Recently, the annual Sustainable Development Goals Report 2020 was released by the United Nations (UN). The report provides an overview of the world’s effort to implement the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to date. It highlights the areas of progress made by the nations towards achieving these goals. It also indicates the areas where more action needs to be taken such that no one is left behind. The report is prepared by the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, with input from international and regional organizations. Several national statisticians, experts from civil society and academia also contribute to the report.
But, what do we mean by the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)?
The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), also known as the Global Goals, were adopted by all United Nations Member States in 2015 as a universal call to action to end poverty, eradicate hunger, and ensure peace and prosperity for all by 2030. These goals are 17 in number and are designed to be a blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all. The development of these goals was guided by the former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon who said “We don’t have plan B because there is no planet B”. There are 169 targets for these 17 goals, and each target has between 1 to 3 indicators which are used to measure progress towards reaching these targets.
The recent SDGs Report 2020 provides an overview of the progress towards the SDGs before the Pandemic (COVID-19) started. This report lays down some of the devastating impacts of COVID-19 on the specific targets. It also specifies that the pandemic has abruptly disrupted the implementation of policies/measures that are in line with the SDGs and even in some cases, turned back decades of progress. The following points will provide you a clear picture on some of the goals and the recent impact on their progress due to the pandemic.
NO POVERTY :‘End poverty in all its forms everywhere’
Eradicating poverty in all its forms remains one of the greatest challenges facing humanity. This goal aims to reduce, at least by half, the proportion of men, women, and children of all ages living in poverty in all its dimensions by 2030. Further, it aims to ensure that all the poor and the vulnerable sections have equal rights to the economic resources and basic services by 2030.
While the number of people living in extreme poverty dropped by more than half between 1990 and 2015, too many are still struggling for the most basic human needs. Approximately 10% of the world population lives in extreme poverty and is struggling to fulfill basic needs like health, sanitation, and education. The pace by which global poverty is reducing is decelerating and by 2030, 6% of the global population would still be living in extreme poverty.
Even before the coronavirus disease, the world was not on track to end poverty completely by 2030 but the disease worsens the situation. The world now anticipates the worst economic fallout since the Great Depression as approximately tens of millions of people will be pushed back into poverty. The poverty rate before the pandemic hit worldwide was expected to decelerate to 7.7% by 2020. But due to the effects of the pandemic, the poverty rate is projected to be 8.8% in 2020. This is the 1st rise in global poverty since 1998. As unemployment and underemployment rates rise continuously, there is an urgent need to have Strong Social Protection systems to prevent people from falling into poverty. Adding to this, other hazards like hurricanes, floods, earthquakes, and wildfires occurring across the globe are further pushing people into poverty, impacting the Least Developed Countries (LDCs) the most. Thus, there is a need for strong social protection systems and effective emergency preparedness to safeguard the poor and the vulnerable sections.
ZERO HUNGER :‘End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture’
This SDG aims to end all forms of hunger and malnutrition by 2030, by making sure all people; especially children, have sufficient and nutritious food throughout the year. The goal aims to double the agricultural productivity and incomes of small-scale food producers, indigenous peoples, and so on. Further, it aims to ensure sustainable food production systems and implement resilient agricultural practices that increase productivity and production, that help maintain ecosystems, and strengthen the capacity to adapt to climate change.
The number of undernourished people has dropped by almost half in the past two decades because of rapid economic growth and increased agricultural productivity. Central and East Asia & Latin America have made huge progress in eradicating extreme hunger. But still hunger, malnutrition, and food security continue to affect millions of people globally. Since 2015, the Global prevalence of undernutrition has remained unchanged and about 2 billion people were affected by moderate/severe food insecurity in 2018. The proportion of children under 5-years of age suffering from stunting decreased from 32% in 2000 to 21% in 2019 but 144 million children are still stunting. In 2019, 6.9% of children were affected by acute undernutrition, half of which live in Central and Southern Asia.
In wake of the COVID-19 crisis, eradicating hunger and achieving food security remains one of the most important challenges. Due to COVID-19, the situation is likely to deteriorate further as it indirectly affects the purchasing power and the capacity to produce food, affecting the vulnerable sections the most. Further, small scale food producers who are already disadvantaged are being hit hard by the effects of the pandemic as they are often not allowed to get their products to consumers due to closure of markets. Adding to this, the world is seeing an upsurge in the food demand and a decrease in public investments in the agriculture sector. This makes it even more difficult to achieve this goal.
GOOD HEALTH AND WELL-BEING :‘Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages’
Ensuring good health and promoting well-being at all ages is essential to sustainable development. This goal aims to reduce maternal, infant, and neonatal mortality rates and end preventable deaths of children below 5 years by 2030. It aims to reduce premature mortality from non-communicable diseases and end epidemics of AIDS, Tuberculosis, and other communicable diseases.
