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UN’s Overall Development Agenda at Risk as the Coronavirus Pandemic Escalates

Twelve-year-old boy in Dhaka, capital of Bangladesh, sorts through hazardous plastic waste without any protection, working to support his family amidst the lockdown. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said last year that the pandemic has “laid bare” challenges –such as structural inequalities, inadequate healthcare, and the lack of universal social protection – and the heavy price societies are paying as a result. Ending poverty sits at the heart of the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and is the first of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Despite this, poverty and hunger, the UN chief reminded delegates, are on the rise, following decades of progress. Credit: UNICEF/Parvez Ahmad

NEW YORK, Jan 4 2022 (IPS) - The Corona-19 pandemic has had an unparalleled and relentless toll on the world in areas beyond health alone. The World Bank’s latest report on global poverty raises concerns as to the severity of the impact of the pandemic on efforts to fight poverty (SDG 1) and hunger (SDG 2).

We also have evidence that other facets of development in addition to poverty and hunger are (and will continue to be) negatively impacted by the pandemic which is surging once again in populations around the world, definitely putting the overall development agenda at risk

In 2015, the United Nations ambitiously adopted 17 Sustainable Development Goals to be achieved by 2030 which cover a range of areas of development in which a global, concerted push to ensure progress was seen as imperative.

We have witnessed some of these areas getting more attention since the SDGs were established but even before the goals were set, the world was slowly but surely moving in the right direction in some areas like poverty.

The World Bank reports show that global, extreme poverty had fallen by 1 percent per year between 1990 and 2015 but the decline slowed down after 2015. The World Bank attributes some of the slowing down to the increase in violent conflict in the Middle East and North Africa after 2015 and climate change but with the advent of the pandemic in 2020, the evidence points to this progress not just being slowed down and eroded but wiped out in some instances.

Extreme poverty between 2019-2020 is now larger than the entire period when the World Bank began to track poverty consistently, and new challenges are emerging which require concerted efforts and shifts in policies and programmes.

Data indicate that the poorest are most impacted by Covid which might not come as a surprise, but what is new is the finding that populations relatively spared from poverty earlier, are suffering disproportionately post-Covid.

The WB Report shows that “the new poor” are often more urban and educated and more likely to be engaged in informal services and manufacturing and less in agriculture. In addition, Covid-19 is impacting middle income and conflict-ridden countries disproportionately. These developments add to the complexities of addressing the pandemic and threaten progress in attainment of the SDG goals as a whole.

The areas of coverage by the SDGs were always recognized as extensive and ambitious but imperative. Their wide-reaching scope meant that a global push on key areas affecting development could in fact create synergy and momentum for progress.

This of course suggests that a downturn in the progress towards any of these goals could also impact the other goals negatively. Since the pandemic, resources have been diverted from some of the SDGs more than others and goals suffering previously due to limited allocation of resources are now facing further erosion of resources and attention.

Clearly the range of SDGs that are going to be impacted adversely will go beyond Poverty SDG1, Health SDG3, and Hunger SDG2. Emerging data already indicate the negative impact of the pandemic on education (SDG 4), reduction of inequalities (SDG 10) and gender inequality (SDG 5 ) in particular.

With the end of the pandemic nowhere in sight, our actions to counter the trend need to acknowledge that all the SDG goals, and sustainable development as a whole, are at risk.

The WB report argues that global coordination and cooperation in terms of solutions to the challenges posed by the pandemic are imperative but equally important is the development of action plans that pay heed to the gamut of the areas of development and their inter-linkages.

The response to the pandemic needs to take into consideration the linkages between the different elements of development, epitomized in the comprehensive SDG agenda, and how they impact each other, and needs to ensure continued and requisite investment and attention to these elements, if we are to address the fall-out of the pandemic effectively.

Dr. Purnima Mane is an internationally recognized expert on gender, population and development, and public health who has devoted her career to advocating for population and development issues and working on sexual and reproductive health. Most recently, Dr. Mane was President and CEO of Pathfinder International, prior to which she was Deputy Executive Director (Program) of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and UN Assistant-Secretary-General (ASG). She has served in senior level positions in several international organizations such as UNAIDS, World Health Organization, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, and the Population Council.


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