Countries’ SDG progress reports tell stories of hardship and resilience

When the COVID-19 pandemic struck in Georgia, schools were forced to close, as they did for 90 per cent of the world’s schoolchildren at the time. While some students were able to switch to online learning, those without Internet access faced missing out on months of education. But the Georgian Government was determined not to let it happen.

Turning to a technology with a much wider presence in the rural areas, Georgia kicked off its “Teleschool” project. Children without access to a computer could attend a variety of lessons on their TV, broadcast in both national languages and sign language. Even sporting activities were timetabled on-screen.

Education is but one of the global socioeconomic casualties of the COVID-19 crisis that were highlighted in this year’s Voluntary National Reviews (VNRs), countries self-assessments of progress towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

An analysis of these reviews in UN DESA’s new policy brief “Impact of COVID-19: perspective from Voluntary National Reviews” reveals the detrimental impact of the pandemic. Yet beacons of hope shine through some strategies embraced by countries to mitigate the crisis and move forward towards the SDGs.

As could be expected, the 2020 VNRs painted a rather grim picture of the blows dealt to local sustainable development by COVID-19, but they also highlight an unwavering commitment by countries to power through towards the global goals, despite the pandemic.

The profound impact of the pandemic, which is deepening the pre-existing inequalities, is laid bare in the policy brief. The paper shows that costly emergency measures are being undertaken by countries to contain the pandemic, such as investments in health-care and social systems and that countries are decisive, to use them to advance SDG progress and support vulnerable communities.

Throughout the pandemic, countries have worked to strengthen health-care systems to be more resilient and accessible. For example, Costa Rica has raised the salaries of health-care workers and digitized patient data.

Emergency economic assistance packages have been widely adopted to lessen the financial burden on the most vulnerable, including cash grants for the elderly in Samoa and tax breaks in North Macedonia.

In many places, entire societies and communities came together to soften the social impacts of both the pandemic and its mitigation measures. For example, in Brunei Darussalam, where young volunteers distributed food rations to households in need at the height of the pandemic

The policy brief outlined that countries showed that if there had been more progress on the SDGs, the impacts of COVID-19 would have been less pronounced. In their VNRs, most nations acknowledge that collaborating between sectors and countries is essential to build back better.

As the UN enters its 75th year fighting the most difficult global crisis in its history, multilateralism is essential to support the hardest-hit states and keep the promise of a more prosperous future on a clean planet for everyone.

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