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What Covid-19 means for SDGs in Bangladesh

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As the Covid-19 global pandemic has mired economies around the world and thrown the future of the global economy into ambiguity, Bangladesh's economy (the ratio of trade volume to GDP was 31.5 per cent in FY 2018-19) is also affected both on the demand and supply sides. Bangladesh reported the first Covid-19 case on 8th March 2020, over two months after the pandemic started in China and about the same time as the infection rates in Europe began to grow exponentially. With response to that Bangladesh initiated a lockdown for seven days at first which went on to continue for the next two months. Many of Bangladesh's trading partners went under complete or partial lockdown to ensure social distancing measures, resulting in widespread disruption to economic activity. The coronavirus pandemic underscores the profound uncertainty of today's world. It exposes the chronic under-investment in human health and well-being and the consequences of relentless exploitation of biodiversity and the natural environment. The report published by Ministry of Health & Family Welfare (July 2020) underlines the effect of coronavirus on achieving Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in Bangladesh. One of the phenomenal successes of Bangladesh's economy is the reduction of poverty, which declined from 40 per cent in 2005 to 20.5 per cent in 2019. However, according to the Labour Force Survey 2016-17 done by BBS, 85.1 per cent of total employment in the economy was informal. The proportion of informal employment in the non-agriculture sector, however, was 78 per cent in 2016. The closedown of the economy for a couple of months has had a detrimental effect on these groups that has every possibility to push them back beneath the poverty line.
Achieving SDG-1 i.e. reducing poverty is the effect of multiple strategies followed by the government like pro-poor growth, increasing labour productivity, expanding employment opportunities in the lagging regions, promoting overseas employment, targeted social safety nets and so on. Yet in course of the Covid-19 pandemic, none of these instruments other than the social safety net programmes could function well.
With regard to SDG-2, Bangladesh has achieved remarkable success in food production and now self-sufficient in producing major cereals. But the supply chains of many food commodities have been disrupted due to the pandemic; in particular, poultry, dairy, and fisheries are under stress resulting in the increase in prices of these items.
SDG-3 has the highest level of updated indicators available to monitor the progress of Bangladesh against the targets whether on-track or off-track. It is globally credited that with respect to GDP, Bangladesh's public health investment might be considered low, but the country's health outcomes are better than its comparable countries. In this goal, Bangladesh has already achieved some targets set by the government to be achieved by 2020. Ironically, Covid-19 is directly affecting the sector and the doctors, nurses, health technicians, and health workforces are called the frontline fighters against the Covid-19 war. Apart from Covid-19 patients, challenges are mounting to get access to health services for non-Covid patients throughout the country as well.
SDG-4 is another goal that is severely affected. Since March 17, 2020, all schools, colleges, universities, and educational institutions -- general education to madrasa education, technical education, professional education, teacher education, and specialised education -- remained closed. This goal will be affected quite badly due to the pandemic. Because of Covid-19 impact, the huge number of students, teachers, and staff are at home. Non-government teachers are struggling for their livelihood and students are facing psychological pressure remaining inside the home with social distancing.
With regard to SDG-5, there are challenges as well. The main export-earning sector of the country is readymade garments, which predominantly employs women workers. Hence, the share of women's income from the non-agricultural sector is likely to have a negative trend because of the shutdown of the RMG factories during the first wave of the coronavirus.
Handwashing with soap is considered as one of the preconditions to avoid Covid-19 attack. Nationally, 74.8 per cent practised handwashing (SDG-6) meaning one-fourth of the people are at risk of being infected with Covid-19.
SDG-7 has been affected especially in the case of renewable energy due to lockdown.
One of the important goals of SDGs, which is also considered important for the achievement of many goals, is SDG-8, which is very much evident to be affected negatively because of both the demand and supply side effects of the pandemic. Because of that, the GDP growth has taken a hit. As for SDG-9, only the Padma Multipurpose Bridge is being implemented at a very limited speed. All other construction-related projects are in a stalemate position.
Apparently, the inequality goal (SDG-10) will suffer. As in many countries of the world, in Bangladesh too, the poorest have borne the biggest brunt of the pandemic. This blow was in part cushioned by proactive social protection measures taken by the government. However, it is likely to worsen existing social, economic and gender inequalities at least in the short term.
In the case of SDG-11, in urban slums, it is really challenging to maintain hygiene to tackle the Covid-19.
The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the natural environment (SDG 15) has been complex. On one hand, air pollution has declined on account of slowdown in economic activity. On the other hand, the disposal of large quantities of personal protective equipment poses an environmental threat. The crisis has highlighted the urgency of more sustainable means of production and consumption (SDG 12). As a cross-cutting issue, governance (SDG 16) is crucial to ensure the accountability of the government measures taken to tackle the crisis. The government machinery including its employees, police, armed forces, local government institutions have to ensure accountability and transparency while delivering relief -- cash or kind -- and providing stimulus packages. Probably, one of the biggest impacts of Covid-19 will be on the international cooperation and partnership (SDG 17) due to rise of conservative ideology that will prevent countries from benefiting from increased trade, technology transfer, investment, and foreign aid.
With regard to 'Leave no one behind', the aspiration of SDGs, it can be said that the pandemic has disproportionately, and more detrimentally, affected members of most vulnerable social groups -- including people living in poverty, elderly, persons with disabilities, youth, women, and transgender people. A report by the United Nations on the impacts of Covid-19 on women notes that the compounded economic impacts are felt especially by women and girls who are generally earning less, saving less, and holding insecure jobs or living close to poverty. In the upcoming days, this will be the main challenge for the government to get them back on track and thus truly ensure the sustainable development. In the current situation, it will be a challenge to implement all the sustainable development goals within stipulated time. But, the government is trying their level-best to meet these challenges head on and come out on top.

The writer is Chief Financial Officer, Mercantile Bank Limited
E-mail- [email protected]

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