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Years’ Worth of Progress towards the UN Sustainable Development Goals Wiped out with One Pandemic

The Sustainable Development Goals consisting of seventeen initiatives were first introduced in 2015 by the United Nations as there was a universal demand for action to end all forms of poverty, adopt sustainable solutions and protect the planet from climate change and establish gender equality by 2030. However, with the pandemic completely eliminating several years of progress, the target to create a peaceful, comfortable and equal society in just nine years is getting further away from our grasp.

Unsurprisingly, while the pandemic has severely impacted developed countries, its devastating effects are disproportionately felt by countries of the Global South. The statistics reported in the recent Sustainable Development Goals Moment conference held during the United Nations General Assembly’s High-Level Week in New York have placed an astounding perspective on just how extreme the damages have been.

A big blow to progress

As presented in the conference, in the last 18 months of the pandemic, the first SDG, which is aimed at eliminating extreme poverty by 2030, has suffered heavily. Five years of progress have been removed, resulting in more than ninety-seven million people once again finding themselves living in extreme poverty, which only creates a high possibility that more than six hundred million people will remain in such a state by 2030.

Number five on the SDG list is the demand for gender equality - while there have been some growing improvements towards the initiative, reports calculate it would take up to forty more years until gender parity is achieved in the political realms. Moreover, as COVID-19 continues to worsen access to female health care and necessities, ten million more girls are likely to become child brides.

As gender inequality and safety concerns continue to be a rapidly growing risk, it is perhaps integral that we as a society recognise that gender equality does not just help individuals, but also provides a massive economic boost for societies as it can unlock potentially twelve trillion dollars.

As it has been reinforced countless times, “nations that fail women fail”.

In addition, with the pandemic shutting down schools in many countries for as long as 12 months, the level of reading proficiency for more than 101 million children fell below the minimum standard.

Where do we go from here?

With one year into “the decade of action”, it has never been more urgent for nations to act and steer the SDGs back on track. With a combined effort from governments, organisations and individuals, it has been mapped out that the number of people living in poverty can be reduced significantly, and the gender equality gap and global warming SDGs can also be reached if maximum effort is guaranteed.

The pandemic inflicted more damage than deemed possible and destroyed livelihoods in large portions of the world that were already facing extreme challenges pre-COVID-19. So as we, in developed nations, slowly build ourselves back up from the challenges of COVID-19, is it imperative to acknowledge how much societal progress has been lost around the world. We must urge world leaders in pursuing maximum effort and strategic plans to our original goals of sustainable development in the very ‘decade of action” - or we risk a global society that is in limbo for years to come.


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