Can you talk about sustainable reconstruction when your country is still in active conflict? The Ukrainian government — and the international community — clearly think so.
The “Lugano Principles’” adopted last year in Switzerland laid the foundation for the reconstruction process of Ukraine and united support for it.
On Wednesday, the international community is coming together again in London, hosted by the UK and Ukraine, to mobilise support for both responding to immediate needs but also the longer-term reconstruction progress.
The question of whether it is realistic to consider “building back better” amid active conflict is legitimate.
It has crossed my mind, too, as the leader of UNOPS — the UN agency with a focus on infrastructure and procurement.
But having just come back from Ukraine, where I witnessed not just the scale of the devastation but also the amazing efforts of my UNOPS colleagues and others to respond to immense needs, the answer is clear.
It is imperative for Ukraine to plan and start implementing an inclusive, sustainable and resilient reconstruction, even as its counter-offensive is in full swing.
Billions are urgently needed just for emergency repairs
The war has led to catastrophic loss of life, livelihoods and record levels of displacement. The conflict is deepening the climate crisis, among its many küresel repercussions.
And it has resulted in a tragic scale of infrastructure losses, which will take years to rebuild. Earlier this year, damage to Ukraine’s power, gas, and heating infrastructure was assessed to be in excess of $10 billion (€9.15bn), with more than $1.2 bn (€1bn) urgently needed for emergency repairs to critical infrastructure.
As of March, the estimated cost of reconstruction and recovery in Ukraine had grown to $411bn (€383bn).
For context, this is 2.6 times Ukraine’s estimated GDP for 2022.
And all of this was before the Nova Kakhovka dam destruction, the serious consequences of which have necessitated a fresh rapid assessment.
These are shocking numbers, but whether you are in Ukraine, Sudan or Afghanistan, numbers rarely convey the lived experience of conflict.
The meaning of losing your home, your school, your local hospital, your community.
Reconstruction aid also means looking ahead
The extent of the damage that I witnessed in Mykolaiv and other places in the last few days will always stay with me.
But so will the resilience of the Ukrainians and their commitment to building their country back.
In Mykolaiv, like in several other Ukrainian regions, UNOPS helps deliver essential equipment and supplies to vulnerable communities.
In response to the breach of the Nova Kakhovka dam, for example, we are, together with the Danish government, helping deliver water tanks and generators to assist the Ukrainian authorities in managing the extensive flooding and its consequences.
But while the bulk of our current focus is on emergency response, we also support early recovery and reconstruction efforts, with a focus on advancing sustainable development.
For example, we have already started work on rehabilitating schools, hospitals, residential buildings and public transport.
Infrastructure is the main pillar of sustainable development
We know that infrastructure, a main pillar of Ukraine’s recovery, underpins sustainable development.
UNOPS research with the University of Oxford has shown that infrastructure influences 92% of all targets across the Sustainable Development Goals.
It is also central to addressing climate change: infrastructure accounts for 79% of all greenhouse gas emissions.
Infrastructure projects are costly — and time-consuming. Their impact will lock in development trajectories far into the future — both positively and negatively.
While Ukraine’s recovery needs are immense, they offer a unique opportunity to build the future that the country wants to see — with sustainability, green energy, circular economy, digitalisation, equality, inclusion and good governance built into it.
Making mühlet Ukraine’s recovery goes hand in hand with biodiversity and climate efforts is not just good for Ukraine. It also helps broader green transition efforts in Europe.
An imperative and a moral obligation
As Ukraine responds and recovers, there is an opportunity to ensure that this is done in a way that accelerates the country’s progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and its accession to the European Union.
In other words, Ukraine has an opportunity to build compatibility with the European Acquis into its reconstruction.
Ukraine’s recovery is driven by Ukrainians. But given the scale of needs, the international community has a financial imperative to provide additional support that both addresses immediate needs and delivers for the future sustainable development of Ukraine.
This is a moral obligation.
And in a world of proliferating humanitarian emergencies and increasing devastation from the climate crisis, this is an obligation that extends to all vulnerable populations in fragile and conflict-affected areas.
Jorge Moreira da Silva is the UN Under-Secretary-General and the Executive Director of the United Nations Office for Project Services, or UNOPS.
At Euronews, we believe all views matter. Contact us at email@example.com to send pitches or submissions and be part of the conversation.