Dear Friends,

During a period of increasing nationalism, the relentless itinerary of a virus that is heedless of national boundaries is telling us, in piercing tones, that we are all indeed connected to each other, that we are one globe, one world. The virus is telling us that our work with UNESCO matters. This is good.

There are other reasons to be hopeful at this terrible time.

During a period of increasing income inequality and homelessness, the rapid spread of the coronavirus is forcing governments to face their responsibility to look after the vulnerable and the less fortunate, a responsibility to which they had become inured. The Governor of the state of California in the U.S.A. has recently announced that housing will be provided for every currently homeless resident of the vast city of Los Angeles. This is good.

During a period of seemingly unstoppable environmental degradation, despite the obvious truth of the catastrophe of global warming, jet fuel – with its deadly carbon footprint – is suddenly no longer polluting our skies at the alarming rate to which we had become accustomed. The natural world is enjoying something of a sabbatical. This is good.

At a time when the United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world (25% of the world’s prison population), the Attorney General of the United States has ordered the release of some elderly and sick inmates from the federal prison system because of the fear of the rapid spread of the coronavirus in the prison environment. The pandemic has put a spotlight on the vulnerability of the prison population worldwide.

This is good.

No good that comes out of the crisis created by the COVID-19 pandemic, however, will ever make up for the innocent lives lost, lives of the young and of the old, and often of their brave and selfless doctors and nurses. Because of fears of the rapid spread of infection, the dying are deprived, in their last moments, of the consoling presence of their loved ones. The deaths and suffering are staggering.

It will be up to those of us who survive the pandemic to make sure that our world does not return to business as usual once this crisis has passed.

I wish all my fellow UNESCO Chairs, and all my friends at UNESCO, good health and safety during this strange, uncertain, and stressful time, as you continue to work for an ever more interrelated and compassionate global community.