According to UN Sustainable Development Goals Report, COVID-19 which is now a global pandemic can potentially affect most Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) severely having impacts specifically on SDG-1 (no poverty), SDG-2 (zero hunger), SDG-3 (healthy lives and well-being of people of all ages), and SDG-8 (decent employment and economic growth). As we are responsible for the development, initiatives by the government need to be taken in the spirit of certain SDG principles such as inclusiveness and the fundamental promise "no one left behind".
COVID-19 has hit Asia first leaving catastrophic impacts on the continent's economies and social structures. Asia's efforts to deal with the pandemic have further revealed the size of its population hanging by a thread amid hunger and poverty with little to no access to fundamental services. In the Asia Pacific region, 90 to 400 million people are likely to return to a state of poverty with a daily earning less than US$ 3.20. According to Asian Development Bank (ADB), the region alone has seen an estimated US$1.7 to US$2.5 trillion in loss of economic costs and human lives. Bold actions are being taken by many countries to minimize these losses. With the shift of attention from COVID-19's effects on human health and life to the focus on its socio-economic impacts, societies and governments of countries face unexampled fiscal, regulatory, and policy choices. As part of the SDGs, the global commitment to zero poverty and sustainable development by 2030 can work as a guide to hope in these times of distress.
The "Fast-Tracking the SDGs: Driving Asia-Pacific Transformations", a report by the UN, points out six transformative actions that can aid in the achievement of the SDGs in relation to our response to this global pandemic. The points include vitalizing human capabilities and well-being, moving towards equitable and sustainable economies, forming healthy and sustainable nutrition and food management, working to ensure universal access to zero-carbon energy, promoting sustainability in urbanization and peri-urbanization, and securing the environmental resources across the world. Due to the pandemic all entry points have suffered disruptions which may, however, pave the way to new measures to fulfil the targets of SDG that reflect the ambitious 2030 Agenda.
Even though COVID-19 has brought systemic gaps and fragility in many of our key systems into light, there are still viable strategies adopted by many countries before and after the arrival of the pandemic to strengthen resilience and achieve development goals at an accelerated pace. Steps have been taken by countries to strengthen supports for healthcare and social protection systems and extend them through food distribution and cash transfer to vulnerable households. Accurate data on a regular basis is the key to these efforts, and innovations to allow the most disadvantaged section of people an access to micro, small and medium enterprises credits are also vital. Comprehensive approaches have been taken by several countries to repress gender-based discriminations and violence in various forms. Partnership-based associations including financing and private sector companies can be crucial to the facilitation of creative solutions. Such experiences signal for optimism. COVID-19 responses must be centred upon people's well-being based on empowerment and equality. Changes in the nexus between people and the environment are required to ensure the protection of natural resources and human population as the key to a sustainable future where today's crisis doesn't occur again.
Achievement of SDGs requires revolutionary changes in policymaking and practices. Part of required transformations includes governance systems based on accountability and inclusiveness, accessible health insurance and social protection across the globe, robust digital infrastructure, and adaptive institutions having resilience to upcoming shocks. The transition of energy and infrastructure based on environmental sustainability and low-carbon emission drives all these factors. In the Asia-Pacific region, several countries have started devising ambitious strategies to ensure inclusive development approaches and green recovery.
Recently, a New Deal has been announced by the Republic of Korea based on decarbonization and digitization. Many of the Pacific countries that are already advocates of clean energy projects and climate initiative are turning their attention to "blue recovery", taking approaches to sustainable fisheries management. Recently, India announced the operation of their solar power plant, the largest in the region. China has been creating more employment opportunities in the renewable energy industries than in the fossil fuel sector ever since. Many countries in Asia keep broadening the scope of social protection as a COVID-19 recovery measure to transcend a temporary arrangement and bring the marginalised population, such as those in the informal sector under the systems. The ADB, the United Nations and similar institutions have rallied to provide a coordinated response to the global crisis. It is therefore vital for us to enable the countries of the world to gather the support required to achieve and transcend the SDGs.
The implausible pandemic which people is facing today has not only affected the entire species but also slowed down the economy, not stagnated though, leading to a situation where something invisible is pausing everything. It has also jeopardized the global agenda of SDGs which, even before the arrival of the pandemic, were doubted with regards to fulfilment by 2030 during the General Assembly of the United Nations in 2015 where they were targeted.
COVID-19 has made our approaches to these goals more challenging as stated in the recent UN SDGs Report. The crisis is impacting our economy, education, health, and efforts to alleviate poverty, ensure gender equality, deal with climate change, and protect the environment along with other factors to be considered under the agenda of SDGs. A quick assessment on 26 developed and 138 developing countries reveals that the pandemic, even in its moderate form, has pushed 85 million people into poverty.
Bangladesh has achieved some of the SDGs such as zero hunger, no poverty, reduced inequalities, healthy living and well-being, decent employment and economic growth including others. The pandemic has severely impacted all of them already. Among the SDGs, the first three took the worst hit. In this context, eradication of poverty and creation of new job opportunities as part of the SDGs look unlikely. Assistance from the government is required to provide with food to deprived people. The Sustainable Development Report (SDR) 2020 published on June 30 provides the SDG Index and Dashboards and is an important complement to the official list of SDG indicators along with the Voluntary National Reviews (VNRs).
The latest SDG progress report released in Bangladesh states that most of the 17 SDGs are on course for fulfilment by 2030. Present challenges to the government towards achieving SDGs include nutrition and obesity problems in children under five years of age, death toll caused by cancer, diabetic, lung, and cardiovascular diseases; dependency on technology and energy from renewable and zero-emission sources; Value Addition Ratio (VAR) to the hi-tech industries; inequality; and instances of gender violence against women. Areas where Bangladesh has managed to stay on track, according to the SDG progress report, include alleviating poverty, fighting hunger, providing sanitation and water, reducing gender parity, keeping up economic growth and decent work, maintaining consumption with production in harmony, and ensuring education development.
Md. Touhidul Alam Khan is Additional Managing Director of Standard Bank Limited, Bangladesh. He is the first Certified Sustainability Reporting Assurer (CSRA) in Bangladesh and recently selected as member of scientific committee of 8th International Sustainable Development Conference (SDC-2021)