Some 500 parliamentarians and parliamentary staff from over 80 countries participated in the first of a series of webinars co-organized by the IPU, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR).
The webinar, Lessons from the COVID-19 pandemic: Parliamentary action to reduce risks, strengthen emergency preparedness and increase resilience, took place in the context of the IPU campaign, Parliaments in a time of pandemic, and was designed to provide an overview of the health crisis and its cascading risks for a country, including the impacts beyond the health sector.
Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of WHO and a former Member of Parliament in his native Ethiopia, said “As a former parliamentarian myself, I know the critical role parliaments can play in enhancing resilience against health emergencies like COVID-19. Parliaments can establish legislative measures to govern, enable and support risk management measures.”
The UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Disaster Risk Reduction and Head of UNDRR, Ms. Mami Mizutori, said “COVID-19 is a global health crisis, a socio-economic crisis, and it is also a crisis of disaster risk management.” She said that few of the 81 national strategies for disaster risk reduction developed by Member States included pandemic preparedness.
Ms. Petra Bayr, a parliamentarian from Austria and Member of the IPU Advisory Group on Health, said that some governments wanted to misuse the crisis and rule by decree without parliamentary oversight. It was important that the principle of parliamentary democracy was upheld during emergencies such as this one.
Mr. Martin Chungong, Secretary General of the IPU, said: “Slowing down or stopping the spread of COVID-19 requires measures that have a profound impact on the lives of citizens, the economy and society as a whole. These measures require more and not less parliamentary scrutiny. In times of crisis, parliaments have a duty to ensure that all measures taken result in enhanced protection and support of the most vulnerable.”
Dr. Mike Ryan, Executive Director, WHO Emergencies Programme, and Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO COVID-19 Technical Lead, were also there to answer questions from the parliamentarians, as well as UNDRR’s Chief of Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific, Ms. Loretta Hieber Girardet, who moderated the discussion.