These were the views of global experts speaking at the International Conference on Sustainable Development 2022 plenary ‘The Importance of the Leave No One Behind (LNOB) Principle in Times of Crises’. These experts were representing countries which have been commissioned by Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) in cooperation with GIZ to lead research in the field of building back better and reducing inequalities. Dr Zulfiqar A Bhutta from the Aga Khan University represented SDSN Pakistan, Dr Alí Ruiz Coronel from Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México represented SDSN Mexico, and Dr Heinrich Bohlmann from the University of Pretoria represented SDSN South Africa.
Keynote speaker Ms Martha Bekele, Delivery and Impact Analyst, East Africa at Development Initiatives, underscored the power of relevant, reliable, and real-time data to identify those who are being left behind. “Everyone is not affected equally by the global crises. For example, the consequences of the Russia-Ukraine war have impacted the poorest thousands of miles away. Despite no role in the conflict, 1.8 million Africans have been pushed into extreme poverty,” she stated.
While providing overview of the project ‘Rebuilding School Health and Nutrition to Address the Impact of COVID-19 on Learning’, Dr Bhutta shed light on the impact of stringent closures during the COVID-19 pandemic on health and education in South Asia. It is estimated that there was an increase of 12 to13 percent in child mortality because of the reduction in health and immunisation services. Furthermore, 9 million adolescents dropped out of schools permanently. In this context, the project aims to find evidence around the impact of effective school health and nutrition programmes in low- and middle-income countries on overall health and wellbeing of children. “In all the studies on health and nutrition interventions prior to COVID-19, we found no evidence targetting marginalised populations or resilience building. It means that prior to the pandemic, there was no conscious recognition of reducing inequities,” he mentioned.
Dr Ruiz presented the project on improving healthcare access to homeless communities of Mexico City during COVID-19. The project served to provide primary care to this group, irrespective of their identification and proof of residence. Findings from this caregiving setting have proven invaluable for understanding the living conditions, survival strategies, and health care access amongst homeless communities.
While discussing the project from South Africa titled ‘Just Greening of the South African Economy’, Dr Bohlmann highlighted South Africa’s renewed commitment to transition from coal-fired electricity generation to cleaner and renewable energy resources. However, it will largely impact the livelihood of labourers in coal mining and energy sectors. In the spirit of LNOB principle, he stressed upon an alternate economic solution for this occupation group, as they are low-paid and low-mobile groups.
Towards the end of the programme, all three research leads shared a mutual hope for the true potential of their individual research recommendations to be materialised and implemented into concrete policies. They unanimously agreed that the COVID-19 pandemic has provided a recognition of the limits of their data systems and the importance of targetting and reaching the unreached.
As the world leaders and policy makers reach New York to participate in the multilateral discussions from the global lens, inequality, climate change, poverty, hunger, armed conflict, and other similar challenges remain priority areas of those attending. Organised annually by SDSN, The International Conference on Sustainable Development is strategically scheduled in September to encourage a wider audience to engage in inclusive and meaningful conversations on similar priorities.