COVID-19 overpowered SDGs?

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Dr M Ali Hamza

A journey that started from United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD), also known as Rio+20, finally set 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), including 169 supplementarytargets, to address the multifacetedand complicated needs of our global society ranging from climate change, extreme poverty, global education to of course health, in 2015 at United Nations General Assembly (UNGA). SDGs stress on ending poverty and deprivations, reduce inequality, improve health and education, and spur economic growth, while tackling climate change and working to preserve our oceans and forests,therefore all member nations adhered to accomplish these SDGs by year 2030. Pakistan has also, for example, ensured that the UN SDGs are taken seriously throughout domestic policy as well as framing the global 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, placing education, environment and healthcare at the forefront.In a sense, SDGs have become the cornerstone of global governance at all levels, even at the most micro-level of an institutional governance set-up. But once the World Health Organization (WHO) declared Covid-19 as a global pandemic,the entire ball game has changed. The pandemic Covid-19 does not just come in the way of the SDGs, but calls for a rethinking of the timeline.

What Covid-19 means for SDGs? What are the impact of COVID-19 on the set SDGs and the pace of their implementation? Let us have a quick review over it. The deadly virus has jammed the economic activities throughout the globe. Even after recovering from the corona attack it will take the businesses an ample time to recover and another unprecedentedly severe global financial crunch is well anticipated. The UNDP report states that due to COVID-19 income losses are expected to exceed $220 billion in developing countries with an estimated 55% of the global population having no access to basic food security and nutrition.This is going to directly hit the SDG1(no poverty) and SDG2 (zero hunger), it seems that instead of alleviation, the poverty and hungerare most likely to experience elevation. This economic turmoil is associated and will gravely hit SDG8(decent work and economic growth) and SDG9(industry, innovation and infrastructure) too.The impacts in the short-run are expected to be highly worrisome, because one very vitalelement to stimulate SDG8 and 9 is human capital that is under substantial strike.Moreover; the reliance on digital connectivity is a part of our life today and there is a possibility that digital or IT sector may grow faster in coming days, but consequentlywe got to ready to witness simultaneous crash and closures of traditional businesses. The developed countries may not have this situation as devastating, but as far as developing and under developed countries it is going to be dreadful. The reason is simple, a large part of the business sector in the developing world remains unorganized and does not have significant share in the digital space; causes include deficient human, physical and structural capacity. This incapability or insufficiency of being accommodated in digital spaces will lead to more poverty, hunger, and inequalities thusobstructingachievements of SDGs1,2and 10 (reduce inequality) respectively. These are also the challenges to the equity dimension of holistic development by the pandemic and severely affecting SDG3 (good health and well-being).

A recent report by UNESCO explicitly says that the COVID-19 pandemic is causing more than 1.6 billion children and youth to be out of school in 161 countries and impacting over91% of the world’s enrolled students. The crisis crystallizes the dilemma for educational policymakers particularly of developing countries whether to completely suspend education or adapt to online learning systems. Developing countries like Pakistan is frankly not well equipped for traditional education even, and not at all ready for the hybrid educational mechanism, which means that the fundamental educational system is introuble already, thereforeSDG4 (quality education) presents a dream at a far distancefrom turning into areality.

SDG16 is about Peace, Justice, and Strong Institutions. And under COVID-19 crises many developing and underdeveloped world believes and views this pandemic as one spreadand imported by the privileged class through international travels and free mixing in the western ways of life. They feel dejected and demotivated for almost no fault of theirs, and a probable demand for compensation by those responsible to cause them disease or hamper their economic activity, cannot be stated as unjustified. The relevant questionsappear: can the global justice system uphold such demand? can global and local institution put their foot down and let the peace prevail through justice by the strong institutions? is SDG16 still pragmatic and doable?Though current focus is on the alarming spread of Covid-19, but the developed world should focus on ultimate impacts on poorest and most vulnerable in social, economic and environmental terms, living in developing and underdeveloped countries, to leave no one behind,and that refers toSDG17 (Partnerships for the Goals).SDG17 restates a commitment of global partnership to realize the remaining 16 goals, and COVID-19 can be a decisively indicative test for this. If economic giants particularly of the west do not offer a patronage and do not whole heartedly assistthe countries with huge population but weak financialsettings, if financially settled countries remain blind to the miseries of people from underprivileged world during and due to COVID-19 crises, thenfulfilling SDG17 was never a true and sincere intention.

Though UN working to fight COVID-19 but simultaneously the global community has to unite, learn lessons from each other and use this time to reset and to look at existing frameworks for some clarity including the SDGs.Our priority must be to inspire and enable the new dialogue for reform; how do we actually build the global and unified system that can deliver on the aspiration of the UN SDGs? Now more than ever the SDGs have reinforced the fact that how critical it is to have engagement of all sectors and industries, an approach that has been noticeably lacking in many areas including global public health. In context of Pakistan, pragmatically speaking, apparently COVID-19 has almost overpowered the majority, nearly all of SDGs and this detention seems not to finish soon, therefore Mr. Prime Minister must not overlook the matter and should assign the cabinet a task to find way-out for SDGs from the shackles of COIVD-19.