The pandemic and the disruption of the 2030 Agenda

April 17 2020
Mauren esquivel

The COVID-19 pandemic crisis continues to advance, at the time of writing this article, more than 2 million infected, more than 140 thousand deaths, and presence in 185 countries according to what was reported by the John Hopkins University. The epicenter of the crisis has moved from Wuhan in China, to Northern Italy and today to New York in the United States. In Latin America the progress and reporting of COVID-19 is slow but constant, although still no country in the region reaches the levels of European countries or the United States.

The world is still at a standstill, and the economic effects are increasingly alarming, in the United States 22 million people have fulfilled the requirements to obtain the unemployment benefit, a historical figure that represents 13.5% of the economically active population, and that exceeds the 8.6 million requests that were made during the period from November 2007 to December 2009 in the “Great Recession".

In fact, the different international organizations and economic experts in the world have estimated a fall in the world Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of 3% per year, a behavior that had not been seen since the crisis of 1929. The International Monetary Fund calculates a 5.2% drop in the GDP of Latin America and the Caribbean. And in Central America, on average, from the CLACDS we have estimated a 4% drop in annual product.

But the deterioration in economic variables does not tell the whole story of the effects that COVID-19 is producing. If you look at the pressures that the pandemic is putting on the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the damage to social and sustainable development in the region can be very great. In other words, without economic growth, governments will have fewer resources to address the fight against poverty and malnutrition, which are Goals 1 and 2. But also, as mentioned, unemployment will increase, affecting Goal 8 related to the decent work and economic growth. Serious situation for countries like Costa Rica that ended 2019 with an unemployment rate of 11.5%.

Most schools have been closed, but that hasn't stopped some private schools from continuing to teach online classes, while most public schools in the region cannot guarantee digital access for all its students so Goal 4 of quality education is affected. A particularly serious situation for El Salvador, whose percentage of the Internet user population is 31.25%.

Related to another anti-COVID-19 measure, the use of water to carry out basic actions such as hand washing and hygiene has also generated greater pressure on water resources, creating effects on populations that previously enjoyed continuity of water service, and increasing risks in populations lacking the liquid, limiting the fulfillment of Objective 6 related to clean water and sanitation. This pressure on the water service will be greater in countries like Nicaragua that still have an agenda to cover the 30% of its population with access to drinking water in their homes.

In the same sense, with regard to access to digital technologies, the region still has considerable gaps, affecting the ability of people to telework and continue producing in times of quarantine, so Goal 10 of reducing inequalities also is affected, because although the virus is the same for everyone, the terms That they have to face it are very different depending on the economic stratum to which they belong or their employment condition. This affectation must be seriously considered in Guatemala, which has 69.7% of the population employed in the informal sector, a population that does not have social security or income certainty.

This condition of inequality that prevails in our societies puts pressure on the rule of law, since in conditions of pressure on access to food, cases of looting to commercial establishments, and there is a risk that social peace will be broken, affecting Goal 16 related to peace, justice and solid institutions. These problems reduce the perception of security in the countries of the region, which is already low, such as in Honduras where 4 each 10 Inhabitants consider it unsafe to go for a walk at night in their neighborhood.

In relation to Objective 5, which addresses gender equality, the most direct impact has been the rise in complaints of domestic violence product of the mandatory quarantine that people are currently living. In this regard, care must be taken in Panama where the 14.4% of women, women over 15 years of age have suffered violence from their partners.

Clearly, Objective 3, which addresses the issue of health and well-being, is also affected, since the pandemic is putting pressures on health systems affecting the ability to care for patients with other diseases or increasing the risk of complications in populations with compromised health states.

This pandemic and "Great Pause" that has settled in our countries and its financial repercussions will affect the resources available to invest in green energy and there will be fewer investment projects, slowing down the fulfillment of Goals 7 and 13 related to clean energy and climate actions. That in the case of Nicaragua is relevant, since only the 52.3% of the population have access to clean energy.

Today, this “Great Pause” puts at risk the ability we have as a society to meet the SDGs in 2030; which in practical terms means that the social cohesion, sustainability, well-being and social progress of our societies is at risk not only of stagnating but of worsening, and erasing in a few months the advances of recent years.

Hence the importance that governments, companies and citizens begin to work together, not only in the containment and mitigation of the pandemic, but also in attending the reconstruction and rehabilitation processes with a medium-term perspective, focused not on to put out fires, but to build, using data and evidence, a society that moves faster towards inclusive and sustainable growth, and consequently towards a more resilient society.