Mihoko Kumamoto, speaking with the Kure Rotary Club

9 February 2021, Hiroshima, Japan -  Like from a pebble in a pond, the ripple effects of the COVID-19 pandemic have significantly disrupted every facet of our lives – from how we live in our homes and communities, to how businesses conduct their business, and how our governments work within themselves and with their counterparts. The global development agenda has likewise been affected, and the impact may be potentially multiplied if substantive changes are not enacted.

The urgent need to “Build Back Better from the pandemic was the central message shared by Mihoko Kumamoto, Director of the UNITAR Division for Prosperity, in a recent talk before the Kure Rotary Club in Hiroshima, Japan. At the 4 February event, organized by the Club’s Committee for International Service and attended by approximately 70 Rotarians and their guests, Kumamoto focused on the impact of COVID-19 and the importance of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as a road map for a new, sustainable and equitable “normal”.

According to the recently published Sustainable Development Goals Report 2020, since the SDGs were ratified in 2015, measurable progress had been achieved, especially in women’s and children’s health, access to electricity, and the share of children and youth out of school. Notable exceptions include increasing food insecurity, continued deterioration of the environment, and persistent inequalities. COVID-19 stands to reverse many of the gains and exacerbate the losses.

“Since the first COVID-19 cluster was reported to the World Health Organization just 13 months ago, and with a global caseload now exceeding 103 million infected and at least 2.2 million fatalities, the disruption to families, communities and countries at every socioeconomic and development level has been simply devastating,” said Kumamoto. “In the wake of 2020’s global economic growth contraction of 3.5 per cent,[1] particularly hard hit is SDG1, the goal to end poverty, where an estimated 71 million people were pushed into extreme poverty in this past year. This was the first time in more than a decade in which poverty increased.”

And while education at every level – from elementary school to professional training – shifted online, SDG4, the goal to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education, suffered from a widening of the digital divide, coupled with increases in educational gaps. Indeed, all goals were affected.

“The COVID-19 pandemic revealed our world’s pre-existing fragility. It is, therefore, critical that we shape our post-COVID-19 world around resiliency to diverse risks, including pandemics and natural disasters, and invest in a way of living with which humankind and the planet can coexist and prosper. To achieve this, we need to drastically change how we live,” Kumamoto said in closing. “The SDGs are the key. And with the help of Rotary’s decades-long commitment to improving lives, especially in such hard hit areas as the environment, local economic growth, and education, we have the ability to build back better.”

[1] IMF World Economic Outlook Update, January 2021

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