Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) By Dr Ramesh Kumar Vankwani

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Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)
By Dr Ramesh Kumar Vankwani

The United Nation, on the occasion of historical Millennium Summit in September 2000, had adopted the UN Millennium Declaration, with a commitment by 193 countries and 23 international organizations to set a deadline of 2015 for addressing eight time-bound targets, known as the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

Although, the overall international community failed to achieve these quantified targets –by the end of 2015- related to reduction of extreme poverty,hunger, disease, lack of adequate shelter, and exclusion-while promoting gender equality, education, and environmental sustainability, but there was reportedly not even a single serious step initiated in Pakistan to achieve the MDGs on country level. Non-seriousness attitude by dictator regime, political instability, lack of planning and rise of terrorism were some of the basic reasons behind failure. Another key reason, in my views, was non-acceptance of MDGs by considering it as foreign agenda.

This was quite fortunate when the UN announced Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in 2015, there was a democratic government under the leadership of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, which considers public welfare and development its first priority. Being a UN Member State, Pakistan also adopted the new framework of SDGs which comprises of 17 goals and 169 targets with a new deadline of 2030. These goals included: No Poverty, Zero Hunger, Good Health and Well-being, Quality Education, Gender Equality, Clean Water and Sanitation, Affordable and Clean Energy, Decent Work and Economic Growth, Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure, Reduced Inequalities, Sustainable Cities and Communities, Responsible Consumption and Production, Climate Action, Life Below Water, Life on Land, Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions, and Partnerships for the Goals. The global SDGs Agenda, on which the government is spending Rs 35 billion from federal budget, also complemented Pakistan’s “Vision 2025″, which was announced in August 2014 to provide a comprehensive policy framework for the national economic and development planning.

Government of Pakistan, in the first phase, had approved to set up the SDGs Support Units on federal and provincial levels. The purpose is to ensure proper coordination and empower provinces under the 18th constitutional amendment to plan and executive different initiatives for implementation of SDGs, especially those related to social, health and education sectors. According to officials, federal and provincial planning & development departments successfully partnered with the United Nation Development Programme (UNDP) under this 5-years project to establish SDG Support Units for early institutionalization of Agenda 2030.The initiative not only aims to bring together the planning, finance and statistical institutions to work collectively for SDGs implementation but also calls for localization and ownership of SDGs at the lowest administrative tier as key to major achievement. Different committees for national coordination, federal and provincial cabinets along with parliamentary secretariat on SDGs were also formed while the Prime Minister has announced for a task force on SDGs as well.

Mainstreaming SDGs in Designing strategies, policies and allocating resource aligned with national planning and budgeting, Data processing, monitoring & evaluating, Financing aligned with 2030 Agenda, and innovative approaches to accelerate the progress towards SDGs are part of the Institutional Framework, adopted by the current government. The main hurdle, according to my information, being faced is related to availability of data. In some organizations, data is available on regular basis and standard is followed, whereas some organizations are providing data regularly but no standard is followed. On the worst scenario, neither data available nor standard is followed by some organizations. This issue must be tackled by the SDGs Support Unit along with the need of localization of SDGs on priority basis.

The government, no doubt, has learn lessons from the failure of MDGs, and that is why, both short-term and long-term strategies are prepared to review the progress towards achieving SDGs. The Punjab Sustainable Development Goals Project, along with Growth Strategy 2018 was initiated in Punjab –with the support of UNDP – which provides a framework for provincial government to meet its challenges for sustainable development, public private partnerships and strong commitment for SDGs. The Government of Punjab has also prepared sector-specific plans in the areas of health, education, skill development, urban development and agriculture sector.Achieving 8% economic growth (real GRP growth rate), Increasing annual private sector investment to USD 17.5 billion, Creating 1 million quality jobs every year, Training 2 million skills graduates, Increasing Punjab’s exports by 15% every year, and Improving law and order situation in the province, are the key objectives defined by the provincial government of Punjab. Sindh and other provinces has also encouraged to start similar projects with the financial support of UNDP for Mainstreaming SDGs in local development plans and strategies, Strengthening coordination, reporting and monitoring mechanisms for SDGs, Supporting integrated and innovative approaches to accelerate progress in priority areas; and Policy support, research & analysis and knowledge management for SDGs.

Embedding SDGs in the Pakistan Vision 2025, National launch of SDGs as Pakistan Development Goals, Launching of 5-years national initiative on Agenda 2030, unanimously adoption of SDGs through resolution in Parliament, inaugurating Parliamentary Secretariat on SDGs, and establishing SDGs Unit on federal and provincial levels could be considered the key milestones achieved so far, but I believe, public participation is much more important in this regard to deliver the required results.

The SDGs Units are established in the Planning Commission on federal level and planning & development departments of respective provinces to support operationalization and localization of SDGs, but there is almost zero awareness about their structure, human resource, and work area. In this digital age, it is not a difficult task to dedicate a specialized information cell on the progress of SDGs which is also our national development agenda but even not a single web page about SDGs Unit is available on the official websites of relevant ministries, which is ultimately making such important initiative mysterious and dubious among the eyes of masses.

We must understand that key to success for achieving any target is active involvement, acceptance and support of people, and thus, we need to create as much awareness about SDGs as we can. On the other hand, it is also very important for the UNDP to deny this public view that the foreign aid is usually offered to the state institutions as a bribe to fulfill foreign agenda towards Pakistan. For ensuring transparency and successful operations of SDGs Units, all details about SDGs-related activities should be shared with the public on regular basis while talented professionals should be hired on merit basis without accepting any political influence. Their complete CVs along with educational and professional backgrounds could also be posted on the website of SDG Units, as per international practice. It is very necessary to prepare the short term and long term SDGs roadmap on the basis of ground realities and for the UN-defined indicators, SDGs Units must ensure that correct data is used. A full-fledged public awareness campaign about the importance of SDGs is also need of time, and in this regard, I wish to present in-depth analysis about progress on different SDGs in Pakistan time to time for the betterment of society as a whole.

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