• Thursday, Aug 05, 2021
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SDGs: S Asia progresses on health, poverty targets, falters on climate action

  • Published at 04:15 pm March 20th, 2021
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The latest ESCAP report shows that Asia and the Pacific region fell short of its 2020 milestones for the SDGs, even before entering the global pandemic

South and South-West Asia is on track to achieve extreme poverty targets set under the sustainable development goals (SDGs) but the progress in the subregion is very slow or stagnant on half of the goals and more worryingly, it is regressing on 5 of the 17 SDGs. 

Bangladesh belongs to South and South-West Asia, one of the five subregions of Asia and the Pacific region that the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) routinely tracks SDG progress.   

The latest ESCAP report has shown that Asia and the Pacific region fell short of its 2020 milestones for the SDGs, even before entering the global pandemic. 

Of the five subregions under ESCAP mandated region, the South and South-West Asia still remains home to 198 million ultra-poor, a scenario it feared the pandemic might have further aggravated. 

Bangladesh apart, the South and South-West Asia subregion includes nine other countries: Afghanistan, Bhutan, India, Iran, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and Turkey.

The four other subregions are: East and North-East Asia, North Central Asia, South-East Asia, and the Pacific. All together Asia and the Pacific region have 58 member states and associate members. 

The 5th edition of ESCAP’s flagship SDG-tracking publication – Asia and the Pacific SDG Progress Report 2021 – was released on March 16.

It stated, though the South and South-West Asia is on track to achieve extreme poverty targets, the achievement of no poverty (SDG Goal 1) is threatened by losses from natural disasters, lack of access to basic water and sanitation services (with 62% of people in rural areas lacking access) and inadequate government spending on education, health services, and social protection.

Despite some progress on zero hunger (Goal 2), the prevalence of undernourishment, malnutrition, and anaemia in women are among the most challenging targets for the South and South-West Asia subregion. 

For instance, 33% (more than 40 million) under-5 children of the subregion remain severely or moderately stunted, the highest rate among all Asia-Pacific subregions, the report mentioned. 

However, this subregion has made its biggest progress on good health and well-being (Goal3), where it is expected to achieve targets on maternal, under-5 and neonatal mortality, skilled birth interventions and population covered by vaccination if the current pace of progress is maintained. 

However, South and South-West Asia is regressing on 5 of the 17 SDGs; on goals related to reduced inequalities (Goal 10), sustainable cities and communities (Goal 11), climate action (Goal 13), life below water (Goals 14) and peace, justice and strong institutions (Goal 16). 

Among the targets that require urgent action for course correction are deaths and disappearances recorded during migration, detected victims of human trafficking, unsentenced detainees, deaths, economic infrastructure and service losses from disasters, air quality (with the highest PM2.5 concentration among Asia-Pacific subregions), greenhouse gas emissions and the quality of oceans. 

Progress in the subregion is very slow or stagnant on half of the goals. 

For instance, on affordable and clean energy (Goal 7), South and South-West Asian economies remain energy intensive, and the share of renewable energy in total energy consumption is reducing, the ESCAP report noted. 

Despite the fact the subregion is on track to achieve the target of universal access to electricity by 2030, progress is stagnant on renewable electricity capacity per capita. 

The picture is also mixed under gender equality (Goal 5). While there has been some progress on the number of seats held by women in national and local parliaments, gender gaps remain in women’s economic participation and decision-making, stated the report. 

Despite some overall progress on decent work and economic growth (Goal 8), both unemployment rates and occupational injuries have increased, and vulnerable employment remains high, it said. 

Progress is insufficient on the partnership for the goals (Goal 17), the report added. 

Remittances have been an indispensable source of development financing for many South and South-West Asian countries. Bangladesh, Pakistan and Sri Lanka have consistently registered shares of remittance inflows above 6% of GDP, and above 20% of GDP for Nepal. 

Domestic resource mobilization has fallen short with the subregion having one of the lowest tax-to-GDP ratios in the region, and the trend is moving in the wrong direction for domestic budgets funded by domestic taxes.

An ESCAP release issued on March 16 said, the Asia-Pacific region must accelerate progress everywhere and urgently reverse its regressing trends on many Sustainable Development Goals to achieve its ambitions by 2030.

The release said, in the last decade, Asia and the Pacific has made extraordinary progress in good health and well-being (Goal 3), which may partly explain its relative success in reducing the health impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on its population. “Yet despite these hard-won gains, the region faces many challenges, such as providing an adequate healthcare workforce, reducing premature deaths and improving mental health.”

An alarming observation in the report is regressing climate action trends (Goal 13) and life below water (Goal 14). The Asia-Pacific region is responsible for more than half of the global greenhouse gas emissions and adverse impacts of natural disasters on people and economies increase year-by-year. 

“Recovery measures are an excellent opportunity for us to rethink our options for development pathways that are inclusive, more resilient, and respect planetary boundaries,” said United Nations Under-Secretary-General and ESCAP Executive Secretary Armida Salsiah Alisjahbana. 

“As we enter the Decade of Action to deliver the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, we need to reinforce our collective commitment to the SDGs and let it provide our compass for building back together, better and greener.”

The report highlights the impact of mandatory lockdowns and social distancing measures on data collection activities, particularly from vulnerable groups. To build back better, governments should renew their commitments to the SDGs’ monitoring framework so that recovery can accelerate a global transformation as promised by the 2030 Agenda, said ESCAP.

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