Pakistan’s progress on SDGs

Lack of awareness is one of the biggest factors hindering development

Pakistan’s progress on SDGs


s per its Vision 2025, Pakistan has developed plans aligned with the sustainable development goals (SDGs) of the United Nations to be placed in the league of upper middle-income countries. Progress on the ground so far is not encouraging.

In 2021, Pakistan was ranked 153rd in the Global Gender Gap Index. In 2020, it had ranked 154th on the Human Development Index, with 38 percent of its population living with multidimensional poverty.

So, after one complete year, Pakistan’s ranking has improved just one notch. Keeping the lofty target in mind this is just enough. Population growth is one of the biggest challenges Pakistan is facing. It is hindering the development process and it will remain an issue for the projected future.

Besides population growth, political instability, frequent natural disasters, an instable law and order situation, a lack of awareness and tolerance and certain cultural norms and taboos are some of the factors hindering the country’s progress. We are still far behind achieving the SDGs. Pakistan has made some policies and frameworks but their implementation has not been up to the mark.

The government of Pakistan is working on the SDGs through its Ministry of Planning, Development and Special Initiatives.

There are several issues. According to the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) Index ranking 2021, Pakistan ranked 129th out of 165 countries, with an overall score of 57.7 percent, mainly for its progress on one of the 17 goals – climate action.

The country saw moderate improvements in the goals for poverty, health and well-being, water and sanitation, decent work, peace and justice and partnership, but it has made no progress on zero hunger, quality education, gender equality, clean energy, innovation, sustainable cities and communities. It went backwards on life below water.

According to Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI), the main contributors to multi dimensional poverty in Pakistan are years of schooling (29.7 percent), followed by access to health facilities (19.8 percent) and child school attendance (10.5 percent). Deprivations in education are the largest contributor to the MPI (42.8 percent), followed by living standards (31.5 percent) and health (25.7 percent).

The 18th Amendment to the Constitution promised free and compulsory education to all 5–16-year-olds as a fundamental right according to Article 25A. Its implementation has been slow.

With 2.2 million out-of-school children, how can the target be achieved in the absence of appropriate budgetary allocations and weak monitoring methods?

Several studies have highlighted the hazardous impact of political instability on direct foreign investment, which pushes the country further into poverty and away from achieving the SDGs.

The Covid-19 pandemic directly impacted 42m children from the pre-primary and primary-to-higher secondary and degree college levels. Mobility constraints, non-availability of the internet, lack of access to tele-schooling facilities had an adverse impact on the most vulnerable groups.

SDG 3: Good health and well-being

Even before Covid-19, Pakistan had a weak healthcare system with insufficient facilities to meet the needs of its growing population. There is on average one hospital bed available for over 1,680 people.

Some of the dimensions of the health sector are closely related to education and awareness. The relatively high levels of maternal mortality rate, infant mortality rate, low nutritional status and disparities in immunisation rates are related to the social status and education of women. These factors need to be kept in mind while making policies and implementation plans.

Pakistan has a booming private health sector. Due to high levels of poverty and illiteracy, frequent natural disasters and a tense security situation, people have to face the challenges of accessing good quality and equitable health services.

Another big issue is the cost of good medical facilities. Private facilities are often too expensive for the common man to avail quality healthcare facilities.

The governments have been initiating healthcare initiatives. These include health cards, a national health insurance programme, but the quality and accessibility of the facilities is far from uniform.

Goal 6: Clean water and sanitation

Safe and affordable drinking water for all by 2030 requires investment in adequate infrastructure.

Immediate steps need to be taken to provide safe and affordable drinking water, for ending open defecation, improving water quality by reducing water pollution, reducing the proportion of untreated waste water, implementing integrated water resource management and seeking support from international organisations regarding water and sanitation.

The development scenario has been badly damaged by political instability in the country. Pakistan is caught in a vicious cycle where an unstable political environment results in uncertainty. In turn, this uncertainty reduces business investment and ongoing development projects. For instance, with the recent political turmoil and change of government, many development projects initiated by the previous government risk being put on hold or terminated.

The Ehsaas programme for social protection has been taken up immediately.

Some hospitals are reported to have recently refused to accept patients seeking to use their Sehat Insaf Card entitlements.

Several studies have highlighted the impact of political instability on direct foreign investments, which pushes the country deeper into poverty and away from achieving the SDGs.

In the present circumstances, the dream of Pakistan being placed in the league of upper middle-income countries by 2025 is unlikely to materialise. Progress on the SDGs should be monitored by an autonomous body consisting of international donors, NGOs, government representatives, academia, media and policy researchers.

Learning from global best practices through effective networking initiatives is of utmost importance.

Lack of awareness is one the biggest factors hindering development. The media can be used to raise awareness and induce action.

The writer is the founder of Digital Time Communications

Pakistan’s progress on SDGs