Sustainable Development Goals and COVID-19

Sustainable Development Goals and COVID-19

Sustainable development Goals, there are 17 goals as such, but they are sometimes overlapping, sometimes intricately linked, so it becomes difficult to discuss them separately. In this short chapter, we would be trying to look at the impact of the worldwide Corona pandemic on Sustainable Development Goals.


The world is unequal in different aspects and it is the responsibility of the inhabitants of the world to make the world liveable for everyone. This implies concerted effort and awareness at all levels. The UNO through its multiple appendages has taken the charge of making the world more habitable through different programs. At the advent of the new millennium, it set the Millennium Development Goals, to be completed within fifteen years, i.e., 2015. It could not be achieved to the fullest extent, mainly because of the setback of the global meltdown of 2008.

In 2015, the Sustainable development Goals were set for the next fifteen years. These goals were more in number and more interlinked to cover the main problems stalking the majority of the world population. There are 17 goals as such, but they are sometimes overlapping, sometimes intricately linked, so it becomes difficult to discuss them separately. In this short chapter, we would be trying to look at the impact of the worldwide Corona pandemic on Sustainable Development Goals.

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Sustainable Development Goals

As we all know the COVID-19 19 pandemic has stopped the world. Most of the countries had to resort to different forms of shutting up economic activities to stop contact between people by maintaining social distance. The service sector, wherever possible, shifted to ‘work from home’ with the support of available ICT infrastructure. But the production sector, especially in the urban areas did not have such an option and they had to stop. This had an enormous impact on the world economy and the growth rate of Gross Domestic Products of all the major economies slowed down, some of them even turned negative. The impact was more in developing countries like India, where a major part of the workforce is in the informal sector.

With this backdrop let us have a brief assessment of the fate of the SDGs. We would like to take them up not in the serial as posed by the UNO, but according to their importance in the present situation of the world. Presently, the advanced economies of the world are still not out of danger, European countries are facing the second wave and the fear of new strains is already looming. In a globalized world, the linkages are quite strong and the countries, which have been able to come out of the clutches of Corona partially, are not able to recover economically.

In such a situation, let us start with Goal 8, i.e., decent Work and Economic Growth. Disruptions of industrial activities, falling commodity prices, rising insecurity along financial market volatility are affecting economic growth leading to loss of existing jobs and of course shrinkage in new job creation. This will directly affect Goal 1 and 2, i.e., No Poverty and Zero Hunger.

Low income opportunity

The percentage of the world population living in extreme poverty was 36% in 1990, which came down to 10% in 2015. It is feared that the pandemic would reverse the trend. Global poverty may affect half a billion people, about 8.5% of the global population, and the reversal of the trend may happen after three decades.

The second goal was already in question as undernourishment started to increase slowly by 2015. Now about 690 million people (about 9% of the world population) are in hunger and if this trend continues, by 2030, 840 billion will remain hungry. And pandemic is surely one of the causes. And surely it has affected Goal 10 (Reduced Inequalities). Apart from the rise in income inequality resulting from the loss of jobs and pay cuts, access to amenities, food, and healthcare has also become unequal. The distributions of these were already skewed for the common people, not to talk of vulnerable sections of the humanity-like the refugees and migrants.

As the world is facing an unprecedented global health crisis, Goal 3 (Health and Well-being) is already jeopardized. Human suffering is being increased because the Pandemic death has taken away a part of the global population. On the other hand, it has also affected the treatment of other acute and chronic diseases along with programs of has also shown the usefulness of being prepared. The presence of a stable public health system has helped some of the countries to cope with the pandemic but in other countries, it ran havoc.

Clean Water and Sanitation (Goal 6) is one of the basic amenities of life. But worldwide, 673 million people still practice open defecation, one-third do not have access to clean water for drinking and about 40% of the world population does not have a simple handwashing facility. In such a situation, we are facing a situation where hand hygiene would be the savior. It has become imperative to carry on programs to reach this goal with renewed pace.

Two other goals, namely 4 and 5, are seriously affected by the Pandemic. Quality education has become a distant dream. Already about 260 million children, especially girls were out of school in 2018, though education was thought to be the ladder for upward mobility. Because of the pandemic, 90% of all schools were kept closed. This has halted education worldwide as remote learning is not accessible to 500 million students worldwide.

Reports show only in West Bengal, girl children were married off as schools were closed. Dry food items were distributed instead of Midday Meal and that was not a better substitute everywhere. And even if the schools reopen, about 65% of the schools do not have handwashing facilities so that preventive measures can be taken. The implications of COVID-19 19 for Goal 5, i.e., gender equality are threatening.

Though women account for 70% of health and social workers, that role is least recognized. Lockdown has increased the possibility of violence against women in terms of physical, sexual, and psychological torture. In some countries, cases of domestic violence increased by as much as 30%. On the other hand, women had to bear the additional burden of domestic work during the Pandemic in addition to spending three times more time in unpaid domestic and care work than men in normal times.

For Goal 11 (Sustainable Cities and Communities), it is sufficient to say that more than 90% of the COVID-19 cases worldwide have been happening in urban areas. It affected the functioning of the urban economy, which is the lifeline of the majority of the population globally. Workers of the informal and unorganized sectors are worst affected as their livelihoods depend on working outside.

Given this scenario, actually, the survival and betterment of the living condition of the human race depend on the progress of the other seven goals. The Pandemic has revealed then loopholes of the human civilization and it will need the best progress of Goals 16 and 17. The need to stop conflicts of different dimensions and work for peace and justice with the help of strong and efficient institutions is the call of the day. And partnership for the goals (17) is evident in search of the vaccine for the COVID-19 19. There is a need for economic revival through the restructuring of the economy and reducing wasteful consumption. So, there should be more emphasis on Goals 9 and 12.

The remaining three goals, i.e., 13 (Climate Action), 14 (Life below Water) and 15 (Life on Earth) are basically about the relationship of the human race with Mother Nature. When a zoonotic disease ravages the world, it calls for better treatment of natural ecosystems by managing forests and wetlands. The global stoppage of human activities has reduced greenhouse gases during the year. The marine life has also recuperated. This should be taken as an opportunity to revive the earth by finding out an alternative trajectory for the world economy.

Prof. Mahalaya Chatterjee
Prof. Mahalaya Chatterjee

Centre for Urban Studies, Department of Economics,
Calcutta University.

11 thoughts on “Sustainable Development Goals and COVID-19

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