COVID-19 to Drain $400 Billion from UN Sustainability Efforts
Developing countries are suffering as funding from pandemic-hit donor countries dries up
The United Nations’ ambitious 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were announced at the beginning of 2016. By the end of 2019, however, it was clear that progress toward the 17 goals was not strong enough for them to be met by the 2030 target date. Yet there was some progress, with humanitarian efforts gaining ground in some areas and losing ground in others.
That was before COVID-19.
Now, the impact of the pandemic in the developing world is threatening to erase all advances and even set progress back decades. The U.N. calls the pandemic “the worst human and economic crisis of our lifetime.” More than a billion people around the world who are living in slum conditions are facing high risk of COVID-19 transmission due to lack of sanitation and running water for even the most basic hygienic precautions to slow the spread.
Depletion of SDG Resources
A new report commissioned by End Water Poverty and WaterAid, “Common Purpose, Common Future,” shows that in 2020-21, COVID-19 impact is likely to divert $400 billion from SDG efforts throughout the developing world. The Overseas Development Institute conducted the research, using IMF and Development Finance International Government Spending Watch data to grasp the scale of COVID-19 related public finance losses.
In the developing world, domestic resources are called on for most of the heavy lifting in efforts toward providing health care, protecting the environment, delivering education, ending poverty, and achieving SDG 6, which pertains to water and sanitation. Now, with the burdens of recession and COVID-19 response, revenues have tanked, and governments are left to triage and reallocate resources, often leaving long-term development funding for the SDGs high and dry.
‘Difficult Years Ahead’
SDG 6 progress already lags behind all of the other goals, but it is essential for each because water and sanitation are necessary for so many aspects of life. Delays on SDG 6 could, therefore, limit the success of the entire SDG framework. According to WaterAid, the way to keep the developing world developing in the midst of COVID-19 and climate change is a hefty round of debt cancellation and aid, and the consequences of inaction could be catastrophic.
To make matters worse, although most SDG progress is achieved through domestic funding, developing states must now additionally contend with foreign aid cuts in the neighborhood of $25-30 billion as donor countries face crippling economic fallout from their own pandemic crises. For instance, this year the United Kingdom cut foreign aid by 2.9 billion pounds. Such foreign aid cuts will add to the current annual $2.5 trillion funding shortfall for the SDGs.
Prioritizing SDG 6
Prioritizing SDG 6 is challenging considering droughts and water shortages associated with climate change. Extending piped water service is necessary for more neighborhoods, hospitals, and homes throughout the developing world.
With water shortages expected to become more frequent and severe with climate change, many countries are investing in maximizing available water through desalination and water reuse programs, such as Israel’s comprehensive national reuse system that nurtures its agriculture with treated wastewater. Such programs are becoming more viable in the developing world with the advent of updated technologies and financing structures.