June 18, 2020

In the face of the COVID-19 Pandemic, Our Commitment to SDG16+ Matters Now More Than Ever

By John Romano and Claudia Villalona, TAP Network Secretariat 

SDG16+ takes center stage in the response to the COVID-19 Pandemic and will be critical to rebuilding and building resilience in the future

In 2015, leaders and change-makers from around the world came together to commit to a shared ambition and vision for the future with the adaptation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Sustainable Development framework, including the groundbreaking commitments to SDG16 for peaceful, just and inclusive societies.

As highlighted in the Rome Civil Society Declaration on SDG16+, the snapshot of progress over the first five years of progress towards the SDGs has not been encouraging, and the international community has found itself well behind in its goals to achieve the 2030 Agenda – with SDG16 progress stagnating or even backsliding on many fronts, and in many countries around the world. In the face of this downward trend around the implementation of the SDGs, the world also now faces unprecedented challenges related to the current COVID-19 pandemic, with governments and key civil society partners shifting focus to responding to this growing crisis (1).

In the midst of these troubling times, it is more important than ever that the global community remains steadfast to realizing the commitments made in the 2030 Agenda and SDG16. The COVID-19 pandemic has only exposed the deepening cracks that have emerged in society, only serving to magnify the deep inequalities that exist on many fronts, and exposing weaknesses in institutions that have been chronically under-funded and under-supported over past years or even decades. 

It has also highlighted the critical accountability relationship between a state and its citizens, with government responsiveness to its citizens more important than ever before. The current reality accentuated by the global public health crisis underscores the need to accelerate progress on SDG16+ around peaceful, just and inclusive societies, and indeed, highlights that progress towards SDG16+ is a prerequisite to advancing gains to push back this global pandemic in communities around the world. 

What is clear is that in order to overcome this crisis, we must frame our response to COVID-19 through the framework of SDG16+, particularly as we look towards recovery and building resilience in the future. Additionally, as populations turn to their leaders for an effective response to this crisis,  there is a critical need for transparency and comprehensive accountability for those in power. Ultimately, leveraging SDG16+ is the key to ensure an effective, inclusive, and just public health response – a necessity even more evident in conflict-affected and fragile states (1). 

Why SDG16+?

Strong, transparent, and accountable governments, a key element to SDG16+, paves the way for a more effective public health response “rooted in trust and social cohesion” (1). Trust in public institutions also allows for a fair allocation of key resources and crisis relief to the most vulnerable– paramount to an effective response to the pandemic. Fragile states plagued by pervasive conflict, violence, poverty, inequality, and poor public services are extremely vulnerable to the widespread and compounding repercussions of the COVID-19 Pandemic. 

All government emergency responses, regardless of institutional capacity, must take on a “peace-building” approach to avoid potential sources of conflict, while ensuring an inclusive and just crisis response that takes into account the societal cleavages and needs of vulnerable communities. An SDG 16+ – centered approach, that addresses  the disproportionate health and socioeconomic effects of the crisis on the most marginalized in our societies, presents the most effective strategy to delivering an effective public health response as it mitigates the pandemic’s potential to deepen exclusion and inequality and inflame sources of conflict (1). A testament to this fact is the recent mobilizations against police brutality and white supremacy around the world. As a result of a poor public health response, the black community in the United States has disproportionately endured the acute consequences of the pandemic, effectively deepening the existing fault lines of marginalization and inequality.   

The degree to which governments and public institutions are accountable to their populations, providing an inclusive response under girded by the commitment of “justice for all,” will determine the outcomes of this crisis (2). Historical precedence has demonstrated the potential for crises to be exploited for political gain and the suppression of opposition. The propensity for exploitative anti-democratic forces to take advantage of crisis further underscores the need for accountable, inclusive and transparent institutions. Consequently, we must be vigilant to “defend and strengthen our institutions” through the lens of SDG16+.

To effectively manage the crisis there must be a focus on good governance, inclusivity, and “justice for all.” In other words, an SDG16+ approach would “reduce the spill-over effects of this pandemic,” ensuring that the public health crisis does not generate secondary effects of conflict and socioeconomic instability (2).

An Opportunity to “Build Back Better” through an SDG16+ approach

As we continue to face this crisis that permeates nearly every aspect of our lives, we are also confronted with an opportunity to build back better than before and create the future we want. As the Secretary-General AntĂłnio Guterres stated, “We must act in solidarity and turn this crisis into an impetus to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals” (3).

By facing the crisis through the lens of SDG16+, not only can we manage the acute consequences of the pandemic in the short-term, but we can also demand more accountable public institutions and forge more peaceful, inclusive and just societies to break cycles of conflict in the long term. 

Using SDG16+ as a road map, we can build more resilient societies that are better prepared to confront the existential global challenges. As we move through this public health emergency, we must double down on our commitment to SDG16+ and the 2030 Agenda, not only to salvage the global goals and ensure no one is left behind but also to create a more resilient and sustainable future (2).

Sources Cited

  1. https://impakter.com/covid-19-and-conflict-is-peace-the-cure/
  2. https://medium.com/sdg16plus/sdg16-the-key-to-managing-the-covid-19-crisis-f3f5cb577699.  
  3. https://www.un.org/en/un-coronavirus-communications-team/un-working-fight-covid-19-and-achieve-global-goals
  4. Image from ABC News https://abcnews.go.com/International/africa-faces-uphill-battle-coronavirus-pandemic-fragile-health/story?id=70285430
  5. Image from National Geographic https://www.nationalgeographic.com/history/2020/06/millions-women-volunteers-form-india-frontline-covid-19-response/#close

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed on the TAP Network Blog Platform are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the TAP Network. Any content provided by our bloggers or authors are of their opinion.

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