Global issues exposed by the coronavirus

This coronavirus has resulted in over 7 million infections and over 400,000 deaths globally. Midst new hotspots occurring in various regions around the world, even if the number of infections decreases, given the nature of global connections there is potential for it to circulate and recur. I fear that we will become used to it and be less vigilant.

A pandemic does not impact people equally and those in weaker positions are more negatively affected than others. The spread of coronavirus infections has instantly and conspicuously exposed global inequalities. For example, gender inequality. Many women have irregular employment and when corporate activities shrink, the reality is that the first employees to be dismissed are women. In developing countries, women are the mainstay of the garment industry such as fast fashion, and they are the first to lose their jobs. Inequality also occurs in education. When schools were forced to close, most in developed countries switched to online classes, but in developing countries there was no way to make the switch and the very opportunity to receive an education was lost.

Environmental problems ameliorated by limited economic activities

Then there is climate change and environmental destruction. Ironically, the reduction in economic activity caused by the coronavirus has reduced CO2 emissions and various pollution levels, and many people have probably noticed that nature has reverted to its original state, with blue seas and skies. Naturally this effect has come about at a huge cost. Many parts of the world are experiencing cyclones and hurricanes, and developing nations that have suffered damage are taking longer than usual to recover. We should not forget for one moment the need to address the climate crisis.

As we aim for the creation of more inclusive, equal and green sustainable societies, SDGs will truly become the compass that guides the way. Now is the time to be aware of the various issues revealed by the current coronavirus and aim to Build Back Better. The Decade of Action leading to the 2030 deadline for achieving the SDGs needs to be accelerated by expanding the scale of action. Thankfully, in recent times, the youth are very interested in the SDGs in which corporations first showed an interest. Even in primary schools, they are learning about SDGs and both children and the youth are starting to consider what needs to be done to achieve them. I am hoping that these youths will form the vanguard that will spread these ideas.

We require significant cooperation and solidarity

No single society or country can possibly deal with social issues of this magnitude. We need to create and leverage horizontal connections that transcend borders, such as cooperating with World Bank. This coronavirus is not just a medical crisis, but continues to expand into all manner of crises including human rights, humanitarian, socio-economic and development crises. The United Nations has launched an Open Brief calling on creatives around the world to assist UN activities with their own creative ideas.

*What is the Open Brief? On March 30 (London, UK time), in an effort to promote measures against the coronavirus (COVID -19) pandemic, the UN Office of Partnerships called on the creative industry to assist with content creation. An Open Brief on content creation to promote six actions (key messages) prioritized by the WHO and UN has been posted on the Talenthouse website.

Spinning the narrative of “What? Why care? What now?”

It is vital that creatives convey, in simple and easy to understand language, what scientists and experts want to say about the importance of physical distancing, handling misinformation, and correct understanding of coronavirus symptoms. In fact, we do not simply broadcast UN activities but constantly try to promote understanding and dissemination in a narrative style about, “What are the problems, why they relate to you, why we want you to care, and what you can do”. Or, in other words, “What? Why Care? What Now?”

Ultimately, in response to this brief, more than 16,000 works from over 140 countries were submitted and published. Additionally, the system allowed for free use of the works by anyone provided the creative was credited. I was extremely encouraged by and grateful for the interest shown by the communication industry in this open brief and the solidarity it engendered. Activities such as these, where people face crises together and encourage others are also spontaneously occurring throughout the general population. The UN is recognizing such local heroes and proactively making them known. In fact, numerous stories of the coronavirus in Japan have also been shared with UN headquarters.

For example, 160 pyrotechnician companies throughout Japan collaborated to hold fireworks displays all over the country by way of praying for the end of the pandemic. I believe that these actions encouraged and heartened people. I hope that wonderful stories from around the world, such as those on this website, engender hope and empathy in people, and serve as an opportunity to create future directions for society.

Meanwhile, the UN is also embarking on an initiative called “Verified” to increase and disseminate accurate information and to combat the spread of misinformation surrounding the coronavirus. It is also promoting measures against the “infodemic’ to ensure that people do not fall into the negative spiral of the three diseases that are caused by the coronavirus, namely, “sickness”, “anxiety and fear” and “discrimination and bias”.

The power of communication that can motivate a society

Requirements to isolate have resulted in an increase in people who could longer escape from domestic violence, a fact that has also been reported in the media in Japan. The power of communication and the power of the media are demonstrated not only in public awareness of such issues but also in broadening assistance to address them.

In future phases of this pandemic too, not just the government, but every single citizen, will have to do what we can on a number of fronts. To date, the coronavirus has impacted all sectors, all countries and various aspects of society and it is my wish that we address the problems by taking a personal interest and considering what we can do. Communication is important in generating that kind of cooperation and solidarity and I believe that it is also a test of the power of communication.

Engaging people by finding common ground

To engage people, it is important to find common ground with each individual, and to promote and engender understanding. Depending on the person, there are probably some who respond to music, some to art, and others to cooking. A communication plan to create connections with such people requires engagement from upstream and participation from strategic points. Through such initiatives, I believe that right now is the time for us, the creative industry and the whole communication industry to cooperate and stand together to face a new frontier in these uncertain times.

Director, United Nations Information Centre Tokyo

Kaoru Nemoto

Graduated from the Faculty of Law, Tokyo University. After working at the Asahi National Broadcasting Company, acquired a Master of International Affairs degree from the Graduate School of Columbia University in the USA. From 1996 to the end of 2011, undertook refugee support activities in such countries as Asia and Africa for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. At the UN Geneva headquarters, managed policy making and coordination of fundraising from private sector activities. Also served as World Food Programme Communications Officer and Secretary General of Japan for UNHCR. Took up her current role in August 2013 after a period as a freelance journalist. Since 2016 she has been a member of the Round Table on the Promotion of Sustainable Development Goals held by the Japanese government. Publications include, “Japan’s position as a country that excludes refugees - in pursuit of refugees living in Japan and people who support them” (Poplar Publishing Co., Limited).