Coronavirus in face of sustainable development

Coronavirus in face of sustainable development
09 / 04 / 2020
بقلم Marwa Nassar - -

As the whole world is slapped by the coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis, a major question surfaced about its impact on the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Shall the coronavirus slow down the march of sustainability or can it give a push forward to the march?

The whole world is grappling to overcome the coronavirus crisis which had multidimensional social and economic impacts.

A United Nations report – under the title “Shared Responsibility and Global Solidarity” – addressed this major question as well as the role of decision-makers, corporates, and philanthropists to contain the crisis and keep the march towards the SDGs.

Impact of coronavirus on the 17 Sustainable Development Goals:

The report has spelled out the impact of the coronavirus on almost 13 goals of the 17UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The report said the pandemic has affected the SDG 1 “No Poverty” and SDG 8 on “Decent Work and Economic Growth”. The precautionary measures adopted to confront the pandemic led to the suspension of economic activities, lowering income, reducing work time, and upping unemployment for certain occupations. Vulnerable segments of society and families lost their income and fell below poverty line.

According to International Labor Organization (ILO) estimates, the world could lose between 5 million and 25 million jobs and see losses in labor income in the range of $ 860 billion to $ 3,4 trillion. Small and medium enterprises, the self-employed, and daily wage earners are hit the hardest.

Massive job losses among migrant workers will have knock on effects on economies heavily dependent on remittances, such as El Salvador, Haiti, Honduras, Nepal, Tonga, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. Effects are expected to be substantial in economies with a large informal sector, where often social protection systems do not exist or are limited, or, in the formal sector, exposed to market volatility.

Concerning the SDG2 on “Zero Hunger,”the coronavirus could cause food production and distribution be disrupted.

Tragically, the COVID-19 crisis risks reversing decades of progress in the fight against poverty and exacerbating already high levels of inequality within and between countries. Volatility, combined in some countries with market tampering and stockpiling, is starting to impact the prices of food, with deleterious effects on nutrition of the most vulnerable. Unless measures are promptly put in place, the disruptions imposed by the pandemic and the measures adopted to suppress the virus will dramatically worsen the situation. This is especially important in large least developed countries, where the degree of complexity of the crisis is likely to be further compounded by the significant size of the vulnerable population and the extent of the informal sector.

The pandemic had a devastating impact on the SDG3 on “Good Health and Well-Being.” A hard truth is that the world could have been better prepared for this crisis if it was committed to the SDGs which called for access to universal health coverage and quality health care and more inclusive and sustainable economies. Instead, most countries have underinvested in health systems; facilities are insufficient for the level of the unexpected demand and rely heavily on imports. Most countries are characterized by weak, fragmented health systems that do not ensure the universal access and capacity needed to face the COVID-19 health crisis. On average, developing countries spend only about 2 percent of GDP on health, compared to the global average of 4.7 percent.

The SDG4 on “Quality Education” has been affected by the pandemic as schools around the world were closed, and thus most students came to depend on remote education which is not accessible to some. About 166 countries have

implemented country-wide school and university closures. More than 1.52 billion children and youth are currently out of school or university, representing 87 percent of the world enrolled school and university student population. In addition, nearly 60.2 million teachers are no longer in the classroom.

School closures have a wide range of adverse impacts on children and young people, including interrupted learning and forgone human interaction, which is essential to social and behavioral development.

Moreover, when schools close, many children lose the meals provided at school and a zone of safety. The World Food Program (WFP) estimates that more than 320 million primary schoolchildren in 120 countries are now missing

out on school meals. School interruption also causes gaps in childcare, which puts pressures on work and life balance, especially for women, and parents when asked to facilitate the children’s learning at home.

Digital technologies have become a positive enabler in this crisis, facilitating business continuity and connecting people more than ever and helping them maintain good mental health. However, inequality of access to broadband connectivity and inaccessibility of Information and Communications Technologies (ICTs) hinders effective remote participation and access to remote schooling arrangements, health information and telemedicine by all.

According to the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), an estimated 3.6 billion people remain offline,

with the majority of the unconnected living in the

least developed countries.

It is crucial that the international community support governments not only in providing distance learning solutions that use multimedia approaches to ensure learning continuity, but also in supporting teachers, parents and caregivers in adapting to home schooling modalities.

This has largely to do with the SDG10 on “Reducing Inequalities”, therefore inclusion and equity must be the guiding principles to avoid a further deepening of inequalities in access to education, with special measures taken to jointly meet the health, nutrition and learning needs of the most vulnerable and marginalized children and youth, as well as policies to address connectivity and content challenges.

Moreover, sustained disruption of education could lead to a rise in child labor and child marriage, placing a further brake on developing countries growth. A recent IMF paper showed that child marriages reduce low-income country GDP by 1 percent.

As for SDG5 on “Gender Equality,”the current crisis threatens to push back the limited gains made on gender equality and exacerbate the feminization of poverty, vulnerability to violence, and women’s equal participation in the labor force.

The fact that women make up 70 percent of the global health workforce puts them at greater risk of infection. Additionally, accompanying the crisis has been a spike in domestic violence reporting, at exactly the time that services, including rule of law, health and shelters, are being diverted to address the pandemic.

Women’s organizations, operating with meager resources, are often on the front line of community response – supporting those most affected economically by the crisis, ensuring shelters remain open for domestic violence victims, and channeling public health education messages to women.

Expansion and capitalization of Funds such as the UN’s Women, Peace and Humanitarian Fund or the UN Trust Fund to End Violence Against Women must be encouraged as a means of scaling up support.

As for SDG6 on “Clean Water and Sanitation,” water supply disruptions and inadequate access to clean water hinder access to clean handwashing facilities, one of the most important COVID-19 prevention measures. About2.2 billion of the world population lack access to water and 4.2 billion to basic sanitation, depriving people of the most basic and effective prevention measure against the virus;  frequent handwashing. Here again, the poorest and more vulnerable are at a disadvantage.

Concerning the SDG 7 on “Clean and Affordable Energy”, supply and personnel shortages are leading to disrupted access to electricity, further weakening health system

response and capacity.

The pandemic has also cast its shadow on SDG10 on “Reduced Inequalities.” This goal is interrelated with disparities in remote educational opportunities, gender inequality and disruption of economic activities. It is also linked to SDG11 on “Sustainable Cities and Communities”.

Within this context, the population living in slums face higher risk of exposure to COVID-19 due to high population density and poor sanitation conditions.

The pandemic had two contradicted impacts on the SDG13 on Climate Action. Although commitment to climate action witnessed a setback due to focusing on overcoming the current crisis, reducing production and use of transportation has led to less environmental footprints.

The impact on the environment is likely to be positive on the short term, as the drastic reduction in economic activity brought about by the crisis has reduced CO2 emissions and pollution in many areas. Such improvements are destined to be short-lived, unless countries deliver on their commitment to sustainable development once the crisis is over and the global economy restarts.

As for SDG16 on “Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions,” people in conflict areas are most at risk of suffering devastating loss from COVID-19 as conflicts prevent effective measures for fighting the pandemic. Therefore, UN Secretary General António Guterres has called for an immediate global ceasefire to help people in war-torn regions receive life-saving aid to fight the pandemic.

As for SDG17 on Partnerships for the Goals, although the pandemic caused an aggravate backlash against globalization; it highlighted the importance of international cooperation on public health.

Three steps for facing aforementioned challenges:

This report is a call to action, for the immediate health response required to suppress transmission of the virus to end the pandemic; and to tackle the many social and economic dimensions of this crisis. It is, above all, a call to focus on people – women, youth, low-wage workers, small and medium enterprises, the informal sector and on vulnerable groups who are already at risk.

Whole societies must come together. Every country must step up with public, private and civic sectors collaborating from the outset. But on their own, national-level actions will not match the global scale and complexity of the crisis. This moment demands coordinated, decisive, and innovative policy action from the world’s leading economies, and maximum financial and technical support for the poorest and most vulnerable people and countries, who will be the hardest hit.

