The Impact of COVID-19 on SDG Progress: Strategies for Building Back Better

The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted economies, societies, and development efforts worldwide, posing unprecedented challenges to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). As countries grapple with the crisis’s immediate health and socio-economic impacts, it is essential to assess how the pandemic has affected progress towards the SDGs and explore strategies for building back better in a post-pandemic world.


The COVID-19 pandemic has had far-reaching implications for the SDGs, exacerbating existing vulnerabilities and widening inequalities across multiple dimensions. From health and education to poverty eradication and environmental sustainability, the pandemic has disrupted efforts to advance towards the SDGs, leaving millions of people at risk of falling into poverty and experiencing setbacks in their development trajectories.


  • Health (SDG 3): The pandemic has strained healthcare systems worldwide, diverting resources and attention from essential health services such as immunizations, maternal and child health, and non-communicable disease prevention and treatment. The disruption in healthcare delivery has led to increased morbidity and mortality rates, particularly among vulnerable populations, and undermined progress towards achieving universal health coverage and SDG 3 targets.
  • Education (SDG 4): School closures and disruptions to education systems have disproportionately affected children and youth, exacerbating learning losses, widening educational inequalities, and jeopardizing progress towards SDG 4 (Quality Education). The digital divide has further exacerbated disparities in access to online learning opportunities, exacerbating educational outcomes and opportunities inequalities.
  • Poverty and Hunger (SDGs 1 and 2): The economic fallout from the pandemic, including job losses, income shocks, and disruptions to supply chains, has pushed millions of people into poverty and food insecurity. Lockdown measures and economic downturns have disrupted livelihoods, particularly in informal sectors, exacerbating inequalities and threatening progress towards SDGs 1 (No Poverty) and 2 (Zero Hunger).
  • Gender Equality (SDG 5): The pandemic has disproportionately impacted women and girls, exacerbating gender-based disparities in access to healthcare, education, and economic opportunities. Increased caregiving responsibilities, rising rates of gender-based violence, and disruptions to essential services have undermined progress toward gender equality and SDG 5 targets.
  • Climate Action (SDG 13): While the pandemic has temporarily reduced greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution levels, it has also diverted attention and resources away from climate action initiatives. Economic stimulus packages and recovery efforts have often prioritized short-term economic gains over long-term sustainability, posing risks to progress towards SDG 13 and global climate goals.


Despite the challenges posed by the pandemic, there is an opportunity to leverage recovery efforts to accelerate progress toward the SDGs and build more resilient, inclusive, and sustainable societies. 


  • Invest in Health Systems Strengthening: Strengthening healthcare systems and investing in universal health coverage is essential for pandemic preparedness and response and achieving SDG 3 targets. This includes improving access to basic health services, enhancing disease surveillance and healthcare infrastructure, and prioritizing health equity and resilience.
  • Prioritize Education Recovery: Addressing learning losses and promoting equitable access to quality education are essential for achieving SDG 4 targets. Governments and international organizations should prioritize education recovery efforts, including safe school reopenings, investment in digital infrastructure and educational technology, and support for marginalized and vulnerable learners.
  • Build Inclusive and Sustainable Economies: Recovery efforts should prioritize inclusive and sustainable economic growth, focusing on job creation, social protection, and poverty alleviation. Investing in green infrastructure, renewable energy, and sustainable agriculture can promote economic resilience while advancing progress towards SDGs 1, 2, and 13.
  • Promote Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment: Recovery plans should integrate gender-responsive policies and interventions to address the disproportionate impacts of the pandemic on women and girls. This includes investing in women’s economic empowerment, ensuring access to essential services and social protection, and combating gender-based violence.
  • Mainstream Climate Action into Recovery Plans: Recovery efforts should align with climate action goals and promote low-carbon, resilient development pathways. This includes investing in clean energy, sustainable transportation, and nature-based solutions and integrating climate considerations into infrastructure planning and investment decisions.
  • Foster Global Cooperation and Solidarity: Addressing the complex and interconnected challenges posed by the pandemic requires international cooperation and solidarity. Governments, businesses, civil society organizations, and international institutions must work together to mobilize resources, share knowledge and best practices, and ensure equitable access to vaccines, treatments, and other essential resources.


The COVID-19 pandemic has underscored the interconnectedness of global challenges and the urgency of collective action to address them. While the pandemic has posed significant setbacks to SDG progress, it has also provided an opportunity to rethink development pathways and build back better in a more sustainable, inclusive, and resilient manner. By prioritizing health, education, poverty alleviation, gender equality, climate action, and global cooperation in recovery efforts, we can accelerate progress towards the SDGs and create a more equitable and sustainable world for all.

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