Guest blog:The Severe Impact of COVID-19 on SDGs
Guest blog by Daniyal Bilal who is a student at the University of St. Andrews studying Physics, Mathematics, and Computer Science. He is a passionate Artificial Intelligence Enthusiast, applying Mathematics and AI for socio-economic issues. Originally published here.
The world is passing through an unprecedented challenge. Eruption of COVID-19 from China in almost no time has escalated into a global health emergency. Further creating havoc by disrupting every fabric of societies and economies around the world unsparingly. Besides health toll, social breakdowns, an unprecedented economic crisis and looming political interruptions in many parts of the world are already on the horizon. This global pandemic has susceptibly exposed deficiencies and underlying gaps within global systems, institutions and supply chains. After-shocks of COVID-19 are expected to prevail over a long period of time with inevitable social, economic and health challenges globally.
Impacts of COVID-19 are being analysed widely and extensively – and they should be. In this analysis, I attempt to understand how COVID-19 will affect future progress on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). In my view, SDGs are undeniably the most comprehensive global framework of development action agenda towards positive and transformative progress on people, planet and economy. Given the already deep-rooted impacts of COVID-19 at large, progress on SDGs will be inescapably suffered and with them global sustainable developmental agenda particularly in developing and most vulnerable group of countries.
Against this background, I attempt to establish a methodological framework to review the impacts of prevailing COVID-19 situation on SDGs based on the progress achieved so far and more importantly taking into account inter-dependence and inter-related values of SDGs. Obvious question is why to undertake such an analysis based on interdependence and co-relationship yardstick?
Well, as we know that mutually integrated attributes of SDGs are not merely accidental but a reflection and result of a well-thought and researched perception towards a holistic development approach. Dynamic inter-relationships between SDGs allow for economic growth to be achieved in an environmentally sustainable and socially and culturally cohesive manner. It also encourages an ecosystem approach where progress on each SDG enforces and leverages achievements on others and also fosters interaction between different sectors and institutions.
Description of the Methodology
The analysis is based on three years data (2017-2019) taken from the SDG Index and Dashboard Reports compiled by Bertelsmann Stiftung and Sustainable Development Solutions Network. By applying Pearson’s Correlation Coefficient method on aggregated country level progress data on all SDGs and 169 targets and indicators strength of inter-relationships between different SDGs are measured.
Pearson’s Correlation Coefficient is a widely used statistical method to compute the linear strength between two variables. I am conscious of the fact that determining perceptive interlinkages into quantifiable values in developmental interventions is beset with inherent challenges and limitations. In the specific case of SDGs, from the experience and observations I are also aware that not necessarily policy actions towards implementation of SDGs at country level are always well-coordinated and driven by developmental needs. This clearly suggests that progress on SDGs cannot be linearly inter-related. However, despite these indispensable limitations and constraints, a careful review of SDGs implementation progress data allowed to examine the functionality of inherent inter-linkages and draw out some valuable insights.
SDGs Co-relationships Explained
As said, SDGs are inter-connected and mutually integrated. Their progress on implementation shows varying degree of co-relationships in terms of impacts and affects they generate at country levels. However, scope of this analysis is focused on aggregated data which shows some interesting results and interactions.
In the graph, degree of co-relationships between SDGs based on their progress data is depicted through different color codes. Dark red color represents how progress in one SDG positively and influences other inter-connected goals. Conversely negative co-relationships between goals are depicted in shades of blue color. Surprisingly, in some cases progress in one goal seemingly produced undesirable fallouts in some other goals in some countries.
For example, a strong correlation has been noted between SDG 2 (Zero Hunger) and SDG 6 (Clean
Water & Sanitation) suggesting actions and efforts targeted towards ending hunger and food security requires availability and sustainable management of water resources and sanitation and vice versa. Such co-relationship is both understandable and justified because food security and access to water and sanitation are fundamental needs of people and in the recent past considerable efforts has been undertaken in ensuring food as well as water security which resulted into overall progress in both goals many countries around the world. Although as per the ‘Report of the Secretary General on Progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals, 2019’ (E/2019/68) reported less than satisfactory overall progress on SDG 2 but some areas have clearly made progress.
