Public health and migration: from the Postcolonial era to COVID-19

By Ranabir Samaddar, Distinguished Chair in Migration and Forced Migration Studies, Calcutta Research Group


This blog is part of a series on tackling COVID-19 in developing countries. Visit the OECD dedicated page to access the OECD’s data, analysis and recommendations on the health, economic, financial and societal impacts of COVID-19 worldwide.


Photo: Juan Alberto Casado, Shutterstock

I wrote The Postcolonial Age of Migration in 2016-2019. It came out just two months ago as the pandemic continued (and continues) to rage in India and around the world. Global mobility came to a screeching halt and I have not yet seen the book in print. Locked down in my house and aware that the book had come out, I was driven to reflect on what I had written: did I do justice to our age, which I had described as the postcolonial age of migration? The book time and again goes back to colonial histories of war, plunder, changes in land use pattern, peasant dispossession, primitive accumulation, and their continuities in our time. Against this backdrop, the book discusses how the colonial practices of violence and border building are being reproduced today on a global scale. Wars, famines, and ecological changes are major driving factors behind migration and forced migration flows today. They also influence patterns of labour mobility. Yet as I reflected, the overwhelming reality of the COVID-19 pandemic brought home the realisation that the book does not account for epidemiological disasters as an integral part of the colonial history of migration and the postcolonial age of migration. The absence of any concern for migrant workers and refugees in public health structures should have been discussed. The book speaks of refugees’ health concerns in camps, yet the broader perspective of migrants and public health is absent.

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Public development banks: gateways to transformative SDG financing

By Maria Alejandra Riaño, Research Fellow, Governance Programme, Institut du Développement Durable et des Relations Internationales IDDRI

Public development banks around the world can play a vital role in minimising economic decline, supporting recovery and financing structural transformation. To fulfil this role, they need to fully capture the interconnected and transversal nature of the 2030 Agenda and align their practices, operations and investments accordingly. It is not just a matter of marginally adjusting strategies and processes – public development banks need to deeply reshape behaviours and investment practices.

Scaling up public development banks’ alignment with the 2030 Agenda

Public development banks have certain advantages that position them at the forefront of the vast network of actors responding to the socio-economic impacts of the COVID-19 crisis and seeking to chart a course towards a transformative recovery. Public development banks have become an essential and complementary voice for traditional co-operation and commercial investors due to their detailed knowledge of the specific context in each region or country, and unmatched flexibility in the design of concessional loan programmes.

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Carbon border adjustment: a powerful tool if paired with a just energy transition

By Randolph Bell, Director, Atlantic Council Global Energy Center; Richard Morningstar Chair for Global Energy Security and Elena Benaim, Intern, Atlantic Council Global Energy Centre  

Carbon border adjustment (CBA) policies are gaining momentum on both sides of the Atlantic. They were proposed as a key element in the European Green Deal and as part of US Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden’s climate plan. But how do they work? Carbon border adjustment mechanisms tax imported goods based on their carbon footprint with the aim of limiting emissions leakage and levelling the playing field for domestic industries that produce goods with lower greenhouse gas emission footprints than imports that may be cheaper but have higher greenhouse gas footprints.

There are a number of technical challenges to overcome in implementing a carbon border adjustment policy, including whether to peg it to a domestic price on carbon, which sectors to apply the tax, and how to ensure accurate and transparent data on embodied carbon. But one major concern is that the policy could have negative consequences for the economies of developing countries by cutting their export revenue and/or impeding the development of new export-oriented industries. Developing countries might argue that the policy runs counter to the Paris Agreement’s bottom-up, nationally determined contributions, and could push them to cut emissions more than what they pledged. Carbon border adjustment could also run afoul of the Common But Differentiated Responsibility (CBDR) principle that developing countries do not share the same responsibility as developed countries in addressing climate and environmental issues.

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Achieving inclusive and sustainable industrialisation and the SDGs in the post-COVID-19 world

By Professor Arkebe Oqubay, Senior Minister and Special Adviser to the Prime Minister of Ethiopia


This blog is part of a series on tackling COVID-19 in developing countries. Visit the OECD dedicated page to access the OECD’s data, analysis and recommendations on the health, economic, financial and societal impacts of COVID-19 worldwide.


The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development

In the context of international development, the year 2015 marked the transition from the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) to the much broader 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the much more ambitious Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). It signalled an emerging paradigm shift in the international development agenda, a collectively agreed set of universal goals for an inclusive and sustainable global development process.

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Like it or not: coercive power is essential to development

By Erwin van Veen, Lead Levant Research Programme, Senior Research Fellow, Conflict Research Unit at Clingendael

Understanding the political economy of coercion is essential to achieving developmental gains in countries at the lower end of stability and institutional performance. Surprisingly, this matter rarely features on the development agenda, which means the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals continues to suffer in such countries.

If national development is defined as the long-term, collective pursuit of the highest level of wellbeing for the greatest number of citizens, it is a deeply political and highly contested process by default. That is in part because all these components are subject to varying definitions. What is the collective? What is wellbeing? Who is a citizen and what are their rights? Different countries offer starkly different answers to such questions. But beyond definitions, there are also more commonplace reasons for development being such a political undertaking.

