Achieving the Sustainable Development Goals during a Pandemic
The COVID-19 Pandemic has showcased how vulnerable our healthcare systems and governing bodies are to the current crisis. To response and recover from the pandemic requires urgent cooperation between governments and public responsibility. The SDG framework can provide solutions on how nations can adapt and plan for a post-COVID economy.
Covid-19 will undoubtedly have profound inferences on progress towards the SDGs. It will be impossible to predict the extent to which the environment, economies, social cohesion and diplomacy would be impacted. A Pandemic makes the Sustainable Development Goals more relevant than ever. However, the solution should not focus on “building back better” (Sachs et al. 2020) as it hints that the previous economic growth and production rates are desirable. Societies and Governments need to move forward and transform their goals which do not cross ecological limits. Countries are at a standoff where they have no option to choose between the collapse of their economy or preventing widespread deaths. The only option is to strengthen public health systems so that businesses can have a scope to operate close to full capacity before the outbreak (Dorn et al., 2020). Pakistan may not have the means and the investment to contain the pandemic; therefore, the way forward can only be through transformative and innovative policies.
Jeffrey D. Sachs and his team created six SDG Transformations which provides a framework on how to recover from Covid-19 and move forward (Sachs et al., 2019a). The 17 SDG’s can be achieved through six societal transformations which are directed by the principles of “leaving no one behind” and “ensuring circularity and decoupling” (ibid.). The Transformations focus on: education and skills; health and well-being; clean energy and industry; sustainable land use; sustainable cities; and digital technologies. The highest priority of every government must remain the suppression of the pandemic. There can be no economic recovery, while the pandemic is raging.
Covid-19 has created a shift to working from home and online, and this is where Transformation 1 (Education, Gender, and Inequality) comes into action. A post-COVID system will require more investments in STEM education to create lifelong learning and digital skills. Responding to current economic and health crisis, women’s needs should have a higher priority and placing those in leadership roles as seen by New Zealand’s successful implementation of becoming COVID-free can help overcome the crisis sooner than dwelling in it. The public social security systems need strengthening to deal with the disruptions caused by the pandemic and incorporate primary healthcare education and supplies in schools.
Transformation 2 (Health, Wellbeing, and Demography) urges the need for resilient and capacity-building healthcare systems. These systems should be able to handle crises, provide universal healthcare, provide digital health solution, and in the process, become independent and stop relying on other countries for aid and health supplies. The Paris Agreement and Agenda 2030 have created a vision and a deadline on creating a long term change towards climate neutrality. Despite the lockdown and economic turmoil, environmental agreements and national regulations should not be halted and continued to be pursued and enforced to meet Transformation 3: (Energy Decarbonisation and Sustainable Industry).
In order to prevent future pandemics, the adverse impacts on the ecosystems and biodiversity loss need to be diminished. The way we consume the land, water, food and resources must become ecological as they are all linked with one another (Transformation 4). Transformations 5 and 6 focus on equality, acceptance, research and innovation for becoming sustainable cities. The imminent threats to vulnerable groups in urban settlements need to be acknowledged and tackled to avoid their deteriorating living conditions and to make control measures more practical. Pakistan is known to have overcrowded public transportation systems which require a change to allow social distancing and hygiene measures in place for safer journeys for commuters.
Harnessing a digital revolution (Transformation 6) through further developing online health solutions can reduce the strain on hospitals and enhance access. Further development of other digital government services and e-commerce will support a transition for workers affected by technological changes.
Governments are capable of to deal with complex challenges and have to step up. If there were more investment towards achieving the SDG’s the current crisis would have a different outcome from what we see today.
Sachs, Jeffrey, G. Schmidt-Traub, M. Mazzucato, D. Messner, N. Nakicenovic, and J. Rockström (2019). “Six Transformations to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals,” Nature Sustainability, 2(9), 805–14. Available at https://doi.org/10.1038/s41893-019-0352-9
Sachs, J., Schmidt-Traub, G., Kroll, C., Lafortune, G., Fuller, G., Woelm, F. 2020. The Sustainable Development Goals and COVID-19. Sustainable Development Report 2020. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
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