“Building back better” has become a very commonly used phrase at many United Nations (UN) and other international, regional, and national discourses since after the emergence of the coronavirus pandemic. But what does building back better look like?  And how can it be done with sensitivity to the needs of people often left at the margins of society? These same groups of people bore the brunt of the pandemic – women and children, minority groups, the youth, people with disabilities, to name a few.

Increased poverty rate and hunger, decreased number of children in school, job losses, increased debt burdens, growing inequalities, and increased human rights violations were some of the social and economic impacts of the COVID-19 highlighted by many participants at the just-concluded High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development 2021 (HLPF). The HLPF 2021 focused on the theme of “Sustainable and resilient recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic that promotes the economic, social and environmental dimensions of sustainable development: building an inclusive and effective path for the achievement of the 2030 Agenda in the context of the decade of action and delivery for sustainable development.” As many have acknowledged, the COVID-19 pandemic exposed the socio-economic disparities within and among countries around the globe.

Some of the solutions to ‘building back better’ proffered by several stakeholders at the HLPF 2021 focused on the importance of social protection systems, sustainable agriculture, digitization, creating new debt relief, financing architecture, and more robust partnership between civil society, the private sector, government, and the international community and many more. The Ministerial Declaration at the end of the HLPF 2021 underscored the need for a resilient recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic that can, over the long term, reinforce, stimulate, and advance the Sustainable Development Goals. To build back better, governments must consider the needs of every member of the society while respecting the human rights of all. No one must be left behind.

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