The year 2020 marks the start of the Decade of Action to deliver the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030. From eliminating poverty and hunger to reversing climate change, this period was set to advance a shared vision and accelerate responses to the world’s gravest challenges. Ever since the 2030 Agenda launched in 2015, some gains were visible: the share of children and youth out of school had fallen; the incidence of many communicable diseases was on the decline; access to safely managed drinking water had improved; and women’s representation in leadership roles was increasing. However, the year greeted us with an unknown – The Covid-19.
With over 20+ million cases globally, the precipitous spread of the novel coronavirus has turned a public health emergency into one of the worst human and economic crisis of our lifetimes. Suddenly the conversations are more intense around food security, job losses, family safety among others.
The virus has already negated some of the progress made in specific areas above and has further disrupted the 15-year global efforts to improve the lives of people through the achievement of the 17 SDGs by 2030.
As per UN Sustainable Development Goals Report 2020, an estimated 71 million people may be pushed into extreme poverty this year, the first rise in global poverty since 1998; there could be more underemployment and unemployment for the already vulnerable informal sector workers - nearly half the global workforce; more under-5 deaths and maternal deaths due to disruption in health and vaccination services and limited access to diet and nutrition services; surge in violence against women cases; increased health risks for over one-billion slum dwellers worldwide due to poor infrastructure.
Overall, while the pandemic has negatively affected SDGs like SDG 1 (no poverty); SDG 2 (zero hunger); SDG 3 (good health and wellbeing); SDG 8 (decent work and economic growth); SDG 10 (reduced inequalities) it has also brought a relief in areas related to SDG 12 (responsible consumption and production), SDG 13 (climate action), SDG 14 (life below water) & SDG 15 (life on land). The picture is also grim for India. Ranking 117 in Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) Index 2020 with overall score of 61.92 out of 100, the country faces a more challenging task ahead to be able to mitigate the impacts of the crisis. With one of the lowest health budgets in the world, it needs to realign and reset priorities quickly.
It is imperative to understand that both the SDGs and the COVID-19 pandemic response are intertwined and cannot be tackled by a piecemeal approach. This pandemic has brought to the forefront of the weaknesses in our global system. As the world fights the crisis, we cannot ignore the fact that SDGs still offer us the best chance to move ahead. It is an opportunity for us to act in solidarity, ramp up necessary actions and take it as an impetus to achieve the SDGs. Countries need to come together to protect the progress already made towards the SDGs, accelerate the universal provision of quality basic services, and maintain the environmental gains of this period to reverse trends in the degradation of nature. It is an opportune moment to shift to a more sustained consumption and transition to a green economy – something that has been eluding us over various decades.
What does the world require now? We need a coordinated and comprehensive international response and recovery effort, based on sound data and science which is guided by the Sustainable Development Goals. We need a large-scale multilateral response to ensure that developing countries have the resources they need to protect households and businesses. We need sound recovery packages that facilitate the shift to a low-carbon, climate-resilient economy and support universal access to quality public services. And, above all, we need leadership to ensure that statistical organizations have the tools and resources to facilitate timely and smart decision-making.
(The author is the Managing Director, IPE Global.)