Until the end of 2019, advances in the area of health were made but they were not sufficient to meet the goal’s target. Life expectancy has increased dramatically, infant and maternal mortality rates have declined, deaths by HIV and malaria have halved. The numbers of people covered by essential health services are estimated to be between 2.5 billion to 3.7 billion which falls short of the promise to achieve universal health coverage by 2030. Further, to reduce infant and maternal mortality rates, this goal aims to ensure that child births are assisted by skilled professionals. This has been proven to be a great strategy in reducing the infant and maternal mortality rates. This report also depicts that globally there is a continuous increase in the vaccination rates which are saving millions of lives.
The current pandemic threw this progress even further off the track and can reverse decades of improvement made in this sector. There is a rapid increase in COVID-19 cases which is causing a significant loss of life and overwhelming many health care systems. The pandemic is likely to result in increased maternal and infant mortality/morbidity rates due to disruption in health care systems and essential nutrition services. Further, the current situation has interrupted child immunization efforts. In particular, measles and polio vaccination campaigns are suspended in 27 and 38 countries respectively. And approximately 24 million people in 21 lower-income countries are at risk of missing out on these important vaccinations. Further, due to COVID-19, there could be a spike in illness and deaths from other communicable diseases like AIDS, HIV, and Tuberculosis as well due to the disruption of health care services. The pandemic highlights the need for strengthening emergency preparedness and our health care systems.
QUALITY EDUCATION :‘Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all’
Education is one of the most powerful and proven vehicles for sustainable development. Hence, this goal aims to ensure that all girls and boys complete free, equitable, and quality primary and secondary education by 2030. The objective of the goal is to provide equal access to affordable vocational training, to eliminate gender and wealth disparities, and achieve universal access to a quality higher education. It aims to substantially expand the number of scholarships available in developing countries, in particular in the least developed countries.
Over the decades, major progress has been made towards increasing access to education and school enrollment rates. The proportion of children and youth out of primary and secondary school has declined from 26 % in 2000 to 17 % in 2018. Regardless, the world is not on track to meet this goal’s target as 200 million children are expected to be out of school in 2030. 258 million children and youth were out of school in 2018. More than half of all children and adolescents worldwide are not meeting minimum proficiency standards in reading and mathematics.
The pandemic is deepening the educational crisis and widening existing educational inequalities globally. 190 countries have implemented nationwide school closures and have opted for remote learning. This will create problems for the students who don’t have resources and means available to study online. Further, for millions of children around the world, school is not only the place to learn. It is also a safe space away from violence where they can receive free meals and nutrition services. But with schools being closed they are more vulnerable than ever and an estimate of 379 million children will miss out on free meals. The report also points out at the lack of infrastructure and hygiene facilities in schools which makes the reopening of schools even more difficult.
DECENT WORK AND ECONOMIC GROWTH :‘Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all’
This SDG aims to promote sustained economic growth, higher levels of productivity, and technological innovation. It encourages entrepreneurship and job creation and aims to implement effective measures to eradicate forced labor, slavery, and human trafficking. With these targets in mind, the goal aims to achieve full and productive employment, and decent work, for all women and men by 2030.
After the global economic downturn in 2009, the world as a whole witnessed rise in labor productivity and reduction in unemployment rates, despite large disparities across regions. But, in 2019, the global economy again slowed and recorded the lowest growth since 2008–2009. Further, the real global GDP rate in 2019 declined to 1.5% from 2%. Though the real GDP growth rate for the least developed countries (LDCs) was rapidly increasing and reached 4.8% in 2019. It is still unlikely that it will reach the set target of 7% as it fell to 0.8% in 2020 owing to the COVID-19 pandemic. But the hope to recover by 2021 still persists.
The economy is expected to slow down even further due to coronavirus, pushing the world into the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. The world can even expect the biggest increase in the global unemployment rate since World War II due to the current situation. The tourism sector is facing unprecedented challenges due to the pandemic which is affecting many small islands whose economies are dependent on tourism. Further, the aviation sector is likely to suffer the steepest decline in history due to strict travel restrictions and health concerns among travelers. Thus, this situation calls for taking urgent policy measures to support businesses, preserve existing jobs, and ensure occupational safety.
As we understand the goals better, we further understand our collective and individual responsibility towards achieving and contributing to each of the goals. With times getting more challenging, it is important to realize that the basic premise towards sustainable development is rooted in better understanding and taking actions to shape a better future on this planet. This blueprint is just the starting steps in our long path of sustainable future, as António Guterres Secretary-General of the United Nations correctly pointed out when he said, “Everything we do during and after this crisis [COVID-19] must be with a strong focus on building more equal, inclusive and sustainable economies and societies that are more resilient in the face of pandemics, climate change, and the many other global challenges we face.” It is time that we take this message home and work on it.
Written by: - Vanshika Arora