The coronavirus is reversing decades of progress in poverty eradication, healthcare and education, with effects of the pandemic devastating the most vulnerable and leaving them further behind, a new study has shown.
A United Nations report has found that the pandemic is causing severe disruption to the achievement of the globally agreed Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030.
According to the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, although progress towards the goals has been slow, the crisis is now undoing decades of advancement within just a few months.
Countries were off track in achieving the SDGs by the end of 2019 and now, the report notes that in a short period, the pandemic has unleashed an unprecedented crisis, with the disruption on the world’s poorest and most vulnerable affected the most.
“Although the novel coronavirus affects every person and community, it does not do so equally. Instead, it has exposed and exacerbated existing inequalities and injustices,” said UN Secretary-General António Guterres.
Prior to the pandemic, the world had been making progress to meet the 17 goals — in areas such as improving maternal and child health, expanding access to electricity and increasing women’s representation in government — albeit still uneven and insufficient enough to meet the 2030 deadline.
But now, even those targets where advancement was recorded — maternal and child health, expanding access to electricity and increasing female representation — are under threat of having decades of progress wiped out within a matter of weeks.
The pandemic has quickly become the worst human and economic crisis with an estimated 71 million people, according to the report, now expected to be pushed back into extreme poverty this year, marking the first rise in global poverty since 1998.
This means that even those who had previously been secure are now finding themselves at risk of hunger and poverty.
“As member states recognised at the SDG Summit held last September, global efforts to date have been insufficient to deliver the change we need, jeopardizing the Agenda’s promise to current and future generations,” said Mr Guterres.
“Now, due to Covid-19, an unprecedented health, economic and social crisis is threatening lives and livelihoods, making the achievement of goals even more challenging.”
The secretary-general stressed that Covid-19 is not affecting everyone the same. Among the vulnerable groups, the report finds that women and children will be experiencing the most hardships.
Further, the report states that about 1.6 billion people who are already vulnerable workers in the informal economy sector are now significantly affected by the crisis, and are expected to have 60 per cent of their incomes slashed since the pandemic began.
With regard to education, global school closures have kept over 90 per cent of students worldwide – 1.57 billion pupils – out of access to education, and among them, 370 million children are missing the school meals that they depend on.
For those without access to the internet and computers at home, remote learning is not an option, meaning almost no education for the duration of the crisis.
UN analysts say it is more vital now than ever before for governments to gear their coronavirus pandemic recovery efforts towards the SDGs.
“The principles on which the SDGs were established are key to building back better in the post-Covid-19 recovery,” said Li Zhen-min, under-secretary-general for UN-DESA.
“Our collective response to the pandemic can serve as a ‘warm-up’ for our preparedness in preventing an even larger crisis – that is, global climate change, whose effects are already becoming all too familiar. “
The pandemic has seen 1.57 billion students worldwide out of school and caused over 370 million children to miss out on school meals they depend on.
About 70 countries reported moderate to severe disruptions or a total suspension of childhood vaccination services during March and April of 2020.
Global gains in reducing child labour are likely to be reversed for the first time in 20 years.
An estimated 71 million people are expected to be pushed back into extreme poverty in 2020, the first rise in global poverty since 1998.
Underemployment and unemployment due to the crisis mean some 1.6 billion already vulnerable workers in the informal economy – half the global workforce – may be significantly affected, with their incomes estimated to have fallen by 60 per cent in the first month of the crisis.
More than one billion slum dwellers worldwide are acutely at risk from the effects of Covid-19, suffering from a lack of adequate housing, no running water at home, shared toilets, little or no waste management systems, overcrowded public transport and limited access to formal health care facilities.
Women and children are among those bearing the heaviest brunt of the pandemic’s effects.