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Negative impact of COVID-19 reverses SDGs progress, says UN deputy scribe

UN Deputy Secretary-General, Nigeria’s Amina Mohammed, has said that the immense challenge of COVID-19 pandemic has reversed the progress on meeting the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Amina Mohammed
Deputy Secretary-General of the UN, Amina J. Muhammed

Mohammed made the observation at the closing of the High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development  (HLPF) on Thursday, July 15, 2021 at the UN headquarters in New York.

Mohammed attributed the COVID pandemic to “a reversal of SDGs progress in some areas and delayed action on many of the major transitions required to meet our 2030 goals”.

She said the pandemic has had a “deeply negative impact” on health and well-being; employment, businesses, incomes, education; and human rights, with a particularly damaging effect on women and girls.

Throughout the forum, during which nine Global Goals and 47 Voluntary National Review outcomes were examined in depth, many participants observed that some of the measures put in place during the pandemic could provide a foundation for SDGs progress.

Mohammed gave the example of digital learning, which could help to transform education more broadly, along with building on critical fiscal support many countries had provided to their economy, jobs and people.

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“Governments should now consider whether some of these measures can be integrated into comprehensive social protection systems,” she said.

According to her, recovery efforts can be designed both to restart economies and accelerate SDGs implementation.

Mohammed said that stimulus packages and Special Drawing Rights for foreign exchange reserves could be leveraged to advance gender equality, boost investment in education, health and social protection.

In addition, the UN deputy scribe said for many developing nations, “the pandemic is still raging, people are still dying at unacceptably high levels and economies are in dire straits.’’

“We must support these countries in their response to the COVID-19 pandemic and in recovering better to accelerate SDG implementation,” she underscored.

While this applies “first and foremost” to ensuring universal access to lifesaving vaccines, she stressed that it also extended to delivering “a financial lifeline” for those states faced with major debt pressures.

“Also, for mobilising resources, technology, know-how and partnerships to facilitate economic transformation,’’ she added that the UN development system is committed to fully supporting this endeavour.

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Under the leadership of empowered and independent Resident Coordinators (RCs), UN country teams have responded well to the needs of governments throughout the pandemic, she told ministers.

“Moreover, following three years of reforms, they are primed to deliver the transformative support that governments demand to accelerate SDGs implementation,’’ Mohammed said.

With political leadership, solidarity and unity of purpose, the deputy UN chief asserted that the world could end the pandemic, secure improvements in people’s lives between now and 2030, and keep the promise of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Earlier, at the opening of the forum, Ms Kristalina Georgieva, Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), said Nigeria might need an extra six years to meet its SDGs.

The IMF chief said the delay would come from the devastating effect of the COVID-19 pandemic, which struck in Nigeria in February 2020.

She said that one of the goals, eradication of poverty, was worsening as a result of the global health crisis, lamenting that “for the first time in 20 years, the unthinkable is happening.

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“We are losing the fight against poverty. Global poverty is significantly increasing. It is an economic calamity and a human tragedy.”

In order to address this issue, she advised policymakers to take the necessary actions now to vaccinate at least 60 per cent in all countries by mid-2022.”

In addition, she told the forum that IMF recently presented the outcome of new research on how the crisis had set back the path to the SDGs.

“We analysed the financing gaps to achieve the SDGs in five key sectors: education, health, roads, electricity, and water and sanitation.

“We applied this framework to four country case studies — Rwanda, Nigeria, Pakistan, and Cambodia. Not surprisingly, achieving the SDGs will be even more challenging after the pandemic,’’ she said.

The forum, which started on July 6 and ended on Thursday, assessed the progress on the 2030 Agenda.

By Cecilia Ologunagba

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