The first step is to mount the most robust and cooperative health response the world has ever seen. Health system spending must be scaled up right away to meet urgent needs and the surge in demand for tests, expanded treatment facilities, adequate medical supplies and more health care workers; and for health system preparedness and response in countries where the virus has not yet manifested or where there is no community transmission to date.

The strongest support must be provided to the multilateral effort to suppress transmission and stop the pandemic, led by the World Health Organization (WHO), whose appeals must be fully met. Scientific collaboration in the search for a vaccine and effective therapeutics must be promoted through initiatives such as the WHO-sponsored solidarity trials. Universal access to vaccines and treatment must be assured, with full respect for human rights, gender equality and without stigma.

The second step is to do everything possible to cushion the knock-on effects on millions of people’s lives, their livelihoods and the real economy. That means the direct provision of resources to support workers and households, provision of health and unemployment insurance, scale-up of social protection, and support to businesses to prevent bankruptcies and massive job losses. That also means designing fiscal and monetary responses to ensure that the burden does not fall on those countries who can least bear it.

A large-scale, coordinated and comprehensive multilateral response amounting to at least 10 percent of global GDP is needed now more than ever. This crisis is truly global. It is in everyone’s interest to ensure that developing countries have the best chance of managing this crisis, or COVID-19 will risk becoming a long-lasting brake on economic recovery.

The third step is to learn from this crisis and build back better. Had the world been further advanced in meeting the Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, it could better face this challenge – with stronger health systems, fewer people living in extreme poverty, less gender inequality, a healthier natural environment, and more resilient societies.

The United Nations is committed to supporting all governments and working with its partners to ensure first and foremost that lives are saved, livelihoods are restored, and that the global economy and the people we serve emerge stronger from this crisis. That is the logic of the Decade of Action to deliver the SDGs. More than ever before, the world needs solidarity, hope and the political will and cooperation to see this crisis through together.

Decisive, urgent and coordinated action by all leaders of nations, businesses, finance, science and communities is needed to suppress transmission of the virus as quickly as possible and stop the pandemic.

Role of businesses and corporations to confront  COVID-19

Many corporations have been helping to shore up the health system response. Pharmaceutical companies are working with governments to increase testing capability, while manufacturers are offering to shift or add new production lines to manufacture masks and ventilators. Tech companies are providing crucial digital tools to overcome social isolation, promote social cohesion and raise awareness on health and safety guidelines to address the pandemic.

Private sector innovation can contribute significantly to the immediate and short-term pandemic response and to long-term resilience.

The United Nations calls on all businesses and corporations to take three primary actions; adhere to health, safety guidelines and provide economic cushions to workers, provide financial and technical support to governments by contributing to the COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund, and repurpose their facilities and business plans to focus on meeting the needs of this crisis. Some have begun to do so; but there is a need for many more to follow in suit.

Philanthropies’ role in COVID-19 fight:

Philanthropies around the world have a unique capacity to place resources and research capabilities rapidly behind the most challenging aspects of this crisis. Now is the time for more of the world’s philanthropic organizations to join the 225 funders who have donated an estimated $ 1.9 billion thus far to fight the outbreak.

On 13 March, WHO together with the United Nations Foundation and the Swiss Philanthropy Foundation launched the first-of-its-kind COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund, which enables private individuals, corporations and institutions anywhere in the world to come together to directly contribute to global response efforts. Funds raised will help health workers on the front lines to do their life-saving work, treat patients and advance research for treatments and vaccines. To date, more than 200,000 individuals and organizations have already contributed to this fund, raising more than $ 95 million.

Eventually, the report underlined that the world must seize the opportunity of this crisis to strengthen its commitment to implement the 2030 Agenda and the 17 Sustainable Development Goals. By making progress on the global roadmap for a more inclusive and sustainable future, the world can better respond to future crises.

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