Keeping Focus on the SDGs whiles Battling COVID – 19

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The world is currently confronted with a pandemic of colossal magnitudes with its ever changing effect on infected persons. COVID – 19 has been devastating and has inflicted havoc on countries of the world, upending lives and livelihoods. The impact of the pandemic in terms of loss of human lives is painful, but the effects on the global economy and on sustainable development prospects are also nerve-racking.

The International Monetary Fund estimates that the world has entered into a recession, and while the full economic impact of the crisis is difficult to predict, preliminary estimates place it in excess of US$2 trillion. This huge cost will take a long time to recover, especially on businesses, workforce and general productivity.

The pandemic has really exposed weaknesses in our global system and overall infrastructure. It has demonstrated our lack of focus and commitment to (SDG1) No Poverty, (SDG2) Zero Hunger, (SDG3) Good Health and Well-Being, (SDG4) Quality Education, (SDG6) Clean Water and Sanitation and (SDG8) Decent Work and Economic Growth. With 10 years more to achieve all the 17 goals, there has clearly been the lack of cooperation in promoting and achieving the goals.  

If someone had ever practiced that the world as a global village would be faced with a common enemy like COVID – 19, it would have sparked a huge debate and receive the biggest condemnation ever. This is because of the huge disparity between the developed world on one side; the developing world and the poor countries on the other side. Attributing to this thinking and believe was the over reliance of the health system of the developed world and their robust economies and financial structures.

The pandemic has shown that, the world must be interested in what happens in any part of the world and that issues of the nature of this pandemic cannot be dealt with as a local problem in isolation. Clearly, we live in an interdependent world and we need to work towards making the world a much better place for ourselves and generations yet to come. There should be the redirection of our attention on promoting and meeting the basic needs of human existence. This will save the universe and create an equitable and resilient world.

The world has been in a state of denial but due to the interdependence of the countries of the world, we need to embrace the fact that the world has a common challenge. It will therefore be in our own interest to build consensus in fighting the enemy of the world. In times like this, every country is vulnerable and until we find a vaccine or cure, we are all exposed. As if world leader knew there was going to be a moment in the world like this, where such a calamity will befall the world health system.

Fortunately, the blueprint of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is to ensure good health and well-being, end poverty, protect our planet, ensure prosperity, offer protection for the vulnerable and ensure equality.

Interestingly, a substantial number of countries have demonstrated their interest in promoting and attaining the SDGs with specific focus on what confronts their countries and visibly there is evidence to show for it.

The world is now focused on flattening the infection curve, containing further spread and returning the world to normalcy. However, its negative impact will live with us for a while and these effects must be addressed to curtail its reoccurrence in the future. The reality is that the new normal has come to stay and we need to accept it. World leaders are redesigning their priorities, changing their developmental agenda, reallocating both financial and human resources to deal with the pandemic. The single most important activity now is to save as many lives as possible whiles we redesign the worlds developmental architecture which underpins attaining the SDGs.

It is therefore imperative that we support the WHO to scale up the immediate health response to suppress the transmission of the virus, end the pandemic and focus on people particularly, women, children, youth, low-wage workers, SMEs, the informal sector and vulnerable groups already at risk. Working together we can save lives, restore livelihoods and bring the global economy back on track. It may not be in the immediate term but with concerted efforts, we will triumph over the challenges.

In the midst of the pandemic where the world’s attention and financial resources is on fighting COVID – 19, there should be the urgent need to still commit resources to promoting and achieve the crucial SDG related to health and well-being. In offering a solution to the pandemic, we cannot be de-linked from the SDGs. Indeed, achieving the SDGs will put us on a firm path to dealing with global health risks and emerging infectious diseases. Achieving SDG 3 (Good Health) will mean resourcing and strengthening the capacity of countries for early warning, risk reduction and management of national and global health risks.

Especially in Ghana and the African continent, there is the need for massive investment in health care infrastructure, medical research, build capacity in health care professional and increase patient to doctor ratio. The African continent has been lucky so far because it has not been hit like we have experienced in Europe. If Africa is to experience half of what is happening in the west, we will have seen a totally devastated continent. Fortunately, this becomes a wakeup call for massive investment in its health sector as well as commit and promote the SDGs.

This pandemic has exposed the crisis in global health systems with the deliberate discrimination in providing quality health and the lack of access to health care in certain parts of the world.  Such activities undermine prospects for achieving SDG 3 and because we cannot de-couple the SDGs, it will have far-reaching negative effects on the other SDGs.

Statistics and data available projects a massive impact of the crisis in our pursuit to achieve the SDGs, such details can affect our very existence as a people. UNESCO estimates that about 1.25 billion students could be affected, this threatens the attainment of SDGs Goal 4 (Quality Education). As if that is not enough, the International Labour Organization (ILO) estimates that in excess of 25 million people could lose their jobs, we have seen millions of people in the USA filling for unemployment. Same unemployment can be said of Austria, UK, Belgium and many of the European countries; the good thing is that these countries have announced some stimulus packages to cushion its citizens against the hit.

Africa will be worse hit with most of its jobs in the informal sector, unfortunately, there is no data of the number of people in the informal sector. There is lack of social protection for people and businesses in the informal sector. However, the government of Ghana for example has announced a GHS600 million stimulus package for SMEs and this is to be managed by the National Board for Small Scale Industries (NBSSI). About 200, 000 SMEs are expected to benefit from this package in revamping their busniesses.

The TUC is also urging government to inject GHS18billion into the Ghanaian economy to revamp its operations. The government of Ghana has announced the provision of free water delivery, free electricity a category of persons and subsidy on electricity another category. These are some of the social interventions it is believed can reduce the economic hardship that this pandemic has brought. The hospitality industry has been worse affected with many job losses and they have called on government to intervene by helping them pay salaries. The media industry has also had its share of the impact of the pandemic just like the financial sector.

Crucially, in many parts of the world, the pandemic and its effects are exacerbated by the crisis in achieving clean water and sanitation targets (SDG 6), weak economic growth and the absence of decent work (SDG 8), pervasive inequalities (SDG 10), and above all, entrenched poverty (SDG 1) and food insecurity (SDG 2). The World Bank estimates that the crisis will push about 11 million people into poverty.

Significantly, we have to face the reality that the pandemic teaches us, we live in a global village and we must demonstrate extreme care and take interest in what happens in every part of the world. We should begin to support developing and poor countries if we admit we are global citizens by helping them develop.  There must be conscious effort to also prioritize the needs and demands of the less privilege, most deprived and vulnerable in our societies especially women and children.

To achieve these feat, there should be the demonstration of political will and commitment in achieving the SDGs. We should move beyond the rhetoric and develop policy that will ensure the achievement of these goals. The universe is endowed with enough resources and capacity that can be harnessed in positioning our societies in attaining development. This has been displayed by how Governments around the world, businesses, corporate organizations and civil society have raised money and built health facility to help combat COVID – 19.

The world is responding to the pandemic and there is the urgent desire to restore global prosperity. We must see an acceleration of the SDGs, deepen our efforts in recovering from the effects of the pandemic, build a prosperous world and make meaning of the “new normal” which has come to stay with us.

Source: Bright Ampadu Okyere (An SDG Advocate) and www. weforum.org

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