Acknowledging the world was slipping behind in ambition and action, world leaders again convened at the SDG Summit in September 2019, calling for a Decade of Action, pledging to mobilize funding and financing, accelerate national implementation and strengthen institutions to achieve the Goals by the target date of 2030.
And then came the pandemic, threatening decades of development gains, further delaying the urgent transition to greener, more inclusive economies, and throwing progress on the SDGs even further off track. The challenges seemed almost overwhelming, but the world community pushed on, refusing to give up hope that we could, alas, achieve the goals in the next eight years.
This year brought another, even greater threat to realizing the promise of the SDGs – especially in Ukraine, where all indications point towards a dramatic reversal in nearly all indicators due to the Russian invasion. Nearly two months into the war, a major humanitarian crisis and development emergency are looming in Ukraine. Millions of people are facing severe shortages of food, electricity, medicines, and health care. Supplies of food, water and medicines are dwindling.
Early projections from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) say the long-term development setbacks for #Ukraine will be significant. According to the one report, poverty and inequalities will rise, and the country’s economy and the environment will be devastated. The Government of Ukraine estimates suggest that at least $100 billion worth of infrastructure, buildings, roads, bridges, hospitals, schools, and other physical assets had already been destroyed by the end of March.
All of the Goals are interconnected, with an impact on one affecting many of the others, so the negative impacts on the SDGs caused by this war go far beyond what can be assessed at this point. Looking at just the first two SDGs, ending poverty and hunger, the situation in Ukraine is worsening daily. Every day of delayed peace is accelerating a freefall into poverty for the people of Ukraine. According to UNDP’s recent scenario modelling, up to 90 percent of the population could be facing poverty and extreme economic vulnerabilities in the event of protracted war, setting the country – and the region – back decades and leaving deep social and economic scars for generations to come. Due to present circumstances, Ukraine could lose 18 years of socio-economic achievements with substantive spill-over effect in other countries.
The war’s negative impacts on human development are reverberating far beyond Ukraine’s borders— even as the war stays localized. A recent paper from the UN Development Coordination Office says rising food and fertilizer prices globally will exacerbate poverty and hunger challenges, causing malnutrition levels to rise and worsening income inequality around the world. This is partially due to the fact that many developing countries get more than 40 percent of their wheat imports from Russia and Ukraine. It is worth noting that the World Food Programme, which provides famine relief and emergency support in crises around the world, buys more than half its wheat from Ukraine.
As for the third goal, we think it goes without saying that ensuring good health and wellbeing is practically impossible in war, especially when healthcare facilities themselves are being attacked. The World Health Organization (WHO) verified 64 instances of attacks on health care facilities in Ukraine between 24 February and 21 March. The war will undoubtedly become deadlier the longer it lasts as more people die from lack of access to food, health services and infrastructure than are killed from direct conflict violence. Furthermore, as the war continues, the burden will continue to be overwhelmingly felt by children under the age of five. Of the seven million Ukrainians who were internally displaced in the first month of war, one in three suffered from a chronic health condition, according to the WHO, which has delivered more than 180 tons of medical supplies as of 16 April, with another 470 tons on the way. They say this will address the health needs of around six million people.
Agenda 2030 calls for all children to have access to a good quality education in clean and safe learning environments. More than half of the children in Ukraine - 4.3 million - have been displaced in the last six weeks, making it highly unlikely any of them will be able to receive any form of quality education, thereby undermining the fourth goal of education for all.
As for achieving gender equality, the vision of SDG5, the United Nations has warned that Russia's invasion of Ukraine could be the largest humanitarian crisis in Europe since World War II, one which experts predict will hit women and girls particularly hard. For predators and human traffickers, war is an opportunity. To counter this threat, the international community needs to do everything it can to ensure the safety of women and children as they flee the violence.
