Awaiting a bumpier journey to SDGs

UNB . Dhaka | Update:

SDGThe adoption of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) on 25 September, 2015 by the United Nations (UN) replacing the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) was a ‘unique show of global unity’ as it holds a promise to build a better world with the first-ever common set of development agenda.

The 17 SDGs envisage a better sustainable future for all by engaging the entire world into collective efforts to end poverty, fight inequalities, establish peace and tackle climate change. And in the entire process, Bangladesh leads the discussions.

The UN hopes Bangladesh will emerge as a leader in the SDGs, repeating its success in pulling off the MDGs. “Bangladesh has become a role model in South Asia and in the world in achieving the MDGs, the predecessor of SDGs. We believe Bangladesh will again lead the way in achieving the SDGs,” Nagesh Kumar, head of UN-ESCAP South and South-West Asia Office, told a seminar at the prime minister’s Office in Dhaka on 17 August, 2016.

Though Bangladesh has been a good performer in attaining the MDGs, its march forward on the higher SDGs trajectory might be bumpier because of its greater inclusiveness. Under the MDGs, Bangladesh achieved a good progress in the areas of poverty reduction, food security, primary school enrolment, gender parity in primary- and secondary-level education, bringing down child and maternal mortality rates, improving immunisation coverage, and reducing the incidence of communicable diseases.

The success of the MDGs lies in Bangladesh’s fast growing economy and surprising progress in social sector. More importantly, the MDGs were few in number– concrete enough for monitoring the progress. But bringing poverty to a zero level, ensuring good health and wellbeing, quality education, gender equality, clean water and sanitation, sustainable cities and communities, peace and justice and strong institutions under the SDGs are crucial issues both from human rights and effective development perspectives.

When the MDGs provided a clear direction with huge resource mobilisations, the SDGs go deeper into the previous targets addressing the root causes of poverty and promising not to leave anyone behind, including vulnerable groups. Because of its bottom-up approach, these goals also emphasise the need to tackle climate change urgently and protect the environment through a shift to sustainable consumption and production.

Therefore, experts and prominent citizens in Bangladesh over the last one year stressed the need for formulating a comprehensive homegrown strategy for the country with the coordinated efforts of policymakers and civil society members for successful implementation of the SDGs through overcoming the challenges it faces. The key challenges Bangladesh faces include integration of the goals in national planning process, devising institutional mechanism for implementation, mobilising financial and non-financial resources, ensuring the availability of data for monitoring, engaging people from all strata of society, enforcement of accountability, building democratic institutions, enhancing institutional capacity, strengthening local government bodies, checking corruption, creating jobs, enhancing skills of human resources, increasing investment, tackling climate change impacts, shrinking arable land and low share of women in wage employment in non-agriculture sector.

When it comes to SDG number 11, Bangladesh faces an uphill task to do the job as the country has not been able to build any city which could be said livable in any way.  Its capital Dhaka itself is one of the worst cities of the world in terms of natural environment. The pollution level in the city as per as air quality, water supply and drainage system are concerned is very high.   Another daunting task Bangladesh is facing in ensuring governance.

The major concern of the citizenry in Bangladesh is the all-pervasive corruption. The national anti-graft body has so far been unable to come up with any solid step to deal with the big fish eating up the state wealth in their own innovative ways. The SDG 16 wants states across the world to ensure peace and justice, and build strong institutions. There is no sign in sight that Bangladesh will be able to reach this goal within the given time — 2030.  Right now the country’s universities cannot accommodate the huge number of students seeking space for pursuing their higher education.

Unlike the MDGs, the SDGs are intended to be universal, applying to all countries rather than just a formality for the developed world and a target to achieve for the developing world. And lastly, to some extent, these goals recognise the key role of the private sector in pursuing and financing sustainable development, in partnership with governments and the civil society.

With these key challenges around and the high ambitious universal development agenda in hand, what should Bangladesh’s main strategies to achieve the SDGs is now the question.

However, the very encouraging sign is that both the government and civil society members in Bangladesh are serious about implementing the SDGs from the very beginning. The government, meanwhile, has formed an inter-ministerial committee for Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) Affairs in the Prime Minister’s Office with former Principal Secretary Abul Kalam Azad as its Chief Coordinator to monitor SDGs-related activities in different ministries.

Bangladesh’s Planning Minister Mustafa Kamal, addressing a function in Dhaka on 30 July  this year,said, “We’ve got eight awards by successfully implementing the MDGs. We’ll now try to get 17 awards by implementing the 17 SDGs… I’m confident, we’ll be able to implement the SDGs before 2030, even if we don’t get foreign assistance.”

Addressing a high-level discussion on ‘MDGs to SDGs: A Way Forward’, at UN Headquarters in New York on September 30 last on the sidelines of the 70th UN General Assembly, prime minister Sheikh Hasina said, “We’ll take the country forward by setting another example by implementing SDGs as Bangladesh did in case of MDGs. In this journey, no one will be left behind as we aspire to build Bangladesh as a progressive, peaceful and prosperous country.”

Bangladesh received a UN award for its remarkable achievements in attaining the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) particularly in reducing child mortality rate in 2010, while a Global Forum Award in 2015 for closing gender gap, FAO ‘Achievement Award’ in 2015 for its success in fighting against hunger in 2015 and Women in Parliaments Global Forum Award, known as WIP Award in 2015 for its outstanding success in closing the gender gap in the political sphere. Besides, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina received the UN’s highest environmental accolade – Champions of the Earth in 2015 – in recognition of Bangladesh’s far-reaching initiatives to address climate change.

There is nothing impossible in this world if there is the strong will as the word ‘impossible’ itself says ‘I’m possible’. Let’s bet on governance; it will make everything possible.

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