The 2021 edition of the annual World Economic Situation and Prospects (WESP) report underscores the importance of the SDGs for emerging stronger from the “Great Disruption” to the world economy caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The WESP report, produced by the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA) and released on 25 January 2021, asserts that the only way to offset the socio-economic devastation resulting from the pandemic is to make “smart investments in economic, societal and climate resilience.”

Neither resilience nor sustainable development can exist without the other.

The 2021 WESP report updates a mid-2020 prediction, to report that 131 million additional people are likely living in poverty as a result of COVID-19. The authors predict that the “cardinal” SDG target – eradicate extreme poverty by 2030 (SDG target 1.1) – will be missed by a large margin. Other SDGs will suffer collateral damage from rising poverty, they warn.

The report depicts resilience as going hand-in-hand with sustainable development, noting that one cannot exist without the other. Therefore, governments’ response to the pandemic-induced economic crisis must include building resilience against future economic, social, and climatic shocks. This can be guided by the SDGs, and in turn will reinforce the ability to make progress on each Goal.

The report includes in-depth sections on each region of the world. In South Asia, for example, it notes that the pandemic has ravaged countries and reversed their progress on many SDGs, “turning this former growth champion into the worst performing region in 2020.” In South Asian countries, existing vulnerabilities were aggravated by weak public health infrastructure (low expenditure and few care providers per capita), and governments faced difficult choices between health and economic measures. As a result they were not able to take sufficient measures to slow the spread of the virus due to the lack of social safety nets, and their economies’ limited diversification, among other factors. Those hit hardest by the crisis include women, children, slum dwellers, migrant workers and the elderly. South Asia’s experience serves as a prime example of the interactions between securing progress towards SDG targets and protecting economies from future shocks.

DESA produced the WESP report in partnership with the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) and the five UN regional commissions. [Publication: World Economic Situation and Prospects 2021] [DESA press release]