The SDGs In The Time Of Covid-19

The global pandemic caused by the spread of COVID-19 has caused mass distress and suffering for millions across the globe, and has presented unprecedented difficulties to people of all economic strata. In such a scenario, the attainment of the Sustainable Development Goals set by the United Nations is bound to be severely affected, and this is clearly visible in the startling statistics that are being unveiled every day. With upwards of 6 million cases and more than 360,000 deaths worldwide, the humanitarian impact is palpable, but the economic impact is also alarming – COVID-rattled 2020 is being forecasted to see a recession that is forecasted to be the worst that the world has seen since the Great Depression of 1929.

COVID is not only stalling the progress of the SDGs, but reversing it. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, the pace of global poverty reduction was decelerating and it had been projected that the global target of ending poverty by 2030 would be missed. However, the COVID-19 pandemic is making matters worse, pushing tens of millions of people back into extreme poverty (affecting the implementation of SDG 1) due to lack of income as a result of complete lockdowns, putting years of progress at risk. Most countries, especially poorer countries, are being affected by insufficient health facilities, medical supplies and health care workers, in the face of a huge surge in demand (affecting the implementation of SDG 3). Work and employment have come to a complete standstill with the imposition of lockdowns all over the globe (affecting SDG 8) and students of all levels of education have been forced out of schools (affecting SDG 4). Yes, measures have been taken by many to try to ensure a continuity of work and education, through online classes for education and remote working for employees. However, there still remain many schools which cannot provide remote learning facilities, and even more children who cannot avail of them due to the lack of technological upgradation in their homes. In the same vein, many people working in the labour-intensive informal sector, who did not have job security in the first place, now do not even know if they will be inducted back into their jobs come the end of lockdown. In this scenario, it is important for governments worldwide to work together to ensure that the SDG vision is not compromised in the flurry of combatting COVID. This “pandemic pause” might just a blessing in disguise, since it gives policymakers a chance to undertake a thorough review of where we stand with respect to the SDGs, both with respect to COVID and also, when they are not swamped with COVID response news, in general. With that in mind, it is important to brainstorm some ideas to prevent another such crisis. 

Changes should be foremost in the direction of SDG 3 (good health and well-being), as that is possibly the root of all problems of the COVID crisis. Firstly, investment in medicine and health R&D should cease to be simply reactionary, i.e., investment in research shouldn’t occur only as a reaction to an ongoing serious public health crisis like COVID (or previously, Ebola), but should continue sustainably even beyond COVID and prepare to combat future pandemics and problems. Similarly, with many predictions that pandemics are going to soon be the new ‘normal’, the preparedness of hospitals and healthcare mechanisms (a component of SDG 9) for worldwide pandemics and health crises is extremely important for fast suppression of spread and damage. It has been noticed in many countries like India and Italy that healthcare systems have simply not been able to keep up with the sudden rise in demand for resources, which has led to unhygienic facilities, lack of beds, etc. Climate change (SDG-13) is also being touted as a major contributor to the spread of pandemics, with rise in temperatures increasing the likelihood of pandemics – loss of biodiversity and habitats for animals as a result of climate change, for example, is leading to increased exposure of mankind to dangerous zoonotic viruses such as COVID. 

It is important for governments and individuals to be both realistic and optimistic in such scenarios. We must reconcile with the possibility of disease and viruses becoming the new normal and combat its effects, but must simultaneously also realize that their very incidence can be significantly reduced by taking steps to reduce spread, climate change and biodiversity change. Humanity has the wondrous ability to adapt to every circumstance that is thrown at it, and it is my belief that “this too shall pass”. 


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