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Covid-19 reverses global progress on SDGs; India slips 3 spots to rank 120 out of 165 countries: new report

The Covid-19 pandemic is such a big global health emergency that it has snowballed into a sustainable development crisis for most countries. For the first time since adoption in 2015 for a better world, the worldwide progress on United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs) has shown reversal due to increased poverty and unemployment caused by Covid-19. The decline in the SDG progress worldwide may be even underestimated due to lack of the latest data, according to a new report.

The ‘Sustainable Development Report 2021’ (SDR 2021) was written by lead author Prof Jeffrey Sachs and his team at the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN), a UN initiative for mobilising scientific and technical expertise for achievement of the goals.

India has dropped three spots from 117 to rank at 120 out of 165 countries, according to the report. In 2020, too, India had slid to rank 117 down from 115 in 2019. For India, there is a silver lining, too. The country is on track to achieve the SDG 6 on Clean Water & Sanitation despite major challenges related to basic sanitation services and anthropogenic wastewater treatment, and SDG 13 on Climate Action. NITI Aayog’s recent SDG India Index 2020–21, too, had recorded the country’s steady progress on Clean Water and Sanitation (SDG 6) and Affordable and Clean Energy (SDG 7).

Amidst continued challenges in India, SDR 2021 has recorded declining trends on Quality Education (SDG 4) due to lower secondary completion rate, and Life on Land (SDG 15) due to risk of extinction of species.

Due to major challenges in India, the progress is stagnant on Zero Hunger (SDG 2); Gender Equality (SDG 5); Sustainable Cities and Communities (SDG 11); Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions (SDG 16); and Partnerships for Goals (SDG 17).

The report also points out goal-wise targets showing downward trends in progress. For example, there are worsening trends on the targets related to the ratio of female-to-male labour force participation rate under the goal of Gender Equality; the proportion of urban population living in slums, annual mean concentration of particulate matter and access to improved water source under the goal of Sustainable Cities and Communities; and unsentenced detainees, people feeling safe walking alone at night, and Press Freedom Index under the goal on Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions.

Most other countries are faring better than India, but they too have to recover some lost ground. For example, Finland, Sweden and Denmark occupy the top three ranks, but they too are challenged to achieve all the SDGs by 2030. Having said that, the report says, the rich countries can cover lost ground faster than poor countries due to their fiscal space.

Overall the progress on the SDGs can pick up on the back of sound policies and strong global cooperation to build forward better, says the report. Taking note of the short-term impacts of Covid-19 on the SDGs, the report underlines how the SDGs can help stage the recovery. “To restore SDG progress, developing countries need a significant increase in fiscal space, through global tax reform and expanded financing by the multilateral development banks,” says Prof Sachs in his communication. He adds that fiscal outlays should support six key SDG transformations: quality education for all, universal health coverage, clean energy and industry, sustainable agriculture and land use, sustainable urban infrastructure, and universal access to digital technologies.

It may be easier said than done, but there does not seem to be much choice. The approaches may differ, but making fast progress on achieving SDGs is more important now than ever. Otherwise we are in a vicious cycle. The Covid-19 pandemic has caused a slide in the progress on the SDGs. The reversal in progress on the SDGs can lead to more emergency situations.



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Views expressed above are the author’s own.



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