What does Covid-19 tell us about Sustainable Development and the 2030 Agenda?

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JAVIER SURASKY
Cepei
j.surasky@cepei.org

March 11, 2020 


During the past days some of us feel as having been thrown into a dystopian science fiction novel. But the Coronavirus (to be more specific COVID-19) is real,  a WHO declared pandemic.

Assuming the difficulty of tackling a sensitive and day-to-day changing information issue, we believe that there are enough elements to draw some initial conclusions about what COVID-19 tells us in terms of sustainable development and the 2030 Agenda implementation. These are some initial ideas that can be already translated into clear messages. With this in mind, we share our reflections:

1. The dissemination of COVID-19, and its need for being contained, has shown that when in the presence of risks, even economic activity can take a back seat. Decisions such as those adopted by industrial centers as China and Italy, which imposed movement restrictions to people to contain the pandemic, are examples of how trade-offs between the economy, society, and environment should not necessarily prioritize the economic dimension. Before risk and potential harm the preeminence of the economic variable in decision-making becomes debatable.

2. Mass media and social networks have proven to be powerful to raise awareness. To profit from communicators and journalists in sharing the consequences of unsustainable practices and disseminating the 2030 Agenda among citizens, remains a pending issue, which must be given the proper importance in the framework of the Decade for Action and Delivery for Sustainable Development launched by the United Nations early in 2020.

3. As of the time this blog is being written (March 11, 2020), China, Italy, Iran, South Korea, Spain, Germany, France, United States, Switzerland, Japan, Norway, the Netherlands, Sweden, the United Kingdom, Denmark, Belgium, Qatar, Austria, Bahrain, and Singapore are the 20 countries with the highest number of Coronavirus cases. Eighteen of these are high-income countries, and 14 are members of the OECD Development Assistance Committee. Globally, the number of COVID-19 cases have climbed to 124,910, with 4,585 people dead and 67,050 recovered from the disease (see updated data here). There is no doubt that this is a real tragedy, but we can also ask ourselves about the attention that other “causes of death” receive, such as femicides and air pollution, to name a few examples. According to UN Women, in 2017, 87,000 women were murdered in the world, equivalent to near 240 per day, and air pollution is the fourth major cause of mortality worldwide according to the World Health Organization, resulting in around 4.2 million premature deaths. The visibility that the deaths caused by COVID-19 have received, and the fact that no one is safe, could be two elements that help to explain the visibleness of Coronavirus and the silence concerning the examples mentioned earlier. Bearing in mind the 2030 Agenda and its narrative, should we ask ourselves whose deaths (and lives) are being left behind? The fact is that a high GDP per capita is not useful to protect people against global threats, so “leaving no one behind” is a principle that also works for the benefit of the most powerful.

4. National borders are useless to deal with problems that require actions beyond State limits. Even those who attack multilateralism are assuming that “patriotic” solutions to coronavirus pandemic will fail.However, a strong multilateralism is required to face problems such as the COVID-19 pandemic, and those related to SDGs achievement.

5. Some people wonder about the lower incidence of COVID-19 in Africa and Latin America and the Caribbean. However, is the low incidence of COVID-19 in those regions real or their countries’ health and statistical systems are not identifying/registering cases properly due to their lack of capacities in data production, management and report? Data gaps are not absence of problems, but rather their aggravation due to a lack of timely identification (critical in the case of Coronavirus). International cooperation aimed at supporting statistical systems and the production of data has been systematically insufficient. Without data, there is no information, and without information, the capacity to confront global challenges such as the Coronavirus pandemic, but also those arising from implementing and following-up the 2030 Agenda, is practically nil.


Initiating a Decade for Action and Delivery for Sustainable Development, the COVID-19 pandemic leaves an essential lesson: the virus does not only makes sick, but bursts and denounces. Will we be able to listen and understand the message?



Of the countries reporting cases in the region up to yesterday, 18 of them reported an additional 961 cases in the past 24 hours for a total of 4,538 cases.

The United States continues to report the highest number of cases and deaths in the region, 77% of the total cases and 89% of total deaths in the region“.

PAHO, March 16, 2020.

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