Globally, extreme poverty was reduced by half as the number of people living on less than $1.25 a day decreased from 1.9 billion in 1990 to 836 million in 2015; some 2.6 billion people have gained access to pure drinking water since 1990, achieving the target of halving the proportion of people without access to pure sources of water five years ahead of schedule. The Asia-Pacific region has also made significant progress in achieving MDGs, particularly in reducing levels of poverty. As per the latest Asia-Pacific Regional MDG Report, the proportion of the region’s population living on less than $1.25 per day fell from 53 to 14 percent between 1990 and 2012. However, the region is still struggling on some targets, particularly those related to health and global partnership.
If we have a close look beyond aggregate results, considerable disparities can be seen both across countries and within them in terms of accomplishment against the targets. The region’s least developed countries had struggled with several of the MDGs. Some sub regions and countries have made faster progress than others; Bangladesh, for example, has achieved most of the targets, including poverty eradication, reduction of child mortality and communicable diseases. Vietnam has achieved most of the MDGs ahead of schedule; similarly, Indonesia, which exceeded the goal of halving the percentage of population living in poverty, are on track regarding the targets related to the reduction of child morality and enrolment for primary education; Nepal has halved its maternal mortality by doubling health spending. However, in the case of Afghanistan, the country was late in concentrating on MDGs due to security and political instability issues.
The unfinished MDG agendas in the poorest countries need careful attention of the international community as billions of people still live in extreme poverty. Hunger, epidemics, social injustice, environmental degradation, climate change, conflicts and crisis, and socio-political instability in different parts of the interconnected world can be serious threats to our common goal of sustainable development.
The 17 cross-cutting sustainable development goals and the 169 associated targets envisage a development-centric pathway based on three dimensions of sustainable development: social justice, environmental protection and economic wellbeing.
The good news is that some of the countries have already started to integrate SDGs in their national programme. Indonesia, for example, increased budget allocation for social development programmes introducing health card and smart card to give poor households better access to healthcare and education; Iran has introduced environmental education in school curriculums to increase environmental awareness. Thailand has been promoting sufficiency economic philosophy that promotes development from within, suggests moderation in consumption, and calls for the sustainable use of resources through analysing the environmental trade-offs due to economic decisions.
We need to evaluate the risks and criticism surrounding the agenda as some argue that goals and indicators of targets are not clearly specified while others point out that financing this expensive endeavour will be a major challenge. The World Investment Report 2014 by UNCTAD estimates that every year $5 to $7 trillion investment is needed to achieve SDGs at the global level, of which investment in developing countries in key SDG sectors are estimated at $3.3 to $4.5 trillion per year over the proposed SDG delivery period while the current investment in these sectors is around $1.4 trillion, implying an annual investment gap of between $1.9 and $3.1 trillion.
Another key challenge for us would be localising SDGS as per the need and context of different regions and countries. Some may argue that rural development has lost value as a development agenda in the age of urbanisation and industrialisation, but in the broader sense, the new agenda clearly recognises the centrality of rural development as it binds 8 out of 17 goals together.
It would be ironic if we all talk about food security and zero hunger but undermine agriculture, and if we talk about ending poverty and inequality without prioritising development of rural areas that houses 3.3 billion people leaving in extreme poverty around the world – which counts for 70 percent of the global poverty. Similarly, reaching SDG targets will be impossible without a strong and sustainable agriculture because it is related with health, malnutrition, protection of territorial eco-system and livelihood.
Moreover, the goal of cutting poverty cannot be seen separately as it is rooted in a whole system of inequality and injustice. Inequalities and disparities within countries resulted from various contributing factors like marginalisation and discrimination on the basis of class, gender, location and ethnicity must be addressed. Global and regional partnerships require our sincere attention as it is important that international community extend their support to less-developed countries particularly through capacity building, technology transfer, trade facilitation and resources sharing.
The goals will lead us towards the equilibrium of social and economic development and environmental protection only if we envision the SDGs as long-term people-centred endeavours by localising the SDGs, considering different conditions and characteristics of each nation.Moreover, we need to look beyond crude measurements like GDP per capita, and concentrate on equality, social justice, and empowerment of communities so that the intrinsic value of each and every human being is properly recognised leaving no one behind.
Dr. Cecep Effendi is the Director General of Centre on Integrated Rural Development for Asia and the Pacific (CIRDAP).
MH Kawsar Rudro is working as Asst. Information and Communication Officer at CIRDAP. He can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org
Photo credit: Eloise Phipps/CIMMYT.