Last month, on July 16, Pakistan presented its report on the progress and future course of action on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) 2030 Agenda in the form of a Voluntary National Review (VNR) to the United Nations. The SDGs are a universal set of goals, targets and indicators that all UN member states are expected to use to frame their development agendas for sustainable growth and the overall well-being of their citizens.
The deadline set for achievement of these goals is 2030 though the challenges involved are different for different countries. There are countries that already have high development indicators whereas others have a long way to go. VNR, as obvious from the acronym, is optional and countries can decide whether or not to present their case at the UN till the time the periodic review becomes compulsory. As there a couple of years left for the periodic review to become compulsory, Pakistan opted for VNR.
No doubt, it is heartening to note that Pakistan has adopted a proactive approach and decided to share its development challenges and the initial achievements made in this respect. The country claims to be the first country in the world to integrate SDGs into its national development agenda in February 2016. The other steps it has taken include launching of a “National SDGs Framework” in 2018 and establishing seven SDGs Support Units at the level of the federal and the provincial governments to facilitate coordination among the stakeholders.
The VNR presented by Pakistan highlights the progress on selective goals such as no poverty, zero hunger, good health and well-being, gender equality, affordable and clean energy, decent work and economic growth and climate action.
Apparently, these were the areas where the country had made some advancement, prepared action plans and gathered handy data to establish such claims. On the other hand, comprehensive updates on other SDGs were not included in the report and one main reason for this was that Pakistan needed to do more on related sectors to give a better picture to the world.
In this context, the absence of comprehensive updates on SDG 6 - that relates to Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) - in the report was felt seriously by experts belonging to different sectors. This treatment of the subject was despite the fact that the SDG 6 fell in top priority Category 1 out of three defined under the National SDGs Framework.
Asif Ali Sial, an environmental law practitioner and global climate change studies expert, believes the government of Pakistan avoided detailed reporting on SDG 6 first because it was a voluntary exercise and second it needs some more time and resources to show progress on this front. He stresses SDG 6 be given top priority because success on other goals are linked with it.
SDD 6 sets targets like achieving universal and equitable access to safe and affordable drinking water for all, access to adequate and equitable sanitation and hygiene for all and an end to open defecation, paying special attention to the needs of women and girls and those in vulnerable situations.
The national targets set by Pakistan are increasing the proportion of population using safely managed drinking water services from the 77 per cent in 2013-14 to 85 per cent and that of population using safely managed sanitation services from 73 per cent in 2014-2015 to 80 per cent.
Shahnawaz Khan, regional coordinator, Strengthening Participatory Organisation (SPO) – a non-profit working on sustainable development issues - also urges upon the government to extend WASH services to the masses to increase their quality of life and health. He says once this is ensured the overall disease burden will decrease and the productivity of people will rise.
He laments around 53,000 children die every year from diarrhoea in Pakistan and the economic cost of poor WASH services is around 3.94 percent of the country’s GDP. Citing the example of Punjab where he is based, he points out that 22 million people relieve themselves in the open due to lack of proper toilet facilities. This figure is almost 17 percent of the total population of the province.
Shahnawaz shares that the Punjab wing of his organisation is working in the WASH sector with the support of Water Aid UK and engaging parliamentarians for related legislation in the Punjab Assembly. He says last year’s WASH budget of Rs20.4 billion could not be fully utilised in Punjab but they hope this time this will not be the case. The earmarked amount shall be spent fully on this sector because access to quality WASH services is a basic right of human beings, he asserts.
In Punjab, this year’s total budget for WASH services, current and new development schemes etc comes to around Rs46.4 billion with Rs8 billion allocated to Aab e Pak Authority and Rs8.1 billion for rehabilitation of rural water supply schemes.
In this context, it is imperative the federal government and the provincial governments give WASH services due importance in their development agendas so that they have enough stuff under this head to share at international forums like the UN.
The writer is a staff member