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05.13.2020

What Are the Sustainable Development Goals?

The United Nations has set 17 ambitious goals that could transform global health by 2030. But are we on track to reach them?

By Emma Schwartz

We have a blueprint for a better world. A shared plan of action to spur positive change — 17 goals that lay the foundation for a more peaceful, prosperous, and sustainable global community.

“We are resolved to free the human race from the tyranny of poverty and want and to heal and secure our planet.” –UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development

They are the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), adopted in 2015 as part of the United Nations’ 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The goals, which include 169 specific targets, build upon the Millennium Development Goals, which expired in 2015.

Each goal is an urgent call to action to tackle global challenges across five categories — people, planet, prosperity, peace, and partnership — with specific targets for 2030.

At Project HOPE, we know many of the world’s biggest health crises are rooted in larger forces like poverty, inequality, and climate change. And while progress is being made on a whole, it is not happening fast enough — and the COVID-19 pandemic threatens to undermine decades of growth.

Holding on to these goals — and strengthening our global effort to achieve them — will be essential for building the world we want to live in. But is the world on track to achieve them?

Here are five SDGs that could transform global health, and how HOPE is helping to reach them.

Sustainable Development Goal 1

End poverty in all its forms everywhere

A woman in Malawi shares her story in a community group.
SDG 1 would eradicate extreme poverty for all people by 2030 and reduce all poverty by half. In Malawi, HOPE is helping women like Linda take control of their economic futures and start businesses to strengthen their families. Photo by James Buck for Project HOPE, 2019.

Fewer people live in extreme poverty than ever before, but 1 in 10 people still struggle to meet their most basic needs. And now there’s a new challenge in the fight: the COVID-19 crisis. Research warns the fallout from the pandemic could push as many as half a billion people into poverty (8% of the world’s population), reversing decades of progress.

While global poverty rates have been on the decline since 1990, the pace of change is slowing. The world is not on track to achieve SDG 1 and end poverty by 2030.

There is a strong link between income and health. Financial security is a key part of the foundation for a healthy future: Without a steady income, families can’t pay for health services or buy essential medicines. At HOPE, we work in the world’s most marginalized communities to connect people like Linda and Emelita with the information, training, and support they need to earn a better living and take care of their health, no matter what comes.

Sustainable Development Goal 3

Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages

A woman in Sierra Leone holds her new baby.
In Sierra Leone, Project HOPE is helping reduce maternal mortality by introducing techniques like Kangaroo Mother Care. SDG 3 would end all preventable deaths of newborns and children under 5, as well as the AIDS, TB, and malaria epidemics. Photo by James Buck for Project HOPE, 2019.

Good health is the foundation of a sustainable world.

We have made incredible strides towards ensuring health and well-being for millions of people and communities around the world. More and more children are surviving to see their fifth birthdays. Fewer women are dying during pregnancy and childbirth. More people are winning the fight against infectious diseases like HIV/AIDS.

But there is still a long way to go to meet the SDG 3 targets, which include ending the epidemics of HIV, TB, and malaria, and strengthening the health workforce in developing countries. SDG 3 also includes the goal of promoting mental health and well-being — an especially critical job in the aftermath of COVID-19. The challenges and stressors of COVID-19 have taken a major toll on mental health worldwide, especially among women and health care workers.

Project HOPE is on the front lines of the world’s greatest health challenges, whether protecting maternal and neonatal health or combatting infectious diseases like HIV and TB. To address the toll of COVID-19 on mental health, Project HOPE is also implementing mental health and resiliency trainings for frontline health workers. Held both in-person and online, the trainings are giving tens of thousands of health care workers worldwide the tools they need to protect their own mental health.

Sustainable Development Goal 6

Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all

Man in Indonesia stands at a water fountain and pours a bottle of water.
In Indonesia, HOPE installed local water purification systems after a devastating earthquake and trained community members to maintain them. SDG 6 would ensure clean, affordable water access and equitable sanitation for all. Photo by James Buck for Project HOPE, 2019.

