FeaturedNationalVOLUME 17 ISSUE # 10

Pakistan’s slow progress towards SDGs

The “Sustainable Development Goals Report 2021” is out and its main finding is that the global extreme poverty rate rose for the first time in over 20 years. More than 120 million people were pushed back into extreme poverty in 2020, and an additional 101 million children fell below the minimum reading proficiency level.

A special feature of the report is that it assesses the impact of COVID-19 on SDG implementation and identifies areas that require urgent action. An annual publication, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) Index tracks a country’s performance on the 17 SDGs. The report is prepared annually by the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs using data and estimates in the Global SDG Indicators Database. The Global SDG Indicators Database contains global, regional and country data and metadata on the official SDG indicators.

The SDGs report points out that due to Covid-19 pandemic, the global poverty rate is projected to be 7% in 2030. This means that the target on eradicating poverty will be missed. Further, the pandemic has halted or reversed progress achieved in the health sector and shortened life expectancy.

Regarding women’s equal participation in decision-making, the progress is much below the target. The pandemic led to the loss of the equivalent of 255 million full-time jobs. In 2020, for every 100,000 persons, 311 were refugees. Due to the pandemic, child labor rose to 160 million in 2020, which represents the first increase in two decades. The report highlights that the pandemic has been a huge setback for sustainable development.

There is a score sheet in the report which signifies a country’s position between the worst (0) and the best (100) outcomes. Pakistan’s overall Index score is 57.7. This score is 1.5pc higher than the country’s score in 2020. Pakistan is categorised in the East and South Asia region that comprises 21 countries including China and Singapore. Compared to 2020, Pakistan’s performance has increased by 3pc in the region.

Significantly, Pakistan’s SDG Global Rank is 129 (out of 193) in 2021, which marks an improvement of five ranks, as compared to 2020. India’s rank declined by three, from 117 to 120. Talking of individual goals, Pakistan’s performance is only on track on Goal 13 (Climate Action), while progress on other goals is either moderately improving or stagnating and worsening.

In some areas there is a discrepancy between the official figure and the figure given in the SDGS. For example, against SDGs indicator 7.1.1, the proportion of the population with access to electricity is reported to be declining at 71.1pc (2018). However, Pakistan Social and Living Standards Measurement data shows that access to electricity has increased by 3pc between 2015 and 2020 and stands at 96pc.

Similarly, regarding the proportion of the population with access to clean fuels and technology for cooking, the SDGs indicator has been reported as 43.3pc (2016). But according to the latest national data sources, Pakistan Social and Living Standards Measurement (PSLM), the population with access to clean fuels and technology for cooking increased by 5.7pc between 2015 and 2019 and stands at 47pc.

It is relevant to add here that during the pandemic period, the government took some important initiatives to keep Pakistan’s progress towards achievement of SDGs on track. According to the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics Covid-19-specific survey (2020), over 27.31 million working people were affected by it. Related to SDG 1 (No Poverty) and SDG 2 (Zero Hunger) and SDG 8 on Decent Work and Economic Growth, 20.6m people could not work during the first wave of the pandemic in 2020, while 6.7m people said that their income has declined.

In order to cushion the impact of Covid-19 on poverty (SDG 1), hunger (SDG 2), health (SDG 3) and SDG 8 on Decent Work and Economic Growth, the government came up with a Rs1.24 trillion stimulus package. Regarding the SDG indicators on health and education, Pakistan’s performance has been much below the target and further worsened during the pandemic.

The government is trying to contain the impact of the pandemic with a vigorous vaccination campaign linked to SDG 1, SDG 2, SDG 3 and SDG 4. As of December 1, 2021, 33pc (5.07m) of Pakistan’s eligible population had been fully vaccinated with a total of 124.05m vaccines administered.

It is a matter of concern that Pakistan is faced with a huge shortage of funds in its efforts to meet the SDG goals. It is estimated that for SDGs relating to education, health and physical capital (electricity, roads, and water and sanitation), additional annual spending of about 16pc of GDP will be required until 2030 from the public and private sectors combined to help the SDG goals. This is a tall order which Pakistan cannot scale, given the constraint of its resources. The UN bodies and international financial institutions must come forward to help Pakistan cover the huge financial gap standing in the way of timely achievement of the SDGs.