COVID-19 and the SDGs — April 14th Update

Apr 14, 2020 · 6 min read

Written by Brady Press

Over the past few weeks, our team has been researching and curating information on the impact of coronavirus (COVID-19) on the Sustainable Development Goals. The economic, health, social and infrastructural challenges we are facing globally are impacting countries across the world and are exasperating concerns about the timeline of the Global Agenda.

Source: Millennium Challenge

With achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030 already in question, implications from COVID-19 have almost inevitably pushed progress further behind. In this article, we look at discussions around specific SDGs that have occurred over the last few days.

The UN Leading the Charge

Various UN agencies are driving COVID-19 response by partnering with member states, institutions, nonprofits and the private sector. The UN Sustainable Development Group released an article detailing nine ways UN teams around the world are currently fighting COVID-19 and its adverse effects on the Global Goals.

SDG 2 — Zero Hunger

Of the goals affected by COVID-19 is SDG 2 — Zero Hunger. Although the global supply of food remains intact, disruptions in the shipping industry brought on by border restrictions and other quarantine regulations are casting a “double crisis” in some developing countries. In an op-ed article, Dongyu Qu, Director-General, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) notes that the problem is demand, not supply:

“The shuttered restaurants and less frequent shopping trips are curbing demand and will ultimately depress output. In the West, reduced labour mobility threatens to leave some seasonal crops rotting in the fields and deprive producers of their livelihoods.

Much like in the public health sphere, where the virus’s impact explodes into view weeks after the initial contagion, the cumulative effects of such market disruption, while not dramatic yet, will likely become apparent as early as this month. Yes, well-nourished citizens in wealthy countries may weather a couple of months without some fresh or imported produce. But in the developing world, a child malnourished at a young age will be stunted for life.”

During the Ebola crisis in Africa, food production fell by 12%. Having learned from the Ebola outbreak, FAO officials are acknowledging that, “while health needs are an urgent and primary concern, we cannot neglect livelihoods or food security aspects.”

SDG 5 — Gender Equality

The UN released a new policy brief, The Impact of COVID-19 on Women, which shows how women and girls, in addition to other vulnerable groups, are being disproportionately affected by the crisis in areas ranging from health, economic, security and social protection.

Upon the report’s release, UN Secretary General António Guterres released a video in which he expressed his concern that progress toward SDG 5 is moving backward. He called for more women to be put in leadership positions with equal representation and decision making power and legitimized his concerns by illustrating current inequities that make women and girls more vulnerable during this time:

“Nearly 60 per cent of women around the world work in the informal economy, earning less, saving less, and at greater risk of falling into poverty. As markets fall and businesses close, millions of women’s jobs have disappeared… at the same time as they are losing paid employment, women’s unpaid care work has increased exponentially as a result of school closures and the increased needs of older people. These currents are combining as never before to defeat women’s rights and deny women’s opportunities.

Forced lock downs and movement restrictions also mean that women suffering gender-based violence are now trapped at home with their abusers at a time when support services are disrupted or inaccessible.”

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet doubled down on these concerns, stating that women make up 70% of the world’s healthcare workers. She called the Global Agenda the “world’s strongest tool” for achieving equality and societal resiliency against pandemics and other global issues.

SDG 16 — Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions

Despite the UN Secretary General António Guterres’ calls for a global ceasefire in late March, global conflict, prejudice and human rights violations are still prevalent amid the pandemic are stirring great concern relating to SDG 16. Guterres presented ways that “the pandemic poses a significant threat to the maintenance of international peace and security,” saying that it has potential to lead to “an increase in social unrest and violence that would greatly undermine our ability to fight the disease.”

In a special appeal over the holiday weekend, Guterres warned that other vulnerable groups — people in war zones, refugee camps, slums — are less equipped to fight COVID-19 because of their circumstances. Cecilia Jimenez-Damary, the UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights of internally displaced persons, also came out acknowledging the limited access to healthcare, water, sanitation, food and adequate housing, and discrimination displaced people face.

However, although many countries agreed to comply with a ceasefire, deep rooted conflicts remain and countries need to take more action to ensure fighting stops and focus turns to fighting the COVID-19 pandemic. In a joint appeal on Saturday, five UN envoys to the Middle East emphasized this urgent need in countries such as Syria, Iraq and Yemen. Additionally, the envoys called upon these governments to take care of internally displaced persons (IDPs), refugees, and communities under siege during this time.

Like Guterres, WHO Chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus also called for unity during the pandemic, describing it as “Public Enemy Number One.” He, who has received his own racist comments and death threats since the start of the outbreak, urged the public to stop politicizing the disease and to prioritize saving lives.

SDG 12 — Responsible Consumption and Production

Although social distancing measures have resulted in less pollution and fewer greenhouse gas emissions, other negative environmental impacts, such as plastic waste, have increased, impeding progress on SDG 12. According to Forbes, COVID-19 has hurt the waste, plastic, and recycling industries. Additionally, the demand for plastics has increased with the growing need for personal protection equipment in medical facilities and the transition to take-out services for the restaurant industry.

SDG 17 — Partnerships for the Goals

Misinformation, or the “infodemic,” around coronavirus is feeding the public health crisis and further threatening the health and wellbeing of our society (SDG 3). Putting SDG 17 — Partnerships for the Goals — into action, companies like Facebook, Google, Pinterest, Tencent, Twitter, TikTok, YouTube and others have come together to form a team of “WHO Mythbusters” to help fight dangerous false information on the internet.

Brady Press is an Associate Director at Changing Our World, where she specializes in building strategic corporate citizenship programs. She is a consultant to SDGCounting and StartingUpGood, and is currently researching how COVID-19 is affecting the Sustainable Development Goals.

SDG Counting

Keeping track of progress on trying to count and measure…

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