Finding transformative pathways in turbulent times
It has been five years since the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals; the 2020 report notes that progress had been made in some areas, such as improving maternal and child health, expanding access to electricity, and increasing women’s representation in government. Yet even these advances were offset elsewhere by growing food insecurity, deterioration of the natural environment, as well as persistent and pervasive inequalities.
Now, in only a short period of time, the COVID-19 pandemic has unleashed an unprecedented crisis, causing further disruption to SDG progress, with the world’s poorest and most vulnerable affected the most.
Using the latest data and estimates, this annual stocktaking report on progress across the 17 Goals shows that it is the poorest and most vulnerable — including children, older persons, persons with disabilities, migrants and refugees — who are being hit the hardest by the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Women are also bearing the heaviest brunt of the pandemic’s effects.
This year 2021 marks the start of the Decade of Action to deliver the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030. It is a critical period to advance a shared vision and accelerate responses to the world’s gravest challenges — from eliminating poverty and hunger to reversing climate change. The Sustainable Development Goals Report 2020 presents an overview of progress towards the SDGs before the pandemic started, and also looks at some of the devastating initial impacts of COVID-19 on specific Goals and targets. The report was prepared by the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs in collaboration with over 200 experts from more than 40 international agencies, using the latest available data and estimates.
Among the key findings:
- An estimated 71 million people are expected to be pushed back into extreme poverty in 2020, the first rise in global poverty since 1998. Lost incomes, limited social protection and rising prices mean even those who were previously secure could find themselves at risk of poverty and hunger.
- Underemployment and unemployment due to the crisis mean some 1.6 billion already vulnerable workers in the informal economy — half the global workforce — may be significantly affected, with their incomes estimated to have fallen by 60 per cent in the first month of the crisis.
- The more than one billion slum dwellers worldwide are acutely at risk from the effects of COVID-19, suffering from a lack of adequate housing, no running water at home, shared toilets, little or no waste management systems, overcrowded public transport and limited access to formal health care facilities.
- Women and children are also among those bearing the heaviest brunt of the pandemic’s effects. Disruption to health and vaccination services and limited access to diet and nutrition services have the potential to cause hundreds of thousands of additional under-five deaths and tens of thousands of additional maternal deaths in 2020. Many countries have seen a surge in reports of domestic violence against women and children.
- School closures have kept 90 per cent of students worldwide (1.57 billion) out of school and caused over 370 million children to miss out on school meals they depend on. Lack of access to computers and the internet at home means remote learning is out of reach of many. About 70 countries reported moderate to severe disruptions or a total suspension of childhood vaccination services during March and April of 2020.
- As more families fall into extreme poverty, children in poor and disadvantaged communities are at much greater risk of child labour, child marriage and child trafficking. In fact, the global gains in reducing child labour are likely to be reversed for the first time in 20 years.
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