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The impact of coronavirus on the promises we made for a better and more sustainable future

UN 2030 Sustainable Development Goals
UN 2030 Sustainable Development Goals
News31 July 2020Caroline Maxwell

Five years ago, members of the UN made a commitment to a plan of action that prioritised people, the planet and prosperity, and sought to strengthen global peace. Then a pandemic hit. This article explores how coronavirus (Covid-19) has affected our progress towards achieving the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals.  

Progress, until now

In 2015, all United Member States made a commitment to strive for peace and prosperity for people and the planet, now and into the future. At the heart of these promises were the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Set to be achieved by 2030, these goals – to name a few – seek to realise human rights of all, achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls, eradicate poverty in all its forms everywhere and end world hunger.

Progress on meeting the targets was already slow. In the wake of Covid-19 those goals are even more at risk of being missed, particularly with regards to those focussed on the eradication of poverty and global hunger. But what exactly are the most significant impacts that the Covid-19 pandemic is having on the achievement of the SDGs, and what can we do about it?

Negative impact on extreme poverty and livelihoods (SDG 1: No Poverty)

From 1990 to 2015, the number of people living in extreme poverty declined from 36 per cent to 10 per cent. However, the pace of progress is slowing down as the World Bank estimates that the Covid-19 crisis will actually push some 40 million more people into extreme poverty.

The pandemic has exposed fundamental weaknesses in our global system. It has shown how the prevalence of poverty, weak health systems, lack of education, and lack of global cooperation, is exacerbating the crisis. For example, income losses because of Covid-19 are expected to exceed $220 billion in developing countries.  

In response, Concern is providing cash assistance to households in countries including Kenya and Ethiopia to cushion them against the economic impact of a shutdown.

Potential to reverse development advances on hunger and malnutrition (SDG 2: Zero Hunger)

World hunger levels have been rising since 2015 with over 820 million people going hungry every day. Now Covid-19 is dramatically affecting the health and nutrition of people living in poverty, many of whom are unable to access nutritious foods or health and nutrition services.

For every percentage that global economy falls because of Covid-19, there will be an additional 4 million children stunted (children unable to develop properly due to malnutrition). The International Monetary Fund (IMF) is currently predicting a 4.9% decline in global GDP this year – leaving us with a ‘least worst’ case scenario of 12 million more stunted children and an undoing of more than five years of progress tackling stunting. This is catastrophic.

A child has his MUAC measurement taken, South Sudan. Photo: Abbie Trayler-Smith
A child has his MUAC measurement taken, South Sudan. Photo: Abbie Trayler-Smith

Moreover, the World Food Programme predicts the number of people without access to enough safe and nutritious food could almost double this year to around 265 million due to the indirect impacts of Covid-19 on food production and distribution, access to markets and affordability due to income losses. We need urgent action to reduce the immediate threat of Covid-19 to malnourished people, and mitigate the risk of an escalating hunger crisis.

You can find out here how we are responding to Covid-19 in the countries where we work. 

Increased conflict (SDG 16: Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions)

Conflict is the single biggest driver of humanitarian crisis today; it is estimated that 80% of the extreme poor are expected to live in fragile states by 2030. Insecurity seriously hampers effective humanitarian responses, including to the Covid-19 pandemic. The disproportionate impact of Covid-19 on the urban poor in contexts already affected by conflict could exacerbate existing tensions. The risk of violence is high in countries where the economy was already struggling, with high unemployment, frustration at government performance and pressures created by conflict in neighbouring countries.

What needs to be done to continue with progress?

Firstly, there is a clear need to strengthen resilience in communities in developing countries. For many of the people and communities that Concern works with, Covid-19 is just one of a number of challenges they face. This year alone countries have had to deal with locusts, extreme weather, droughts and lack of funding. Investing in disaster resilience enables communities to respond quickly to emerging threats. You can find out more about our resilience work here.

Additionally, it is imperative that poverty eradication remains the purpose of UK aid, and only through comprehensive and sustained focus on delivering the SDGs and reaching those people most in need will this succeed. Indeed, without this concerted effort the Covid-19 pandemic will exacerbate global inequality and has the potential to reverse years of progress.

Finally, with malnutrition set to soar this year, we need the UK to remain a nutrition champion. Britain has made a huge impact, and is a global leader. Although the global summit to fight malnutrition– Nutrition for Growth – has been postponed to next year we are calling for the UK to make an early signal of support to help ensure a successful summit. Good nutrition matters for poverty reduction, for unlocking economic potential, for businesses and achieving the SDGs. As the world responds to the coronavirus pandemic, now more than ever we need the UK not to drop the ball on investing in proven interventions such as preventing nutritional deficiencies in children.

Join our campaign and get the UK government to act now to prevent a hunger crisis.

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