PwC reports about the pandemic’s impact on sustainable development goals.

Digital report by Phillipe Pierre and Jessica Shannon

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused immense human suffering and has only increased the international development challenges facing those that deliver aid, including governments, donors, multilateral and bilateral development banks and agencies, NGOs, and other private and public development partners. Its magnitude, both for beneficiaries and donors, is unprecedented. First, it disrupted healthcare systems, then the damage quickly spread to economies, education systems and global supply chains. It also badly affected the flow of critical remittances to those families in need, as well as social cohesion and many other components essential to effective aid delivery. 

Unfortunately, this is the latest of many such crises. Their increasing number and intensity, including conflicts, famines and natural disasters, and previous health crises such as Ebola and SARS, are threatening the work of the development community and progress towards the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Additionally, our society is also facing many structural trends such as an increasing digital divide and wealth disparities as well as climate change–related issues. 

However, crisis also creates opportunity. The COVID-19 pandemic is providing the international development ecosystem a chance to redefine its vision and strategies, funding modalities and collaboration models. It is also allowing for a different approach to meet workforce requirements and delivery models, while reinforcing the imperative for trust and transparency expected by society. We believe that with the right focus and approach around these elements, the development community can emerge stronger, more resilient and better able to drive sustainable impact. 

The process starts with asking the right questions. What is working well and needs to be accelerated? What needs to be done in a new and innovative manner? What will lay the groundwork for sustainable recovery from COVID-19? What actions can increase resilience to future crises? What are the roles of public- and private-sector partners? How can better reporting and accountability reduce the impact of fraud and corruption, and rebuild trust? 

We hope the insights and case study examples in this report provide food for thought on how to increase resilience today so that the international development ecosystem is ready to meet tomorrow’s challenges.

Meeting tomorrow’s challenges 

Major crises continue to test governments, public agencies and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) across the world as they strive to ensure public safety and security, help those most in need and increase living standards. The impacts of challenging events such as financial market meltdowns, volcanic eruptions, tsunamis and novel viruses can last for generations. Nowhere are these disruptions felt more acutely than in the developing world, especially in countries that are facing food insecurity, conflict, extreme poverty and climate-related challenges such as drought, flooding and soil erosion. 

Against this backdrop, we need new approaches to achieve the resilience in international development that can deliver on the promise of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030. This includes eradicating extreme deprivation, expanding opportunity and stemming climate change. According to UN Development Program (UNDP) Administrator Achim Steiner, of the many crises that have affected society over the past 30 years, “each has hit human development hard but, overall, development gains accrued globally year-on-year. COVID-19, with its triple hit to health, education and income, may change this trend.” 

Resilience—the ability to maintain progress on the SDGs—in the midst of a pandemic means multiple interventions, implemented simultaneously. Healthcare systems still need strengthening, building or rebuilding. Cities still need solutions to reduce pollution and improve transportation and mobility. The growing youth population will continue to need education, training and jobs to give them hope for the future. 

Addressing these challenges requires creative, holistic ways to fund and design initiatives that together make the difference. According to the UN 2030 Agenda, there is already a US$2.5–$3tn annual development financing gap. And this was before the economic impact of COVID-19, which will lead to cuts across the board. In November 2020, for example, the UK said it will reduce its commitment to international aid from 0.7% of GDP to 0.5%, which is likely to result in a £5 billion cut compared to 2019. By extrapolation, many other countries will likely decrease their funding, and it may take several years to see an increase again.

The pandemic has become a strong message for international development agencies: the more collaborations, the more informationsharing and the better use of technology together create the opportunities for success.

About the author(s)

Phillipe Pierre is Global International Development Leader Partner, PwC Luxembourg

Jessica Shannon is Global Government & Public Services Leader Partner, PwC Ghana.