Maybe it’s time we agreed on another SDG – The 18th Goal: Managingor Handling Pandemics.
The SDGs or Sustainable Development Goals were adopted in September 2015 by the General Assembly of the United Nations. They are probably the only global agenda that the 193 Member States of the UN all agreed to and put at the centre stage of this global platform. Of course, they followed the somewhat unsuccessful MDGs or Millennium Development Goals that the member states had adopted earlier. These were eight goals expected to be realised by the year 2015 that were adopted at the Millennium Summit of the United Nations in 2000, following the adoption of the United Nations Millennium Declaration.
It was,however, found by 2013 that progress towards the MDG goals was uneven. Some countries achieved many goals, while others were not on track to realize any. Experts and critics of the MDGs complained of a lack of analysis and justification behind the chosen objectives, and the difficulty or lack of measurements for some goals and uneven progress, among others. The UN therefore, felt it appropriate to redesign the world’s goals for development and member states thus officially adopted the historic new agenda for development, entitled “Transforming Our World: The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development,” and now includes 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and 169 targets.These 17 SDGs are comprehensive, and all-encompassing and embrace all aspects of development for the world including poverty, inequality and hunger; health and education; water and sanitation; energy and industry; decent work; infrastructure and urbanisation; climate change, peace and justice. They balance the economic, social and ecological dimensions of sustainable development, and place the fight against poverty and development on the same agenda for the first time. Building on the principle of “leaving no one behind”, the new Agenda emphasizes a holistic approach to achieving sustainable development for all. In India, the NITIAayog is coordinating the SDGs progress and implementation. It has constructed the SDG India Index spanning across 13 out of 17 SDGs and tracks progress across all States and UTs. It also measures their progress on the outcomes of the interventions and schemes of the Government of India.
We are now in 2020. Five years since 2015 and the adoption of these SDGs and we find that at the international level, progress in some areas, such as on extreme poverty reduction, widespread immunization, decrease in child mortality rates and increase in people’s access to electricity, but slow going on many other programmes. Probably the global response has not been ambitious enough, leaving the most vulnerable people and countries to suffer the most.
And as we face the COVID 19 pandemic, there is danger that many societies may slip on the progress made so far. The most important thing that COVID 19 has taught us is global cooperation. Even the very competitive multi-national pharma companies are sharing their individual confidences and collaborating with other pharma companies and labs in trying to find a Vaccine. Today we need effective collaboration and shared communication among health experts, economists, scientists and policy makers. That is the only way we will manage to manageto contain this Corona Virus.
As Yuval Noah Harari, the famous Israeli historian and philosophersaid in a recent interview, we now need a collective leadership – ‘like a coalition of the willing’! He argues that even for promoting nationalism it’s better to protect your own when everybody is protected. Emergencies accelerate the momentum of history. We thus need global solidarity to take the right decisions now and that is why we need a new SDG 18!
Many people predict the future but hardly anyone listens. Microsoft founder Bill Gates in 2015 famously talked about preparing for pandemicsand today we have social media claiming that he did it to promote his work in vaccines! Cynics will always abound, but global governance must use the structures it has to take collective decisions. Because if you solve it in some countries but the poor countries remain affected, you may get unmanageable immigration and even conflict.
Some of the lessons from COVID will change our social behaviour for example online meetings and virtual education, but basic human nature and structures of governance will still be there. The earlier epidemics didn’t change these either whether they be SARS, Spanish Flu or AIDS. So, if the same structures of global governance remain then we must use these structures to address this pandemic and its aftermath.
It could be argued that the SDGs already have Goal 3: ‘Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages’. However, it could also be argued that this is too narrow an agenda. This Pandemic is proving to be much more than just a health issue. Despite the life vs livelihood debate the fact remains that the global economy is in a downward tailspin. This debacle will impact not just health but the very basis of what we consider to be human. The response to it must therefore be multi-dimensional and multi-sectoral. Thus the need for a new development agenda – SDG 18: Managing Pandemics.
by Dr A. Didar Singh
The writer is former Secretary to Government of India and Ex-Secretary General, FICCI (Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry)