect and advance sustainable development across the world.

In recognition of this much-needed support, G20 members agreed on April 15 to a historic time-bound debt service suspension initiative (DSSI) for the most vulnerable countries. The DSSI was established to provide immediate liquidity relief from official bilateral creditors allowing low-income countries to concentrate their resources on fighting the pandemic and safeguarding the lives and livelihoods of millions of the most vulnerable people.

The initiative has made available an estimated $14bn for 73 eligible countries in 2020 alone. Forty-six countries have already benefited from the DSSI, with the greatest participation coming from Africa, with half of nations in the continent taking part.

In light of continued liquidity pressure G20 members agreed on October 14 to extend the DSSI by six months until June 2021. They will also assess whether the economic and financial situation requires an additional six-month extension by the time of the 2021 International Monetary Fund(IMF)/World Bank Group spring meetings.

The G20’s efforts to maximise international assistance to countries in need has not stopped there. Multilateral development banks have committed to provide $75bn to DSSI-eligible countries out of their $230bn commitment, in response to the pandemic, to emerging and low-income countries. The IMF has also provided debt relief to 28 DSSI-eligible countries and financial assistance of more than $101bn to 81 countries, 53 of which are eligible for the DSSI, which is to be welcomed.

G20 assistance in the face of the pandemic hasn’t stopped there. Members also contributed over $21bn to close an identified health financing gap in an effort to develop and distribute a vaccine and provided an unprecedented $11-trillion to safeguard the global economy. The G20 is also furthering an additional emergency response for developing countries, which includes securing water and food supply for at-risk communities.

Access to education, employment and financial resources for women and youth were, and remain, central parts of this agenda. Today, unemployment among young people has reached new heights. The AU estimates that nearly 20-million jobs are threatened in Africa due to Covid-19. Young people and women are the most affected in a continent where 10-million to 12-million young people enter the workforce every year and only three-million formal jobs are created.

Women and girls are also among the most affected. Economic opportunities are also threatened by accelerating climate change as well as the degradation of the world’s natural resources, and this reduced opportunity is again experienced more acutely by women and youth.

The G20 is tackling all these challenges through three ambitious aims. The first is empowering people by creating the conditions in which everyone can live, work and thrive. This includes ensuring women and youth have access to quality employment and education and advancing the UN’s sustainable development goals.

The second is safeguarding the planet by supporting more sustainable energy resources to ensure less carbon is emitted into the atmosphere and to preserve our lands and ocean habitats. The third is shaping new frontiers by ensuring the benefits of innovation are shared by everyone and enhancing access to digital connectivity.

Undoubtedly, the success of the G20 endeavours is entirely based on the collective efforts made by the G20 members and partners. Therefore, Saudi Arabia immensely values the remarkable contributions of the SA government during the Saudi presidency of the group, which reflects the spirit of collectiveness and the strategic relationship between the two friendly countries.

• Al Angari is Saudi Arabia's ambassador to SA.

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