In September 2000, the UN adopted the Millennium Declaration at the historical Millennium Summit. At least 193 countries and 23 international organisations agreed to address eight time-bound targets known as the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by 2015. These included reduction of extreme poverty, hunger and disease and promotion of gender equality, education and environmental sustainability.
Although the international community mostly failed to achieve these quantified targets by the end of 2015, it is pertinent to note that Pakistan did not take a single step to achieve the MDGs. This was because of the non-serious attitude of the government, political instability, lack of planning, rise of terrorism and lack of acceptance of the MDGs. The MDGs were considered to be part of a foreign agenda and were viewed with scepticism.
Fortunately when the UN announced the 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 member of the UN, Pakistan also adopted the new framework of the SDGs which comprises 17 goals and 169 targets with 2030 as its deadline. These goals include: no poverty, zero hunger, good health and wellbeing, 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 government is spending Rs35 billion from the federal budget on the global SDG agenda. These targets also complement Pakistan’s ‘Vision 2025’ which was announced in August 2014 to provide a comprehensive policy framework for national economic and development planning.
The government has approved SDG support units at federal and provincial levels. The purpose is to ensure that the provinces, under the 18th Amendment, can plan and execute different initiatives for the implementation of the SDGs, especially those related to social, health and education sectors. According to officials, federal and provincial planning and development departments successfully partnered with the UNDP to establish the SDG support units for early institutionalisation of the 2030 agenda.
The initiative not only aims to bring the planning, finance and statistical institutions together but also calls for localisation and ownership of the SDGs at the lowest administrative tier. A task force and different committees for national coordination on the SDGs will be established.
Mainstreaming the SDGs in designing strategies, policies and allocating resources aligned with national planning and budgeting, data processing, monitoring and evaluating are part of the institutional framework adopted by the current government. The main hurdle appears to be the availability of data. In some organisations, data is available on a regular basis and procedural standards are followed, but in others, data may be available but no procedural standards are in place. The worst scenario is when no data is available and no standards are followed. This issue must be tackled by the SDG support units.
The government, no doubt, has learnt its lessons from the failure of the MDGs, and has prepared both short-term and long-term strategies to review the progress towards achieving the SDGs.
The Punjab SDG project has been initiated in the province with the UNDP’s support. The government of Punjab has also prepared sector-specific plans in areas of health, education, skill development, urban development and agriculture.
Achieving eight percent economic growth, increasing annual private sector investment to $17.5 billion, creating one million quality jobs every year, training two million skilled graduates, increasing Punjab’s exports by 15 percent every year and improving the law and order situation in the province are the key objectives defined by Punjab government.
Some milestones have been achieved in the country. These include: embedding the SDGs in the Pakistan Vision 2025, launching the SDGs as Pakistan Development Goals, adopting the SDGs through a unanimous resolution in parliament, inaugurating parliamentary secretariat on the SDGs and establishing the SDG units. However, public participation is extremely important if the required results are to be achieved.
While the SDG units have been established in the provinces, there is no awareness about their structure, human resources and work. Not a single web page about the SDG units is available on the official websites of the relevant ministries. In this digital age, this should not be a difficult task. A specialised information cell to work on the progress of the SDGs should be set up. In this way, the public will also be more aware.
We must understand that the key to achieving any target is active involvement, acceptance and support of the people. It is also important for the UNDP to deny the public view that foreign aid is usually offered to state institutions in order to fulfil foreign agendas.
To ensure transparency and successful operations of the SDG units, accurate data must be used and details about the activities of the SDGs should be shared with the public on a regular basis.
The writer is a member of the National
Assembly and patron-in-chief of the Pakistan Hindu Council.
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