Expert voices Vol 24, No. 07 - July 2020

SDGs still offer best option to reduce worst COVID-19 losses

Countries will be better placed to recover from the human and economic devastation caused by COVID-19 by accelerating efforts to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), according to a new policy brief released by UN DESA. Although we may not know the full impact of the health crisis on the SDGs until months from now, UN DESA Voice spoke with the brief’s authors Shantanu Mukherjee and Astra Bonini about some initial sobering assessments.

Looking at COVID-19 and the SDGs, what are some of the ramifications we are starting to see?

“We can see that extreme poverty is rising for the first time in 20 years, a doubling of acute hunger, an economic recession far worse than the 2008-2009 global fi­nancial crisis, widening learning gaps with millions more children out of school, and deepening inequalities across multiple dimensions.

Approaches to respond and recover from this crisis, must prevent these outcomes and enable a robust trajectory towards sustainable development. “

What must be done to lessen the negative impacts from this health crisis?

“First, we have to protect progress already made towards eradicating extreme deprivations by supporting those at immediate risk of poverty, hunger and disease; facilitating their safe return to work and education, and access to health care; and eliminating social or legal barriers for marginalized and disadvantaged groups.

Second, we need to direct COVID-19 response stimulus packages toward the universal provision of quality essential services to build long-term resilience including by ensuring access to health care, education, social protection, water, sanitation, clean energy and the Internet. Additional support for the deployment of services in poorer coun­tries needs to be made available.

Finally, response strategies must reverse trends toward the degradation of nature which marked the pre-pandemic world. With oil prices plunging, and jobs being lost, steps can be taken to support transitions for workers to greener sectors, zero out fuel subsi­dies and introduce carbon taxes. A bet­ter understanding of the zoonotic origins of disease outbreaks can help support changes in human activity that threaten biodiversity.”

Could the SDGs be left behind in this process?

“No, achieving the SDGs through these transitions is possible and within reach by re-invigorating global part­nerships for development (SDG 17). The United Nations is committed to facilitating a global response that leads towards this end and turns this moment in history into an inflection point for humanity to overcome hardship and transform together toward a more sustainable future.”

The policy brief authors Shantanu Mukherjee and Astra Bonini both work in UN DESA’s Division for Sustainable Development Goals.

Access the new policy brief “Achieving the SDGs through the COVID-19 response and recovery”on the dedicated web portal on UN DESA’s COVID-19 response.

Photo by Asantha Abeysooriya on Unsplash

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