The pandemic's impact on Sustainable Development Goals
Updated 22:19, 08-Sep-2020
World Insight with Tian Wei

When the COVID-19 pandemic first struck the world in 2020, people did not realize that it would be a multi-dimensional crisis.

Now nine months later, it has become clear that decades of progress are in danger of slipping away because of the pandemic.

According to the World Bank, the world could see its first increase in extreme poverty in 22 years. Up to 100 million people globally could fall into extreme poverty in 2020.

A COVID-19 generation is emerging, without access to schooling. UNESCO estimated 30 million children may never return to school after this, losing their main escape from poverty.

The United Nations World Food Program reports at least 25 countries also face acute food insecurity because of the pandemic. 

These areas are among the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) set by the United Nations to be achieved by 2030. The questions now is, can we still meet these goals by then?

The answer, according to Dr Babatunde Ahonsi, the UN resident coordinator in China, is that we prioritize in this multi-dimensional crisis: the way to get out of it is to, of course, deal with the health crisis first.

In an interview with CGTN host Tian Wei, Dr Ahonsi said that the world could learn from China's lessons. "Once you're able to put in place the public health measures that China's done so successfully and you contain the epidemic outbreak in your country, then you can begin to, in a phased manner, talk about post-recovery measures."

Dr Ahonsi believed that China's case in fighting the pandemic shows that countries around the world would eventually come out of this health crisis.

The road, however, will not be rosy.

The world currently still lacks of concerted efforts in fighting the pandemic, let alone achieving long-term SDGs.

The reason is that decision-makers tend to think in short-term, with many times the horizon no more than four years. But development is a long-term process.

"In terms of development, a process in which we are all getting better, and inequalities are reducing, and opportunities are being evenly spread, that is a long-time journey," said Dr Ahonsi, "if your frame of reference is sustainable development, you can't really call any country developed. All countries are in the journey of sustainable development."

The essence of sustainable development, according to Dr Ahonsi, is interconnectivity. "One of the things COVID-19 showed us is that we are only as strong as the weakest link in the chain."

He shared a simple analogy:

"The 193 member states that make up the United Nations are like cabins within one big boat. If there is a fire outbreak, will you remain in your cabin and say this is not my problem? Are we going to be asking the question, who started the fire? What is it that you did that led to this fire outbreak? A first priority would be to put out the fire. Because if we don't, the entire boat will go in flames and drown."

In this sense, Dr Ahonsi said, although to achieve SDGs by 2030 now seems ambitious, we can still accelerate our progress if we collaborate more. "Times change. We shouldn't be completely discouraged because of things happening over three to four, five years."

"I think the realization is before all of us that unless we act in a way that says your wellbeing is in my own enlightened self-interest, then we're not gonna make a lot of progress. I think that realization is there, even in countries that currently in terms of the political leadership, do question some aspects of this [SDGs] agenda, they do not fundamentally question the fact that the future of the world depends on shared prosperity."

"The fundamental disagreement is around how you get to this better, fair, a more healthy world that we want."

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