The combined effects of rising commodity and energy prices are having detrimental impacts on the post-pandemic global economic recovery, undermining national efforts in many countries to promote inclusive and sustainable economic growth (SDG8). The UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) says the economic fallout may be worse in those countries most exposed to the Russian and Ukrainian economies, such as in Eastern Europe, Caucus and Central Asian economies. Also, land-locked countries such as Mongolia, Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan, which depend on Russia for important supply routes, will be disproportionately impacted.
Many bilateral and multilateral donors are responding to the fastest-growing refugee crisis since the second world war. By mid-March the European Commission had already announced a €1.2 billion emergency macro-financial assistance package for Ukraine, while the USA passed legislation approving US$13.6 billion in support. Although this is good news, there is a risk this could potentially affect the ODA flows to other developing countries and humanitarian situations in Afghanistan, Yemen, central Sahel, and Somalia.
Human Rights and the SDGs in Ukraine
Although there is not a specific SDG for human rights, the links between human rights and the SDGs are firm and explicit. The preamble of the 2030 Agenda explicitly reaffirms that the SDGs “seek to realize human rights of all”, and 92 percent of the 169 SDG targets are directly linked to one or more of the core human rights conventions.
The United Nations has reported more than 4,300 civilian casualties in Ukraine since 24 February, including over 1,800 deaths –of which more than one hundred are children. The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) notes the real figure could be considerably higher as reported casualties are confirmed. Furthermore, the growing reports of rape and other forms of gender-based violence in Ukraine points to human rights violations occurring on a massive scale.
Human Rights Watch has documented several cases of Russian military forces committing laws-of-war violations against civilians in areas of Ukraine that are or were occupied by Russian soldiers. These include a case of repeated rape and summary executions. Russian soldiers were also implicated in looting civilian property, including food, clothing, and firewood. According to Human Rights Watch, those who carried out these abuses are responsible for war crimes.
Forced evictions constitute gross violations of a range of internationally recognized human rights, including the human rights to adequate housing, food, water, health, education, work, security of the person, freedom from cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, and freedom of movement. The Commission on Human Rights, in its Resolution 1993/77, has declared that “the practice of forced eviction constitutes a gross violation of human rights.” The war in Ukraine has caused the fastest forced eviction of people from their homes since the Second World War. More than a quarter of the population - over 11 million people - have now fled their homes. More than 4.5 million are now refugees, and over 7.1 people are internally displaced within Ukraine.
Seeking sustainable solutions
While the above paints a bleak scenario across most if not all of the SDGs, we cannot give up hope. I hope that all bilateral and multilateral donors will do everything possible to avoid pulling resources from other programmes while continuing their important and much-needed support to the people of Ukraine. In parallel to the focus on humanitarian support, the world cannot afford to lose sight of the development impacts of the war on Ukraine, regionally and globally. All developing countries need the continued support of their partners to be able to achieve their national SDG strategies. When the guns fall silent, and hopefully they will soon, we must prioritize early recovery measures and long-term development support, to get the country, the region, and the world back on track to achieving the SDGs.The complex humanitarian, development, and peace (HDP) challenges now emerging in Ukraine underscore the importance of delivering programming that prioritizes immediate life-saving assistance, alongside efforts to protect development gains and safeguard progress towards the SDGs. Concurrently, we need to ensure that people can maintain their resilience to shocks to help them manage and recover from the crisis as quickly as possible. This will require agencies to work closely together, on the basis of their respective mandates, governing principles and modes of action, to plan and deliver programming that facilitates complementary and coherent humanitarian, development and peace programmes that can contribute to collective outcomes, in line with commitments to Agenda 2030.
The United Nations and its partners are working to safeguard as much as possible the development gains they have helped the Government of Ukraine to achieve over the past 30 years. However, much more will need to be done as soon as conditions allow. Meanwhile, we cannot lose focus on the important development work in countries around the world to keep the world on track towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals in the next 8 years. An important step in that direction would be, as called for by United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres: an immediate cessation of hostilities and the withdrawal of all Russian troops from the territory of Ukraine. The time to negotiate an end to this absurd and unwinnable war is now before it is too late and we lose all hope of achieving a better and more sustainable future for all, leaving no one behind.