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Pandemic sets back development by decades

A new report says the pandemic halted decades of advances in fighting poverty and disease and reversed progress on the U.N.'s 17 anti-poverty goals.

The pandemic halted decades of advances in fighting poverty and disease and reversed progress towards achieving the United Nations' 17 Sustainable Development Goals for 2030, according to a new report on Monday.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation's 2020 Goalkeepers report says that in just six months COVID-19 has "reinforced inequities and derailed achievement" of most of the world body's ambitious goals, or SDGs, for ending poverty, fighting inequality and stopping climate change by the end of this decade.

Global coronavirus cases are fast approaching 30 million accompanied by more than 900,000 deaths. Nations, particularly developing ones, are suffering the deepest economic recession since World War II.

The report, which relies on data and analysis from the U.S.-based Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, or IHME, part of the University of Washington state, emphasizes that nearly all of the recent progress that has been made toward accomplishing each of the 17 SDGs has gone backwards.

"It shows that by nearly every indicator, the world has regressed," the foundation said in a statement.

"Because of COVID-19, extreme poverty has increased by 7%," it said. "Vaccine coverage, a good proxy measure for how health systems are functioning, is dropping to levels last seen in the 1990s, setting the world back about 25 years in 25 weeks."

Multilateralism promoted

Since the SDGs were adopted in 2015, the foundation's reports have cheered the progress. But this one strikes a bleak tone, saying the decisions by world leaders and governments on how to collectively respond over the next several months will greatly determine any future progress toward the SDGs.

“The response to the COVID-19 pandemic has shown us some of the best of humanity: pathbreaking innovation, heroic acts by frontline workers, and ordinary people doing the best they can for their families, neighbors, and communities,” Bill and Melinda Gates write in the report. “This is a shared global crisis that demands a shared global response.”

In 2010, the United Nations said it reached one of its so-called Millennium Development Goals for 2015 five years early — cutting the number of people living in extreme poverty by half. One of the SDGs for 2030 aims to end poverty and hunger everywhere by lifting 800 million people out of extreme poverty.

But the pandemic has forced almost 37 million more people into extreme poverty — living on no more than US$1.90 a day — after 20 consecutive years of improvement, according to the report. The newly impoverished are most often women who work at informal jobs in low- and middle-income countries.

"The pandemic has had a disproportionate impact on women, racial and ethnic minority communities, and people living in extreme poverty," the foundation said. "Around the world, women are facing an increased burden from rising demands in total unpaid care work and experiencing the majority of job losses."