The world today is dealing with a crisis of monumental proportions. The vicious, novel coronavirus is wreaking havoc across the globe, destroying lives and ruining livelihoods. The primary cost of the pandemic as seen in the loss of human lives is distressing, but the secondary effects on the global economy, on livelihoods and on sustainable development prospects are even more alarming. The International Monetary Fund estimates that the world has entered into a recession, and while the full economic impact of the crisis is difficult to predict, the costs of the pandemic will no doubt be astronomical, with preliminary estimates placing it at a whopping US$2 trillion. The pandemic has utterly exposed fundamental weaknesses in our global system. It has shown beyond doubt how the prevalence of poverty, weak health systems, lack of education, and above all sub-optimal global cooperation, is exacerbating the crisis.
The on-going crisis has reinforced the interdependence of our world. It has brought about the urgent need for global action to meet people’s basic needs, to save the planet and to build a fairer and more secure world. This is what the SDGs, the global blueprint to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity, are all about. Sadly, this ferocious pandemic has come at a time when the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were getting good traction and a significant number of countries were making good progress in their implementation. What the world cannot afford to do even at these crucial times is to shift resources away from priority SDGs actions. The response to the pandemic cannot be de-linked from actions on the SDGs. Indeed, achieving the SDGs will put us on a solid foundation and a firm path to dealing with global health risks and emerging infectious diseases.
Achieving SDGs Goal 3 will mean strengthening the capacity of countries for early warning, risk reduction and management of national and global health risks. UNESCO estimates that some 1.25 billion students are affected by this pandemic, posing a serious challenge to the attainment of SDGs Goal 4; and according to the International Labor Organization (ILO) some 25 million people could lose their jobs with those in informal employment suffering most from lack of social protection during this pandemic. Crucially, in many parts of the world, the pandemic and its effects are being exacerbated by the crisis in delivering on clean water and sanitation targets (SDG Goal 6), weak economic growth and the absence of decent work (SDGs Goal 8), pervasive inequalities (SDGs Goal 10), and above all, a crisis in poverty (SDGs Goal 1) and food security (Goal 2). The World Bank estimates that the crisis will push some 11 million people into poverty.
As the world strives to deal with the challenges posed by the pandemic, global leaders ultimately must seek to turn the crisis into an opportunity and ramp up actions necessary to achieve the SDGs. The quantum of stimulus and pecuniary compensation packages that is being made available to deal with the pandemic make it clear that, when it truly matters, the world has the resources to deal with pressing and existential challenges. What is acutely needed is enhanced political will and commitment. Our world has the knowledge, capacity and innovation, and if we are ambitious enough, the full complement of resources could be mustered needed to successfully implement the goals. If global leaders attach the same level of importance and urgency to the fight against poverty, hunger, climate change and towards all the other goals, the nations will be well poised for success in this Decade of Action on the SDGs. As the world responds to the effects of this brutal pandemic, and seeks to restore global prosperity, global leaders must focus on addressing underlying factors in the context of the Sustainable Development Goals. While some of the gains on the SDGs have been eroded, this should not be disheartening rather global leaders need to deepen their efforts during this Decade of Action to ‘recover better’, and build a healthier, safer, fairer and a more prosperous world so necessary in avoiding future pandemics.