Contrarily, SDG 4 (Quality Education) and SDG 11 (Sustainable Cities and Communities) exhibit weak co-relationship. Whereas, based on the reported data relationship between SDG 8 (Decent Work and Economic Growth) and SDG 11 (Sustainable Cities and Communities) is spotted to be negatively co-related. Several reasons come to mind behind this particular outcome, such as, an inevitable consequence of increase in employment rates and economic growth is upsurge in urbanisation process exerting pressures on cities and their civic services and sustainability goals.
How COVID-19 will Impact the Future Progress
The scope of this analysis prescribes to primarily focus and build on specific SDGs directly and starkly hit by the COVID-19 and assess the likely impacts based on their co-relationship values with other SDGs.
In this specific context, SDG 3 (Good Health and Well-Being) is the obvious choice to begin. United Nations Secretary General’s Report, 2019 (E/2019/68) reported that “Major progress has been made in improving the health of millions of people, increasing life expectancy, reducing maternal and child mortality and fighting against leading communicable diseases”. Aggregated data also shows that progress on SDG 3 has been steady in the last three years across many countries. It also shows that SDG 3 shows strong co-relationship with eight (8) out of seventeen (17) SDGs, most notably, with goals 2, 6, 7 and 9.
As shown in the graph, SDG 3 co-relation with SDG 2 (Zero Hunger), SDG 6 (Clean water and Sanitation) and SDG 8 (Decent Work and Economic Growth) stands at 85%, 80% and 70% respectively. Such strong co-relationship compellingly implies that ongoing direct impacts on public health systems due to COVID-19 pose real risk of erosion of already made progress on SDG 3 with domino effects on number of other SDGs, in particular, SDGs 2, 6 and 8. The ongoing health crisis will most likely affect some of the most critical factors, such as, ‘Universal health coverage’, ‘Maternal mortality rate’ and ‘Proportion of births attended by skilled health personnel’ in many countries of the world. In fact early reports and news stories on ongoing health impacts of COVID-19 already flashing incidents of hospitals and other health facilities disregarding other critical sick patients.
The second major COVID-19 impacted area is SDG 8 (Decent Work and Economic Growth). Due to mass scale job losses and global halt of economic activities, productive employment conditions of large number of people of all ages, men and women, are either already lost or at risk. Similarly, with global economic growth rate reported to have shrunk by 3% by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) purely due to COVID-19, sustaining per capita income growth in the coming years, as targeted under SDG 8, in many countries is seriously challenged. Data analysis also shows that impacts on SDG 8 can potentially disrupt progress in number of other goals, such as, SDG 2 (Zero Hunger),
SDG 4 (Quality Education) and SDG 5 (Gender Equality) and SDG 6 (Peace and Justice Strong Institutions). Potential impacts on both SDGs 5 and 16 are particularly notable. Report of the Secretary General on Progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals, 2019’ (E/2019/68) reported less than satisfactory progress in achieving gender equality. It reported, ‘Insufficient progress on structural issues at the root of gender inequality, such as legal discrimination, unfair social norms and attitudes, decision-making on sexual and reproductive issues and low levels of political participation, are undermining the ability to achieve SDG 5’. Similarly, uneven progress on SDG 16 noted with access to justice continue to be hampered and increases in number of cases of homicides and violence on children. COVID-19 will further aggravate this situation and impede the progress to meet the targets under both goals.
In conclusion, it merits to mention although co-relationships between SDGs are a lot more dynamic and multi-layered in practice to be measured in a linear fashion. However, aggregate data analysis on interrelationships do provides useful information on global and regional trends. Furthermore, eruption of COVID-19 is an extremely unique global crisis and its adverse impacts on SDGs are likely to be extraordinarily harsh. Post-COVID-19 situation would demand increasing level of coordination, support and some degree of re-calibration to cover the loss grounds on the global action agenda on sustainable development.