Sustainable Development Goals: the case of Pakistan

Third world countries lag behind the developed world primarily because of shortsightedness in policy formulation regarding development. The development policies unfortunately revolve around myopic thinking of re-election to stay in power and the true meaning of development is lost in the process. This is a dilemma of many countries like Pakistan where development is confined to developing physical infrastructures and that too at the cost of well-being of the people.

Global development agenda either set by United Nations Organizations (UNO) or any other organization are always blessings in disguise for the countries where holistic development programmes do not catch the sight of those at the helm of affairs. It forces and motivates the third world countries to craft their development programmes in tandem with global development goals and targets. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) have replaced the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in September 2015 to be achieved by 2030.The SDGs are global set of goals- 17 goals- aimed at addressing all the three important dimensions of development-social, economic and environmental.

The MDGs have been instrumental in triggering the global efforts to reduce poverty in the developing world in the period 2000-2015. The MDGs played a significant role in the overall development worldwide, but all the targets could not be achieved. Much needs to be done in Africa and Asia when it comes to poverty, illiteracy, maternal mortality, combating HIV/AIDS and environment. For example presently 1 billion people, according to the World Bank, still live on less than $1.25 a day and more than 800 million people do not have enough food to eat. Majority of these people reside in Africa and Asia. 

The stark difference between MDGs and SDGs is of application and scope. The SDGs, compared to MDGs, are universal in nature. Sustainability of the development programmes is not something that the developing world relates to, it is equally important for the developed world as well. The development must be sustained for the future generations. So the SDGs are now applicable to each UN member state and this very nature of these global goals offers unique opportunity to work collectively for their attainment.

Pakistan failed terribly to achieve the MDGs. There are 9.8 million stunted children in Pakistan and the country is ranked third in the world with the greatest number of children with stunted growth. According to an estimate, 45 percent of the children in the country are stunted and 39 percent do not have access to decent sanitation. According to Multidimensional Poverty Index, 4 out of 10 Pakistanis, 39 percent, are poor. More than 40 percent of the people lack access to clean drinking water. Literacy rate is 60 percent which is the lowest in the region. So far as environment is concerned, Pakistan is one of the top ten countries in the world who are baldy hit by global warming and climate changes.

Amid these circumstances SDGs gain more importance for us. Learning lessons from the MDGs experience, the government needs to devise an over-arching policy by liaising with all the stakeholders. Albert Einstein once dubbed insanity as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. In order to develop different policy to achieve different results, the government must take the following points into consideration.

Firstly, after the 18th amendment, social sector development rests with the provinces. The federal government being the signatory of the SDGs must liaise with the provincial governments. Ministry of planning, development and reform should also coordinate with other federal ministries regarding the implementation of SDGs. This must be taken as a collective responsibility by all the stakeholders. Earlier this collectivity was missing in case of MDGs. This must not be repeated if we are interested in achieving the goals.

Secondly, reliability of data is a matter of great concern for the policy-makers and researchers. Reliable data is an important instrument to know the present standing. It also helps to fix problems. Sadly the last Census in the country was held 18 years ago. It was only in 2016 that Pakistan gave its official figure of poverty since 2005-06. Pakistan Bureau of Statistics needs to come out of slumber by providing reliable data so that we may stand sure-footed while analyzing the problems facing the country.

Thirdly, MDGs were taken as externally imposed agenda. Had the government been serious in attaining them, the results would have been entirely different. Keeping in view the socio-economic indicators, the SDGs should be taken as an opportunity to pay heed to much-neglected development programmes addressing all the essentials of the sustainable development. The government should make the SDGs indigenous agenda, and all the stakeholders should show unflinching commitment to achieve them by 2030.

Fourthly, the government should involve private sector as well. Public-private partnership has been very successful in different fields. Therefore the government must not hesitate to join hands with the private sector especially in the areas where private sector is well-placed to come up with meaningful contribution.

Last but not least, the leading political parties should also respond to SDGs. As the election 2018 is not that far, the parties should incorporate the global development goals in their manifestoes. This exercise will sensitize the political workers and the public about the importance of the SDGs. If incorporated, the political parties will stand committed to move towards their attainment. As the world community is determined to extend support to the developing countries to achieve the global development goals, the ruling political elite and other stakeholders should not miss the opportunity to yank the country and the people out of dark valley of backwardness and poverty to the highway of development and prosperity.

By Muhammad Shahid