MDGs, SDGs and then what?
Amidst much hype and hope, the 193-member United Nations General Assembly formally adopted the 2030 Agenda with a new set of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) on September 25. The hope is that the Global Goals or SDGs will achieve these three things for all people in all countries within the next 15 years.
The 2030 Agenda is ambitious but crucial for making a meaningful leap, and not just a step, to overcome poverty and restore human dignity. If no action is taken, sufferings of majority of the global population will continue unabated and human dignity will be further undermined. For example, three million children will die unnecessarily from malnutrition annually; by 2025 1.8 billion people will live in countries or regions with absolute scarcity of water; 42 percent of African children will drop out of school before finishing their education and so on. The new UN development framework officially titled "Transforming Our World: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development" will swing into action in January 2016 and is expected to end poverty in all its forms everywhere. Ending poverty is the first and foremost goal of the 'Transforming our world' Development Agenda.
The predecessor to the SDGs was the historic MDGs or the Millennium Development Goals. The MDGs rallied the global community around a common 15-year development agenda to challenge the indignity of poverty.
The SDGs are, to a large extent, built on the lessons learned from the MDGs. The lessons have been mixed at best. Between 2000 and 2015, the world witnessed amazing progress in achieving many of the MDGs. Poverty has reduced. Countries like India and Bangladesh also witnessed significant poverty reduction. Primary school enrollment, especially for girl students, increased remarkably; child mortality rates fell from 103 deaths per 1,000 live births a year to 88; maternal and under-five mortality rates reduced. Nepal, for instance, has halved its maternal mortality by doubling health spending. In spite of insignificant income growth, Bangladesh demonstrated significant improvements in infant and maternal mortality. Across the world, Malaria death declined by more than one third, saving millions of lives. Access to quality drinking water and improved sanitation increased.
These positive advances, however, cannot camouflage the harsh conditions in which millions of people continue to live and the abuse of human dignity they endure on a daily basis. The gap between the rich and the poor, as well as the gender gap not only persists but even widens in many countries and regions of the globe. The latest UN Report on MDG suggests that nearly 800 million people are still living below $ 1.25 a day. Despite progress in child mortality, nearly six million children under-five continue to die annually from malnutrition and preventable diseases. Because of armed conflicts, millions of people are uprooted from their homes and forced to become refugees within or outside their countries.
Also, the progress that has been achieved is not uniform across the world or across the goals. Large scale disparities within and between countries continue. There is greater concentration of poverty-stricken people in the rural areas. The urban-rural divide, in terms of development, has widened in many countries. While most continents of the globe have mixed records in terms of achieving the MDGs, Africa, particularly the Sub-Saharan Africa, has drawn a near-abysmal picture with its continuing food insecurity and a rise of extreme poverty.
Development pundits have worked for more than three years, since the Conference on Sustainable Development in June 2012 in Rio, to design what is being called the SDGs today. And yet, shielded by the shortcomings of MDGs, sceptics will probably say that the world had gone through MDGs and yet millions continue to be hungry, sick and abused; the current 'prescription' is SDGs and so what? It is, therefore, critical to reassure the world that the SDGs will be achieved. This reassurance calls for a comprehensive, pragmatic and yet aggressive strategy and unflinching commitment from all UN member states and international organisations to timely mobilise the required financial resources for implementing the SDGs. Some of the core elements of this Strategy could be as follows:
- The UN can enter into a cooperative agreement with each SDGs implementing member state that will outline the country-specific time-bound targets and monitoring and reporting mechanisms, and will indicate the financial contribution both from the respective country's national budget and through official development assistance (ODA).
- The UN can also devise a similar agreement with each 'donor' country and organisation where they will make specific and time-bound pledges to provide financial resources and technical assistance for achieving the SDG targets.
- Each SDGs implementing country will incorporate its SDG targets into its time-bound national development plans (annual, 5-year, 10-year, etc.) and also synchronise with their overall development strategies and policies.
- Public-private partnership (PPP) will have to be further strengthened, and the private sector will have to commit much larger financial resources for the SDGs. They need to acknowledge that a poverty-free world will only help the private sector to flourish.
- The civil society, NGOs and CBOs must be involved from the very beginning in all stages of implementation of SDGs. The national governments of the day must create enough meaningful space for the civil society to make its due contribution in achieving the Global Goals.
-A greater and more meaningful gender balance and participation will have to be ensured in all stages of implementation of the SDGs.
Let the discourse and debate around SDGs continue, but concrete actions must also be continued by all stakeholders to implement the 2030 Agenda to liberate millions of children, women and men across the globe from the shackles of poverty and indignity. Let the world leaders gather again at the UN in 2030 to celebrate the achievement of the SDGs with much greater hype and hope for mankind.
The writer is a Founder Trustee of Impact Foundation Bangladesh and former Democracy & Governance Team Leader at USAID/Bangladesh. He can be reached at [email protected].