The pandemic’s global spread had seen unfathomable economic consequences: zero economic development, supply chain network destabilisation, collapsing global demand, supply gluts resulting in price declines, loss of trust and confidence, and fear of a grim future. DR. GYAN PATHAK emphasises the importance of the next 18 months in restoring the setbacks in meeting targets caused by the pandemic, as well as revamping the health infrastructure to attain sustainable development goals.
The overview of the unprecedented setback of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in the last one and a half years due to the COVID-19 pandemic is indeed concerning, but a sustainable future is still achievable, for which the next 18 months are extremely crucial, and SDG plan of action should be improved during this time.
Even before the pandemic, the world was not largely focused on the path to meet the goals, but during the pandemic, the progress of many years or even decades was halted or reversed, and the challenges were multiplied over.
For the first time since 1998, global extreme poverty has accelerated to a critical juncture. About four million people lost their lives and 119-124 million people were pushed back into poverty and chronic hunger with 255 million people losing their full-time jobs.
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Current status of global hunger, poverty and healthcare infrastructure
According to the report, the global poverty rate will be 7 percent in 2030, leaving us short of the goal of eradicating poverty. In response to COVID-19, governments around the world have implemented 1,600 short-term social protection measures, but 4 billion people remain unprotected.
The pandemic acted as a catalyst in exacerbating global hunger. In 2020, an additional 83-132 million people are likely to have experienced hunger as a consequence of the pandemic.
The global number of severely malnourished people has surged to 771-820 million in 2020, up from 688 million people in 2019. The crisis has intensified the plight of over one billion slum dwellers.
Years of progress, particularly in maternal and child health, immunisation, and disease reduction in both communicable and non-communicable diseases, have been heavily compromised by disruptions in healthcare services. In the World Health Organisation (WHO) global pulse survey, approximately 90% of countries continue to report one or more significant interference to essential health services.
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The dramatic decline in global educational and employment opportunities
COVID-19 pandemic has wiped away 20 years of educational progress. There is a risk of a generational global crisis in education, with an additional 101 million, or 9 percent of children in grades 1-8 falling below the minimum reading proficiency level, potentially erasing two decades of academic growth.
The pandemic is continuing to increase children’s risk of exploitation, such as trafficking and child labour. Child labour increased to 160 million in 2020, the first-ever spike in the last two decades.
The pandemic has exposed and exacerbated disparities between and within the countries. The poor and marginalised people are more likely to be infected by the virus and bear the brunt of the economic fallout.
The crisis has heavily jeopardized the livelihoods of 1.6 billion workers in the informal economy. It will surely increase unemployment for youth, in school, or training, a section of society in which women account for 31.1 percent and men account for 14 percent.
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Inadequate healthcare infrastructure and a lack of safe sanitisation
Vaccine distribution amidst the pandemic seems to have a massive disparity. On June 17, 2021, approximately 68 vaccines were administered for every 100 people in Europe and North America, compared to fewer than two in Sub-Saharan Africa.
A total of 129 countries are distinctly lacking in providing safe drinking water to 26 percent of the world’s population.
Approximately 46%, or 3.6 billion people, do not have access to safe sanitation, while 29%, or 2.3 billion people, do not have access to basic hygiene.
According to the report, one-third of the world’s population still seems to be using hazardous and inadequate cooking systems wherein, 759 million people do not have access to electricity.
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Economic meltdown and gender inequality amidst the pandemic
The pandemic crisis has hindered the progress towards gender equality. Women have reported experiencing increased domestic violence, child marriage is expected to increase after a recent decline, whereas, unpaid and underpaid care work is increasingly and disproportionately falling on the shoulders of women and girls, negatively impacting educational and income opportunities, as well as their health.
The pandemic has also posed substantial economic challenges, particularly in the developing countries, with a significant increase in debt distress and a dramatic decrease in foreign direct investment and trade.
Global flows of foreign direct investment went down by 40 percent in 2020 compared to 2019, while manufacturing production has fallen by 6.8 percent in 2020. Economic recovery is underway, but many countries’ growth will not restore to pre-pandemic levels until 2022 or 2023.
Bribery is at least five times more likely in low-income countries (around 37.6 percent) than in high-income countries (7.2 percent). In 2020, the first year of the pandemic, murders of human rights defenders rose by 18 percent to 331 which were reported from 32 countries.
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The environmental consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic
Despite the global economic slowdown, major greenhouse gas concentrations continue to rise, and the climate, biodiversity, and pollution crisis persist. The global average temperature has risen by about 1.2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, dangerously close to the 1.5 degree Celsius threshold set in the Paris Agreement.
The world remains woefully off track in meeting the agreement. Biodiversity is dwindling, and terrestrial ecosystems are deteriorating at an alarming rate.
Every minute, 1 million plastic drinking bottles are purchased around the world, and 5 trillion single-use plastic bags are discarded each year.
The world also faltered from its sustainability goals in preventing biodiversity loss and in reversing the overall decline of 10 million hectares of forest between 2015 and 2020.
According to the report, 41% of amphibians, 34% of conifers, 33% of reef-building corals, 26% of mammals, and 14% of birds are on the brink of extinction.t 41 percent amphibians, 34 percent conifers, 33 percent reef-building corals, 26 percent mammal, and 14 percent birds are facing extinction, the report said.
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A silver lining amid the pandemic’s dark clouds
Despite these challenges, the report claims that resilience, adaptability, and innovation provide optimism.
Given the fact that many governments have implemented social protection measures, scientists are working on developing life-saving vaccines and treatments for COVID. Digital transformation of governments and businesses has accelerated profoundly changing the way we interact, learn, and work.
However, some transformational changes are still required, for which the SDGs provide a road map. This would include significantly strengthening social protection systems and public services such as health systems, education, water, sanitation, and other basic services; increasing investment in science, technology, and innovation; creating fiscal space in developing countries; transitioning to sustainable food systems, and adopting a green-economy approach and investing in clean energy and industry.
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According to the report, it is extremely crucial to invest in data and information infrastructure.
Even a year into the pandemic, only 60 countries seemed to have verified data on COVID-19 infection and death rates that could be disaggregated by age and gender and were publicly accessible. The data is crucial if our ultimate goal is to recover more quickly from the crisis and enhance the implementation of the SDGs.
However, effectively restoring the global community after the pandemic necessitates multilateralism and the active participation of all societies. (IPA Service)