COVID-19’s Impact on the Sustainable Development Goals
The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are 17 goals that the United Nations Department of Social Affairs created in 2015 to set up a path for countries to follow to end poverty, improve health and education, create economic growth and reduce inequality by 2030. Disruption of these goals occurred with the emergence of COVID-19 in 2019. COVID-19’s impact on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) means that the following goals are in need of even more assistance. The U.N. Department of Economic and Social Affairs is working with countries to accomplish the following 17 goals:

  1. “End poverty in all forms.”
  2. End hunger and food insecurity, improve nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture.
  3. Ensure health and well-being for all ages.
  4. Ensure quality, inclusive and equitable education for all with lifelong learning opportunities.
  5. “Achieve gender equality and empower all women.”
  6. Ensure sustainability and availability of clean water and sanitation.
  7. Ensure access to reliable, affordable and sustainable clean energy.
  8. Promote sustainable economic growth with productive, decent employment for all.
  9. Build resilient infrastructure with an emphasis on industry and innovation.
  10. Reduce inequalities among countries.
  11. Make sustainable, inclusive cities and communities.
  12. Ensure responsible, sustainable consumption and production.
  13. “Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts.”
  14. Sustainably conserve the oceans, seas and marine resources.
  15. Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of life on land, combat deforestation and halt biodiversity loss.
  16. Promote peaceful, inclusive societies for sustainable development and provide justice for all using effective, accountable and inclusive institutions.
  17. Strengthen the means for implementing and revitalizing the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development.

The 2030 Agenda

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is a plan of action that seeks to create a strong, peaceful planet with a main focus on eradicating poverty. Many consider it the “greatest global challenge and indispensable requirement for sustainable development.” This 2030 agenda demonstrates the targets set out to accomplish in 15 years that involve economic, environmental and social empowerment. The 17 SDGs are associated with 169 associated targets that world leaders pledged to work on. These goals and targets came into effect on January 1, 2016, to guide countries in achieving the SDGs by 2030. However, COVID-19’s impact poses serious concerns for reaching the SDG goals established in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

The Impact of COVID-19 on the Sustainable Development Goals

The SDG Summit in September 2022 revisited the 2030 agenda to review the status of the 17 SDGs. The Summit noted that COVID-19’s impact on the SDGs has been huge as each goal experienced setbacks. The pandemic erased more than four years of progress against poverty (SDG 1) and one out of 10 people suffers from hunger as food security increases worldwide (SDG 2). Additionally, COVID-19 infected more than 500 million people worldwide and led to 15 million deaths (SDG 3). It also disrupted health services in 92% of countries and stopped progress toward universal health coverage (SDG 3). Global life expectancy and immunization coverage have also decreased (SDG 3). Meanwhile, the global learning crisis increased as 147 million children missed in-person school (SDG 4) and women accounted for 45% of global employment losses in 2020 due to the pandemic (SDG 5).

As of 2019, more than 733 million people lived in countries with high levels of water stress (SDG 6). Additionally, new waves of COVID-19 impacted the global economic recovery and global unemployment will remain above the pre-pandemic level until 2023 if not longer (SDG 8). The passenger airline industry experienced a loss of half its customers after 2019 (SDG 9). The pandemic caused the first rise in income inequality between countries in a generation (SDG 10). The pandemic led to 90% of the world’s fishers who have employment in small-scale fisheries in need of accelerated support (SDG 14). Meanwhile, the COVID-19 recovery spending has hugely neglected biodiversity (SDG 15). Developing countries face obstacles during the pandemic recovery because of the rising debt burdens (SDG 17).

COVID-19 and Poverty

According to the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition’s assessment of the world before COVID-19 in comparison to the world two years into the global pandemic, COVID-19 has pushed the target to meet the SDGs back to nearly two decades. The time to accomplish the SDG goals has changed from 2030 to 2092. Before COVID-19, one out of 45 people worldwide needed humanitarian assistance but now one in every 28 people worldwide is in need of humanitarian assistance. In regard to poverty, the pandemic increased the number of people living in poverty from 650 million worldwide to 700 million.

Moving Forward

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S. Congress allocated $18 billion to emergency COVID-19 international response funds. This money goes to support humanitarian and global health needs around the world. In addition, USAID and the U.S. State Department committed more than $1.6 billion to emergency assistance in more than 120 countries that are considered the most at-risk facing the pandemic. The money protects health care facilities, supports laboratory work, disease-surveillance and addresses the secondary impacts of the pandemic like increased hunger and poverty. The United Nations created a $10.3 billion campaign to support testing and laboratory needs in 60 of the world’s vulnerable nations.

The World Bank has also provided $160 billion to support 100 developing countries as they respond to the pandemic’s social, economic and health impacts. Other entities aiding countries experiencing crises due to COVID-19’s impact on the SDGs are private philanthropy and foundations like the COVID-19 Solidarity Fund, which has raised more than $246 million for COVID-19 preparation and response efforts. In July 2022, The High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development pushed for a new, accelerated plan in order to progress toward the SDGs after COVID-19. With the help of U.S. aid programs, global and multilateral institutions, private philanthropy and foundations, aid is available and increasing with the hope that the world will achieve the 17 SDGs despite COVID-19’s impact on the Sustainable Development Goals.

– Arden Schraff
Photo: Wikipedia Commons