The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development was launched in 2015. Its aim was to eliminate poverty and create a more healthy planet for all its people. The 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) envisaged a complete transformation of all financial, economic and political systems that dominate our society today by the year 2030.
But the progress on the SDGs has been slow. Global efforts have been insufficient to bring about the desired change. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, progress remained uneven and most countries were not on track to meet the goals by 2030.
On the positive side, the share of children and youths out of school has fallen; the incidence of many communicable diseases is in decline; access to safely managed drinking water has improved; and women’s representation in leadership roles is increasing. At the same time, the number of people suffering from food insecurity has risen, the environment continues to deteriorate at an alarming rate, and levels of inequality are on the increase in all regions.
COVID-19 created a serious health, economic and social crisis, making the achievement of SDG goals even more challenging. Health systems in many countries have collapsed. The livelihood of half the global workforce has been seriously affected. According to an estimate, more than 1.6 billion students in the world are out of school and tens of millions of people have been pushed back into extreme poverty and hunger.
Coronavirus has exacerbated existing inequalities and injustices. In developing countries, the most vulnerable sections, older people, children, persons with disabilities, indigenous people, migrants and refugees have been hit hard. Across the globe, young people are being disproportionately affected. Women and girls are facing new hurdles and new threats, ranging from domestic violence to additional burdens of unpaid care work.
In the beginning Pakistan made some remarkable progress in achieving the SDG goals but the pandemic upset everything. The year 2020 brought unprecedented challenges for Pakistan in several ways. From the rapid spread of coronavirus to the imposition of nationwide lockdown, the year 2020 created tremendous difficulties in social, political and economic fields. New problems arose in the fields of education and health, and most of all in attaining Sustainable Development Goals in Pakistan.
Pakistan ranked 134th on the Global SDG Index in 2020, down from 130th in 2019. The index tracks and reports various countries’ performance on 17 goals.
In the report Pakistan was found to be the worst performer in South Asia with Sri Lanka ranking 94th, Nepal 96th, Bangladesh 109th and India 117th. However, Pakistan made tangible progress in six out of 17 goals during the year, with climate change being the only goal where progress is said to be perfectly on track.
The efforts of the PTI government on the SDG front were better than those of the previous governments. Pakistan’s social indicators have improved a lot in the last three years and the country is on track to achieve the SDG targets. Knowledgeable circles say that for the first time in the country’s history, with the help of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), some sense of ownership has evolved around SDGs across all regions in Pakistan. The requisite legal and administrative frameworks are in place at all tiers of the government to align future policies and budget priorities with the global commitments. The work on the localisation of SDGs is near completion with pilot projects already launched in Punjab and Balochistan.
It is said that if the requisite flow of funds is ensured, Pakistan will join the ranks of high achievers by 2030, the terminal year of SDGs. In the federal budget for the fiscal year 2021-2022 a sum of Rs 118 billion has been proposed for the Public Sector Development Programme in the country. The amount allocated for development purposes has been increased by 37 percent as compared to last year’s development budget.
Adequate financing of Sustainable Development Goals in Pakistan is essential to ensure a better, sustainable future. Out of Rs118 billion proposed for the PSDP, 68 billion has been allocated for achieving SDG in Pakistan. But given the enormity of the task, the allocation is not enough to address the challenges the country faces in three key SDG dimensions – social, environmental, and economic.
The government’s vision for Pakistan’s growth by 2025 included promoting a green economy, rebuilding the state institutions, creating more employment opportunities for youths and enhancing competitiveness and inclusive growth in different sectors. For achieving Sustainable Development Goals we should prioritize those areas which need more attention, such as combating climate change, working on infrastructural development, and promoting technology.
To speed up our efforts to achieve Sustainable Development Goals, Pakistan should also look for external means of finances as well. Pakistan occupies a favorable geostrategic location which offers regional connectivity with important countries, including the Central Asian States and China. Foreign investors stand to reap rich dividends by investing in Pakistan which will have an overall salutary impact on the economy and help us achieve the SDG targets.