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SDGs should not be ignored amid Covid-19 pandemic

By Our Correspondent

KARACHI: Countries across the globe should not ignore the sustainable development goals aimed at addressing the inequalities relevant to people’s well-being, gender, healthcare, and other basic necessities, while they are busy taking measures to contain the Covid-19 pandemic, said speakers at an online seminar held recently.

The speakers at the event, organized by the Aga Khan University’s Institute for Global Health and Development (IGHD), said that governments around the world signed up, in 2015, to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) — an integrated set of 169 targets in 17 areas of development by 2030, however, the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic disrupted the acceleration of actions planned by public and private sectors.

According to data from the United Nations agencies, the pandemic’s global impacts are sobering with an estimated 270 million people around the world at risk of starvation, 320 million children out of school, and 495 million jobs lost.

The speakers lamented that the governments were forced to focus on emergency measures to limit the impacts of the pandemic.

According to an Agha Khan University’s media release, the seminar noted that Pakistan and other countries around the world can achieve SDGs targets despite challenges posed by Covid-19.

Special Assistant to Prime Minister on Health Dr. Faisal Sultan said Pakistan did not go for any rigid regime on Covid-19 containment as it thought it would be a counter-productive to efforts leading to the realization of various SDGs targets, like zero hunger, decent work, and economic growth, good health and quality education. “That is why Pakistan was one of the first few countries to opt for smart lockdowns instead.”

A senior faculty member, Professor Zulfiqar A Bhutta, also the founding director of AKU’s IGHD, said that the virus has affected the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people the most because many societies have not fully addressed long-lasting, underlying inequalities related to poverty, hunger, gender, access to healthcare and basic services such as clean water and sanitation that have been plaguing societies for decades.

Dr. Alex Awiti, vice provost of AKU in East Africa, said Covid-19 would not be the last global crisis faced by nations. “If we let the sustainable development goals guide our response, we can focus on achieving long-lasting, inclusive development, rather than just economic growth. This will help us emerge from the crisis as stronger societies.”

Director of the Centre for Sustainable Development at Columbia University Professor Jeffrey D Sachs noted that most countries were not on a trajectory to achieve targets under the 17 SDGs. He also reminded the companies to be more mindful of the importance of conserving the environment for future generations.

Canadian High Commissioner to Pakistan Wendy Gilmour underscored the need for investing in gender equality as core to achieving the SDGs by 2030. “The evidence shows that promoting women’s and girls’ empowerment is the most effective way to reduce extreme poverty and build a more peaceful, inclusive, and prosperous world.”

The speakers noted that the pandemic has both exposed and widened existing inequalities. Lack of health insurance, limited universal health coverage, and poor access to water during lockdown situations and cramped living conditions have suddenly become factors that determine chances of survival, they said.

They highlighted that SDGs targets related to achieving universal health coverage, bolstering the health workforce, protecting wildlife, and enhancing global early warning systems for health risks would not only protect against future shocks but would also slow the cascading impacts of crises in low-income nations.

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