The IMF had recently sounded some alarm over growing debt sustainability problems in many low-income countries well before the coronavirus pandemic. The MENA countries don’t escape this potential trauma in the making as more than two years afterwards, the debt situation deteriorated significantly. A big debt crisis is brewing in the Global South because according to still the IMF, 60% of low-income countries are now at high risk of debt distress. Together with a growing number of middle-income countries are suffering from high debt service burdens. Could all this be the root cause of the following?
Intersecting Crises are Impeding the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, Threatening Peace & Security
– This week marks the mid-way point to the 2030 Agenda on Sustainable Development and with it the release of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals Report 2022.
While we would like to trumpet success stories and report that we are on track in eradicating poverty and hunger and improving health and education in this report, the reality is, we cannot.
Instead, the data show that cascading and intersecting global crises are creating spin-off impacts on food and nutrition, health, education, the environment, and peace and security, presenting existential threats to the planet, and have already undone some of the initial accomplishments towards the SDGs.
In fact, the results of the report reflect a deepening and impending climate catastrophe; a war that is sparking one of the largest refugee crises of modern time; shows the impacts of the pandemic through increased child labour, child marriage, and violence against women; as well as food supply disruptions that threaten global food security; and a health pandemic that has interrupted the education of millions of students.
The report sounds an alarm that people and the planet are in serious challenges, rather than reading as the successful story of progress that we would have hoped for when launching the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in 2015.
The COVID-19 pandemic has halted or reversed years of development progress. As of end of 2021, nearly 15 million people worldwide had died directly or indirectly due to COVID-19. More than four years of progress in alleviating extreme poverty have been wiped out, and 150 million more people facing hunger in 2021 than in 2019.
An estimated 147 million children missed more than half of their in-person instruction over the past two years. The pandemic severely disrupted essential health services. Immunization coverage dropped for the first time in a decade and deaths from tuberculosis and malaria increased.
As grim as the scenario sounds, we shall set a course for achieving the implementation of the 2030 Agenda through recovery and response: enact new ways of thinking and open up new possibilities.
During COVID-19, responses sped up the adoption of digital technologies and innovative approaches. There are some examples of positive trends coming out of the report: There has been a surge in the number of internet users due to the pandemic, increasing by 782 million people to reach 4.9 billion people in 2021, up from 4.1 billion in 2019.
Global manufacturing production grew by 7.2 per cent in 2021, surpassing its pre-pandemic level. Higher-technology manufacturing industries fared better than lower-tech industries during the pandemic, and therefore recovered faster.
In addition, before the pandemic, progress was being made in many important SDGs, such as reducing poverty, improving maternal and child health, increasing access to electricity, improving access to water and sanitation, and advancing gender equality.
War in Ukraine
The war in Ukraine is creating one of the largest refugee crises we have seen in modern time, which pushed the already record-high global refugee number even higher. As of May 2022, over 100 million people worldwide have been forcibly displaced from their homes.
The crisis has caused food, fuel and fertilizer prices to skyrocket, further disrupted supply chains and global trade, roiled financial markets, and threatened global food security and aid flows.
Projected global economic growth for 2022 was cut by 0.9 percentage point, due to the war in Ukraine and potential new waves of the pandemic.
The world’s most vulnerable countries and population groups are disproportionately impacted by the multiple and interlinked crises. Developing countries are battling record inflation, rising interest rates and looming debt burdens.
With competing priorities and limited fiscal space, many are finding it harder than ever to recover economically. In least developed countries, economic growth remains sluggish and the unemployment rate is worsening.
Women have suffered a greater share of job losses combined with increased care work at home. Exiting evidence suggests that violence against women has been exacerbated by the pandemic. Anxiety and depression among adolescents and young people have increased significantly.
Low-carbon, resilient and inclusive development pathways will reduce carbon emissions, conserve natural resources, transform our food systems, create better jobs and advance the transition to a greener, more inclusive and just economy.
The world is on the verge of a climate catastrophe where billions of people are already feeling the consequences. Energy-related CO2 emissions for 2021 rose by 6 per cent, reaching their highest level ever and completely wiping out pandemic-related declines.
To avoid the worst effects of climate change, as set out in the Paris Agreement, global greenhouse gas emissions will need to peak before 2025 and then decline by 43 per cent by 2030 from 2010 level, falling to net zero by 2050.
Instead, under current voluntary national commitments to climate action, greenhouse gas emissions will rise by nearly 14 per cent by 2030.
A Road Map out of Crises
The road map laid out in establishing the Sustainable Development Goals has always been clear. Just as the impact of crises is compounded when they are linked, so are the solutions.
In taking action to strengthen social protection systems, improve public services and invest in clean energy, we address the root causes of increasing inequality, environmental degradation and climate change.
We have a valuable tool in the release of The Sustainable Development Goals Report 2022 to understand our current state of affairs. What’s more, in order to understand where we are and where we are headed, significant investment in our data and information infrastructure is required.
Policies, programmes and resources aimed at protecting people during this most challenging time will inevitably fall short without the evidence needed to focus interventions.
Timely, high-quality and disaggregated data can help trigger more targeted responses, anticipate future needs, and hone the design of urgently needed actions. To emerge stronger from the crisis and prepare for unknown challenges ahead, funding statistical development must be a priority for national governments and the international community.
As the SDG Report 2022 underscores the severity and magnitude of the challenges before us, this requires accelerated global-scale action that is committed to and follows the SDG roadmap.
We know the solutions and we have the roadmap to guide us in weathering the storm and coming out stronger and better together.
Stefan Schweinfest is Director of the Statistics Division in the United Nation’s Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UN DESA). Under his leadership, the Division compiles and disseminates global statistical information, develops standards and norms for statistical activities including the integration of geospatial, statistical and other information, and supports countries’ efforts to strengthen their national statistical and geospatial systems.
Read more on original IPS UN Bureau