SDG 16 and conflicts
"There is a higher court than courts of justice, and that is the court of conscience. It supersedes all other courts" - Mahatma Gandhi
The 16th Sustainable Development Goal of the United Nations is focused on promoting peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development and providing access to justice for all by building effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels. The UN aims to reduce any form of violence and deaths by the year 2030.
In the year 2023, the Global Peace Index report recorded an average level of 0.03% deterioration of global peacefulness. Factors like peace, stability, human rights and effective governance based on the rule of law are important for sustainable development. Conflicts in different parts of the world with the Ukrainian-Russian war, the world has seen a steep rise in armed conflicts. These conflicts are acting as major obstacles to achieve the 16th Sustainable Development Goal if the United Nations.
Armed conflicts and insecurity, destroys a country’s development by affecting its economic growth and also resulting in long-standing grievances among the different communities that can last generations. In a country affected by conflicts, citizens become refugees, there is scarcity of food and water, economies degrade, and homes, schools, playgrounds, paces of work and worship that took years to build get destroyed in seconds. The citizens become victims of sexual violence, crime, exploitation, and torture.
The effect of conflicts on other SDGs
Increases the number of people living in slums and people leaving all their assets to flee the conflict. This affects the first SDG – No Poverty.
Leads to food shortage. According to stats, out of the 800 million hungry (i.e. chronically food insecure) people in the world, about 490 million live in countries affected by conflict. This is an obstacle to the second SDG – Zero Hunger.
Violent conflicts lead to closure of health facilities. Poor sanitation and inability to access basic health care jeopardizes the third SDG – Good Health and Well-Being.
With schools being destroyed in their own countries, to not being able to receive education in other countries as a refugee due to trauma or denied access to services, the fourth SDG is also affected- Quality Education.
Women and girls experience sexual violence, men and boys experience physical torture, conflicted zones suffer from gender based violence, affecting the fifth SDG – Gender Equality.
The economy of conflicted countries deteriorate refugees face challenges in accessing labor markets and unemployment becomes a major issue resulting in a negative impact on the eighth SDG- Decent Work and Economic Growth.
People in crisis are left alone
With over ten conflicts going on in the world, citizens of affected zones have been stranded and left to fight alone. According to a report on Ukraine civilian casualty update issued by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) – there were a total of 22,904 civilian casualties in the country – 8534 were killed and 14370 were injured.
Though all the SDGs are relevant and affect people in these conflicted zones, they are not explicitly recognized in the language of goals and targets. These groups are usually left out of governments’ plans to reach the SDGs. According to a report, in the year 2018, only 15 out of 46 countries talked about these populations in their Voluntary National Reviews.
Even among this population lies a smaller group of people who are disabled. When the war had reached Central African Republic in 2013, Simplice Lenguy had told his wife to take his children and run as he couldn’t go fast because of his cranes, and he did not want to hold them back. He was terrified from all the fighting in all directions. He received help from his neighbor who carried him till where he could and then abandoned him. Even when he reached the M’Poko camp, Simplice collapsed from fear and exhaustion. For people with disability the war means abandonment and isolation with little water and food. The suffering continues in the shelters as well where they can’t run to get food or to stand in line, so it’s easy to be pushed aside and left in hunger.
The inclusion of this goal is significant in the SDGs as without this goal none of the other goals can be sustained. Though the goal aims to view peace, justice, and strong institutions, it’s not just about ending wars and reducing violence caused by war. This goal is linked and affects all the other SDGs. Measuring the advancement of such a goal is a serious challenge. SDG 16 has the highest number of targets- 10, and the lowest number of means of implementation -2, making the pursuit of peace, justice, and good governance, destined to remain the stuff of idealistic hopes.