The pandemic, COVID-19 does not discriminate between people based on their class, gender, or ethnicity. However, it has
inevitably exposed the socio-economic disparities existing in our society. It demonstrates the power of privilege to
different sections of society. The most vulnerable will bear the maximum brunt of it. People with low socio-economic
backgrounds are unlikely to have the requisite financial capital and/or physical capacity to make self-distancing and
self-isolation a viable option in the light of their everyday lives. The pandemic, if not managed correctly, would have
far-reaching economic and social consequences, which would widen existing inequalities and further hobble the world's
efforts to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). With human rights out of the window and millions affected without food, water and shelter
, we have to move fast in an attempt to provide justice to all.
In just a few months, everyone's horizon has shrunk and shortened. This is definitely not ideal for achieving the SDGs,
because, even before this pandemic, the world was lagging behind in its attempts to achieve them. And now the present
crisis has simply worsened the situation.
The World Health Organization's Director-General, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, describes COVID-19 as: "The defining global health crisis of our time"
A recent study conducted by the Asian Development Bank shows that the epidemic could lead to a net loss of US$ 16-43 billion in the Asia-Pacific Region, excluding China.
The current focus of governments must be to look after the needs of its citizens, especially the poor and the
vulnerable. However, the governments must not lose sight of the SDGs.
The pandemic has caused deaths of roughly 4,19,090 people worldwide as of June 11, 2020. Despite severe measures like
lockdowns and quarantines, human life has taken a beating. Though these measures were necessary, they have had a
colossal impact on SDG-8 (decent work and economic growth) and SDG-9 (industry, innovation, and infrastructure). With migrant workers left stranded on stree
ts, and daily wage earners left with no money and food, these two goals are far out of reach.
Access to health services in some countries, including essential primary health care, is contingent upon insurance and
userpay systems that automatically make these services inaccessible to the people most atrisk. With the private sector
gaining control over medical services in most countries, the poor and unprivileged
are out of the loop more often than not, cocking a snook at SDG-3 (Good Health and Wellbeing).
With every country scrambling for disposable gloves and masks, the waste generated due to their excessive use would harm
the environment negatively and increase carbon emissions
which adversely affects SDG-12 (Responsible Consumption and Production).
Sanitation, frequent hand wash, high consumptions of detergents and disinfectants may affect the quality and quantity of
. Moreover, the effluents can cause water pollution. This has a detrimental effect on SDG-6 (Clean Water and Sanitation)
and SDG-15 (Life on Land).
Additionally, several schools have shut down due to social distancing norms
which hit SDG-4 (Quality Education) quite massively. Moreover, many schools, both public and private, have opted for
online learning using platforms like ZOOM and YouTube. However, the authorities fail to recognise that roughly half of the world's population is without access to the internet
, and this creates a larger divide by leaving behind the poor and underprivileged students.
With businesses and offices being forced to shut down
, the economies have come to a halt. The service sector has moved from physical workstations to digital workspaces,
thus, increasing the reliance on digital connectivity by tenfold says, Dr Nilanjan Ghosh, Director of Observer Research
Foundation, Kolkata. He says that a large portion of the service sector in developing countries comprises casual labourers who are not featured in the
It will not be an easy task to accommodate them in the digital atmosphere due to a variety of reasons. Such inequality
in opportunities and incorporation in the digital world would obstruct the progress of SDGs 1, 2, and 10 regarding
poverty, hunger, and inequality.
He expressed concerns about the progress of SDG-16, which talks of peace, justice, and strong institutions. The pandemic
has led to a distorted sense of justice wherein the Supreme Court of India initially ignored the plight of its citizens.
But due to concerted efforts of several human rights activists, including lawyers, it has finally come to their rescue.
Justice AP Shah told in an interview with The Wire that he was "disappointed" by the functioning of the Supreme Court of India
. It is imperative for sustainable development "where no one is left behind" that justice becomes a norm for everyone,
especially for the most marginalised and underprivileged.
Kate Lappin, Regional Secretary for the Asia and Pacific Region at Public Services International (PSI), talked about
how COVID-19 will have a detrimental effect on the hopes of nations for sustainable growth. However, she professed that
the SDGs can be a useful tool to combat its destructive impacts both now and in the future. She believed that it would
help us to better plan integrated responses to make the most of the synergies between the different objectives.Never waste a good crisis
Kate Lappin very aptly reiterated Winston Churchill's famous statement, "Never waste a good crisis." Undoubtedly, the
road ahead of this crisis will not be easy, but this crisis can prove to be a gateway for change in our society and
allow us to shape our future. Kate also said that a lot of intervention is needed in the countries that depend on
private healthcare to make it more public friendly. Drug prices in countries that have privatised their health sector
are substantially higher in comparison to countries that have a public healthcare system. And therefore, private
healthcare costs a lot more on people's pockets than public healthcare.
Development Justice and Green New Deal are alternative development models to achieve a Feminist Fossil Fuel Free Future,
- a new gender-just, economic, political, and social relationship in a world free from climate change. Development
Justice consists of 5 transformative shifts: Redistributive Justice, Economic Justice, Social and Gender Justice,
Accountability to People, and Environmental Justice.
Kate added that with the rise of privatisation and reductions in government spending, the idea of public health and
welfare of society has gone for a toss. Due to the advent of neoliberalism, all our essential entities like water,
energy, education, and medical facilities have been converted into commodities. The private health sector is dependent
on the ill health of the people to make a profit. Governments must fulfil their core duty of public welfare, and for
this, they must control the capacity to decide the industrial setup to ensure self-reliance. Profiteering from an
illness must come to an end, stressed Kate.
She advocated that de-carbonisation and energy democracy will pave the way for environmental justice. Energy democracy
can be achieved by technological transition and public participation in the political, economic, and social arena.
An increase in demand for food leads to deterioration of the land and water resources. The impact on the environment is
quite severe. So Kate suggested Agro-ecological food systems. Agroecology focuses on the relationship between plants,
livestock, humans and the environment. Agroecological activities draw on these experiences, introducing novel approaches
that utilise and conserve biodiversity.
A crucial part of sustainable development is food sovereignty. It is characterised as the right of people to safe and
culturally acceptable food provided by environment-friendly and sustainable methods and the right to establish their own
food and agricultural systems.
While some SDG gains have been eroded, this should not deflate our energy. They should rather spur us to accelerate and
deepen our efforts during this decade of action to 'recover better', and build a healthier, safer, equitable and a more
Authored by Shreya Rawal and Durgesh Nandan Yadav. The authors are students of Indian Institute of Management (IIM) in
Indore, India and are part of the internship at CNS (Citizen News Service) currently.