Clean water and good hygiene are essential for good health. Yet, worldwide, 3 in 10 people don’t have access to safe drinking water, and 60% of people lack access to basic sanitation services. And as climate change intensifies, so does water scarcity. By 2030, it’s estimated 700 million people could be displaced from home in search of water.

The costs are already detrimental: Every year, millions of people die from diseases associated with unsafe water and poor hygiene. Children pay the heaviest price; every day, more than 800 children under 5 die from diarrheal diseases linked to poor hygiene.

The goal of SDG 6 is to ensure access to safe water and sanitation for all. Are we on track to achieve it? In the past decade, over 90% of the world’s population has improved access to drinking water. Yet despite improvements, we still need to double the current rate of progress to secure universal access to even basic sanitation by 2030.

Around the world, HOPE plays its part by reaching high-risk populations with access to water and hygiene services, in times of peace and in times of crisis. After disaster, HOPE has worked to restore access to clean water and sanitation in places like the Bahamas, Indonesia, and Mozambique, while monitoring and tempering the heightened risk of water-borne diseases.

Sustainable Development Goal 10

Reduce inequality within and among countries

A nurse in Colombia checks the health of a pregnant patient in a hospital room.
SDG 10 calls for the social, economic and political inclusion of all, as well as the elimination of discriminatory laws that hold people back. In Colombia, HOPE is providing urgent medical support for Venezuelan refugees and migrants, especially pregnant women and newborns. Photo by Charlie Cordero for Project HOPE, 2019.

Around the world, there are large disparities in access to health, education, and other basic human rights.

Every day, 16,000 children die from preventable diseases such as measles and TB. Children from poor families are three times more likely to die before their fifth birthday than children from wealthy ones. Women in rural areas are three times more likely to die during childbirth, and almost all maternal deaths occur in developing countries.

To achieve SDG 10, we must reduce inequalities within and among countries, a goal that ties closely with SDG 5: achieving gender equality. While the gaps have narrowed in some areas, there is still a long way to go, and the coronavirus outbreak has only worsened existing inequalities for women and girls.

We believe everyone deserves hope — no matter where they live or who they are. That’s why we are focused on empowering the world’s most marginalized and vulnerable populations to improve their access to quality care. For new mothers and babies in Sierra Leone, Indonesia, and the Dominican Republic. For children with diabetes living in climate-vulnerable places like Puerto Rico. We are committed to building a world where no mother, newborn, or child is at risk of dying from preventable causes. Where everyone has access to the care they need to survive and lead a full and healthy life.

Sustainable Development Goal 13

Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts

Hurricane Dorian destruction in the Bahamas
In some of the most vulnerable places on earth — like the Bahamas, pictured here after Hurricane Dorian — climate change is a matter of life and death. SDG 13 would strengthen resilience to climate-related disasters in all countries and integrate climate change measures into national policies. Photo by James Buck for Project HOPE, 2019.

The climate is changing at an alarming rate. Warmer temperatures, unpredictable rainy seasons, and increasingly extreme weather affect every person on the planet. Climate change threatens our food production and the very air we breathe. It jeopardizes our water supply. It leads to conflict and displacement over precious natural resources.

And the world’s most vulnerable people are bearing the weight.

SDG 13 calls for urgent action to tackle climate change and its impacts. But the reality is that action must accelerate and efforts must be “far more ambitious” in order to mitigate the risks and help communities adapt to the changes on the horizon.

Climate change is an urgent public health crisis, and HOPE is committed to the fight. We have joined more than 80 other NGOs in signing InterAction’s NGO Climate Compact, pledging concerted, unified, and urgent action. Around the world, we work to strengthen health care systems and improve the capacity of health workers to withstand the impacts of climate change. We also stand ready to respond and provide immediate relief in times of emergency.

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Please make a compassionate gift today to help save lives around the world. Your support means more children and families can get the vital medicines and care they need now — and that health workers will have the training and support they need to save lives for years to come.

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