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Can middle income countries rise up to their citizens’ expectations?

By Mario Pezzini, Director of the OECD Development Centre and Special Advisor to the OECD Secretary General on Development[i]

A call for a new social contract

Despite significant economic growth over the past years, middle-income countries (MICs) face increasingly complex challenges related to, among others, a growing demand from their new and still vulnerable middle-classes. As middle-classes have grown in recent decades, so have citizens’ aspirations and demands for quality public goods, better services and a more responsive and transparent state. More educated, better informed, and more connected than ever before, citizens are asking for more voice in public decisions. In parallel, growing aspirations confronted with chronic vulnerability of middle-classes tend to generate frustration and, more and more frequently, social turbulence. Discontent has been erupting for several years in many of these countries, going back to the Arab Spring, with recent examples like Lebanon, and some Latin American countries, including high-income countries like Chile. Today, challenges are exacerbated as the COVID-19 crisis pushes members of the middle class who had previously escaped extreme poverty, back into it. Governments seem increasingly incapable of understanding how people perceive their quality of life.

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How can island states reimagine tourism for green recovery?

Riad Meddeb, Senior Principal Advisor for Small Island Developing States, UNDP


This blog is part of a series on tackling COVID-19 in developing countries. Visit the OECD dedicated page to access the OECD’s data, analysis and recommendations on the health, economic, financial and societal impacts of COVID-19 worldwide. This blog is also a part of a thread looking more specifically at the impacts and responses to the COVID-19 crisis in Least Developed Countries (LDCs).


Grenada’s Molinere Bay Underwater Sculpture Park, Molinere Beauséjour Marine. Credit: Grenada Tourism Authority

Small Island Developing States (SIDS) have experienced great success in expanding their tourism industries, particularly over the past 10 years. The industry is an economic lifeline and driver of development for many SIDS. Their rich biodiversity and beautiful ecosystems attracted around 44 million visitors in 2019. However, global travel restrictions imposed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic have devastated SIDS’ economies. Compared to Gross Domestic Product (GDP), export revenues from tourism represent about 9% of SIDS economies. In countries like St. Lucia and Palau, tourism revenues make up 98 and 88 percent of total exports respectively. It is a vital source of revenue for community livelihoods, disaster recovery, biodiversity and cultural heritage preservation.

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Democracy is a public good. What is the development community doing about it?

By Anthony Smith, CEO of the Westminster Foundation for Democracy (WFD)

Democracy has been undervalued by the development community. I understand why – I am a child of decolonisation and its political economy of liberation, and my introduction to international development was through the target-driven Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). But I have come down firmly on the side of Amartya Sen’s view on the timing of democracy.  He said: “A country does not have to be deemed fit for democracy; rather, it has to become fit through democracy.” For too long, some in the donor community have been ambivalent about this, wanting proof that development goals would be reached faster in democracies than in autocracies and implying that democracy could wait. For too many of us, the politics of our partner country was just a factor to be navigated around to avoid disrupting our programmes.

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Implementing the SDGs: why are some civil society organisations being left behind?

By Vanessa de Oliveira, Task Team on CSO Development Effectiveness and Enabling Environment

Civil society organisations (CSOs) are widely recognised as important partners in the implementation and monitoring of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). But to what extent is civil society really engaged and involved in SDG processes or consultations at the country level?

A new Task Team study undertaken by the International Institute of Social Studies points to a lack of diversity in the types of civil society organisations engaged in these processes. Organisations that are part of the aid system – typically urban, often international or based in donor countries – are at a clear advantage.Similarly, another study (the 2018 Monitoring Round of the Global Partnership for Effective Development Co-operation) found opportunities for civil society organisations to be irregular, unpredictable and lacking the involvement of a diverse set of actors. The latest OECD study on Development Assistance Committee members and civil society also echoes these conclusions: dialogues between donors and CSOs are more likely to take place at the donors’ headquarters, and lack general good practice standards like setting a joint agenda.

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Beyond vested interests: Reforming international co-operation post COVID-19

By Imme Scholz, Deputy Director of the German Development Institute / Deutsches Institut für Entwicklungspolitik (DIE) and Deputy Chair of the German Council for Sustainable Development[i]


This blog is part of a series on tackling COVID-19 in developing countries. Visit the OECD dedicated page to access the OECD’s data, analysis and recommendations on the health, economic, financial and societal impacts of COVID-19 worldwide.


The world is now in the eighth month of the COVID-19 pandemic. When this was written, the highest daily infection rates were recorded in India, the US and Brazil, while the highest death rates (per 100,000 inhabitants) were registered in Europe and the Americas. Africa so far has not turned into a hotspot of the disease – good news that is attributed to effective public health workers and Africa’s young population. The COVID-19 pandemic has laid bare weaknesses and blind spots in societies, economies and policies worldwide. Notably that public services the world over take too long to understand their new responsibilities under changed circumstances and as a result act too slowly, at the expense of the most vulnerable. For example, infection and death rates are high in OECD countries despite good health care systems. And insufficient digital infrastructure and access in public administrations, schools and households, exacerbated by social inequalities, affect access to education in Germany or in Latin American countries alike.

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