Ten grains of land: We are your neighbours
A poet and composer named Jotamont wrote that the islands of Cabo Verde are “ten little grains of land” in the middle of the Atlantic—a small archipelago nation 500 kilometers off the west coast of Africa.
Ten little grains of land.
From the coast of any island looking away from any of the others—it is ocean as far as the eye can see.
Just over 550,000 people on the islands call Cabo Verde home, as do another million who live abroad.
The country has scarce natural resources, depends heavily on imports, is subject to extreme draught and other climate shocks. Fully a quarter of its gross domestic product is based on tourism and almost 10% on remittances.
The United Nations has stood with Cabo Verde country through its 45 years of independence. Building food security in the 1980s. Achieving vaccine independence in the 1990s, so that the country no longer had to rely on the UN or Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, to procure vaccines. Cabo Verde is on track for the certification of elimination of mother-to-child transmission of HIV. Free access to education and social protection are on the rise.
With these and other advances, Cabo Verde became, effective in 2008, the third country in the world to graduate from least-developed-country to lower middle-income country status. But with COVID-19, public revenues are expected to decrease by 25% and unemployment will double. Recession is hitting the most vulnerable, jeopardizing decades of development gains.
With the pandemic crisis striking a hard blow to the country’s economy, the UN Country Team in Cabo Verde rapidly shifted to emergency development mode, advising the government and reprogramming more than half of its annual joint work plan of $17 million and mobilizing an additional $6 million for immediate response, to save lives and sustain the economy. The UN, the World Bank, and the government produced a first socioeconomic impact assessment (SEIA), bringing on board other entities such as the African Development Bank and the European Union. This assessment undergirded a National Response and Recovery Plan (NRRP) to guide the response to the pandemic.
During the crisis, and with UN support, over 7,000 children under age 12 months received a third dose of the DPT vaccine, 700 community health workers kept essential health services going, more than 65,000 kids continued school through distance learning, 25,000 children received meals at home, and over 100,000 people received cash transfers.
We have accomplished much, thanks to a strong partnership with the government, civil society, and the international community, but we still face big challenges as a small island developing state, hit hard by COVID-19. We need to reduce the cost of energy and water. Make our economy greener and bluer and put people front and center to recover better. Create a better future for the country’s young people.
As Cabo Verde has benefited from the UN, the country also contributes to the UN, serving as best practices in South-South cooperation and a pioneer and test case in UN reforms. In 2005, Cabo Verde became home to the only UN Joint Office that houses three agencies (UNDP, UNFPA and UNICEF) working under one leader, and one team serving all three agencies’ mandates. We hope that this office, still thriving today, is an inspiration for other small-island developing countries to maintain a strong UN presence, critical for small islands. We were amongst the first eight countries in 2008 to pilot ONE UN, Delivering as One. UN Cabo Verde was an early adopter of UN INFO—a system to help track how the UN supports governments to deliver on the Sustainable Development Goals—and one of the first countries to commit to the Integrated National Financing Framework.
This work sounds technical, but the goalpost is to help make the UN the most high-impact organization it can be, to deliver on the SDGs. And not just for the sake of these ten grains of land out in the ocean, but for the world.
In the mid-Atlantic between Europe and the Americas, we in Cabo Verde might feel isolated geographically but we have much to offer to Africa and beyond.
During this, the 75th anniversary year of the United Nations, we are reminded once again, all of us on Earth are connected. The whole planet is a single island. We are all neighbours, and we must move forward united and in solidarity.