COVID-19-Impact: Chance to revisit Sustainable Development Goals

COVID-19-Impact: Chance to revisit Sustainable Development Goals
Myanmar farmers plant rice in a paddy ahead of the summer season in Naypyitaw, Myanmar. Photo: EPA

The COVID19 crisis has brought to the fore the need for resilience both at the systemic level as well as individual level. It has battered the economic and societal roots and a new normal is being set in terms of production relations, distribution of resources and social interactions among people.

Myanmar has been able to manage the pandemic effectively, however its aftershocks on the economy and society have been enormous. The Covid-19 economic recovery plan and health safety protocols in place are aimed at rebooting the economy and society.

Broader questions

However, broader questions include how to sustain the gains of the past efforts in poverty reduction, human development and how to safeguard the same. And further, how the post-COVID-19 development trajectory would ensure resilience and sustainability? It is widely understood now that the pandemic sets a new ‘normal’ in many ways - it redefines the organisation of production relations, production and distribution across the globe. It is in this context revisiting sustainable development goals and how they converge to redefine the development challenges and find ways to move forward.

Even during the period of the spread of the pandemic, many countries have identified quick response mechanisms and stimulus packages that ensure that prevent millions from facing hunger and ensuring food security in a period of  economic disruption. This was being ensured while simultaneously taking steps to prevent spread of the virus and ensure essential health support to those affected. Bringing back the economy onto the rails involved financial support to various productive sectors of the economy as well as a demand push by having income transfer measures. In all these, the role of the government is well recognised. The centrality of the governments, global cooperation and solidarity in terms of meeting the pandemic response is well acknowledged now while paradoxically some countries are ventilating hyper nationalistic sentiments.

Impact on Progress of SDGs

However, it can be discerned that COVID-19 pandemic has affected directly or indirectly almost all the sustainable development goals.  Began as a health crisis, it turned into a economic crisis as well as humanitarian crisis across many countries.  They can be enumerated as loss of income and livelihood due to lockdowns, temporary food insecurity due to supply chain disruptions,  direct effect on health outcomes, disruptions in education services, safe water and sanitation as critical preventive measure, and impact on urban low income households and migrants.  From the accounts across the globe over the past three months, poor and marginalized sections of the community suffered a disproportionately hard impact of the pandemic and the lockdowns.  The severity could be seen in the first place among urban informal workers, slum dwellers, homeless and wage workers.

Post-COVID-19 Opportunities

While some developing countries like Myanmar have been able to escape the severity due to preventive measures, and have opened up the economy with active government intervention; policy advisors and UN system agencies identify the post COVID-19 recovery phase as an opportunity to redefine the development trajectory in order to achieve SDGs.

UN Environment Program points out  ‘as plans are formulated to help countries and communities rebuild their economies and societies, this is an opportunity to embrace renewable energy, green technology and sustainable new sectors that put the planet on fast-track path to decorbonization’. Strengthening bio safety and bio security policies, regulatory frameworks and technological innovations are important to protect people from future pandemics of this type.   Post COVID-19 recovery is also an opportunity to practice sustainable consumption and production, which can take the form of local production and distribution systems, incentivizing circulatory investments, building resilient local economies, shortening of the supply chains,  green urban transport and lifestyle choices that reflect community resilience. Agencies like UNIDO identifies post COVID-19 as an inflection point in the global production system with shortened value chains, use of digital technologies and artificial intelligence dictating the future of international production.

Urban Focus

Post-Covid 19 recovery has also opened up the challenges of urbanization and urban living. Urban poor have been the most affected due to the pandemic and its consequent economic disruptions. Inclusive urbanization has become a necessity as pandemic has proved that exclusive urban enclaves are no longer sustainable in terms of health hazards and it needs solidarity across class lines in order to have safe urban living. Sustainable urban housing, basic services, livelihood security, sustainable transportation, and clean energy are important goals for inclusive urbanization and these are all part of SDGs.

Digital Challenges

Sustainable digital technologies have proven to be a boon and a bane during the Covid-19 pandemic.  ICTs, while has enabled connectivity, sharing of information about the pandemic, new ways of working, and collaborative research and development; there were also instances of misinformation about the pandemic which has put lives of millions at risk. Be that as it may, leveraging life changing technologies for the good of the economy and society is well recognised in terms of less travel, more modern means of communication and widespread use of innovations like tele-medicine, online education, and tele-banking that would transform access to services in low-income countries.

However, the digital divide still persists across the globe, with only 50% of the global population having access to the internet. For example, UNESCO points out that while digital technologies and distance learning strategies were deployed at record speeds to enable continued education for the estimated 1.5 billion children around the world affected by school closures, 40% of school children don’t have access to digital technologies, rising to 80% in sub Saharan Africa.  This wide disparity needs to be bridged. Urgent need for securing investments in bridging digital inequality rests with the governments and development partners so that global connectivity can be achieved.  Partnerships at the global level to achieve SDG 17 itself is at stake with countries closing the borders and waves of hyper nationalism blurring the vision of global solidarity at the time of crisis and for its recovery.


The pandemic has also exposed the chinks in the neo-liberal ideology and its excessive focus on growth devoid of distributional gains to the lower segments of the economic pyramid. The need for inclusive growth, fair distribution are critical for a healthy society and it would mean addressing challenges of decent work, universal social protection and incentives to promote diversified, balanced and broad based growth.

Myanmar’s Covid-19 Economic Recovery Plan (CERP) announced by the government acknowledges the need for accommodating SDG/MSDP goals while rebooting the economy. The short run and long term recovery measures are aimed at creating an inclusive and sustainable growth.  Measures outlined are expected to ensure that country’s efforts towards SDGs are protected. Investments in health infrastructure development with fast track loans from the multi-lateral agencies for upgrading hospitals, creating ICU capacities, health related infrastructure development are case in point, which in the long run would enhance improvements in health status of people.  Similarly, CERP action points include “call for investment via simplified procurement process to manufacture key COVID-19 and/or medical-related products using currently vacant state owned factories under MOPFI”.

Measures to support people through provision of social protection and basic services, support to SMSEs and informal sector are also important to ensure the goals of SDGs are not falling behind due to COVID-19.  Leveraging private sector partnerships is also important to align SDG focused investments.  ‘Poverty Environment Action for SDGs’ initiative can be the potential window for mobilizing public and private investments under new COVID-19 priorities.  Investment promotion measures of the government, FDI norms, and the policies of global finance agencies need to accommodate the need for SDG focused investments as their priorities in the coming years. Meanwhile, continued income support, food security and agriculture development would be necessary to protect the poor and marginalized from economic vulnerabilities.