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Implementing Sustainable Development Goals Requires Innovative Solutions. Is Pakistan Prepared?

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Furqan Hyder Shaikh argues that Pakistan needs to find innovative ways of implementing the sustainable development goals (SDGs) that must include effective monitoring of government agencies and encouraging entrepreneurs, universities and the private sector.

“Sustainable development is the pathway to the future we want for all. It offers a framework to generate economic growth, achieve social justice, exercise environmental stewardship and strengthen governance.” Ban Ki-Moon

United Nation’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are a global call to combat poverty, to save the planet, and guarantee that all human beings are secure and enjoy peace and prosperity. Almost all countries including Pakistan have committed to achieving SDGs. But the real challenge is implementing them and diverting resources to human development and public welfare.

The federal and provincial governments are mandated to implement SDGs in the country. These goals were adopted in 2016. This is the time to review the progress and take stock of the actions by governmental and non governmental actors in implementing the SDGs.

Pakistan has prioritized SDGs 1 (no poverty), 3 (good health and well-being), 4 (quality education), 6 (clean water and sanitation), 8 (decent work and economic growth) and 16 (peace, justice and strong institutions) for the country.

In June 2016, a report prepared by Ministry of Planning, Development and Reform said that 39 percent of Pakistanis were suffering from multidimensional poverty and more than 70 million of the population lived below the poverty line.

Pakistan’s development history reveals that the health sector has never been a priority. A large segment of the population does not have access to healthcare facilities. Pakistan ranks 8 out of 22 countries prone to tuberculosis. Annually, around 3000,000 cases related to strokes are reported in the country.

The silver lining is that Pakistan’s Parliament endorsed SDGs as National Development Goals in February 2016. Later, the  government also approved a national SDG framework that includes national targets and indicators. Under this framework, Pakistan set up SDG units under related task forces at the federal and provincial levels, and directed parliamentary task force on SDG to administer implementation of the national framework.

The new government should give the necessary attention to the SDGs. First, the government must take innovators and social entrepreneurs on board, because many of them are determined to find solutions for intractable problems using new approaches and processes. Second, the government should look into SDG implementation with fresh methods, and categorically prioritise the SDGs in all its plans, programmes and projects.

Third, the UNDP, as SDG implementing partner, must invest in capacity building of SDG-related government officials at federal and provincial levels. The government and development agencies can also find ways of implementing SDGs at the grassroots level. Innovation at every level is required.

Fourth, for a meaningful implementation of SDGs, the government should collaborate with universities where empirical research on SDGs can be conducted to assist in identifying innovative solutions. What voters expect from the government is  performance better than the previous governments in Pakistan. This is only possible when networks outside the slow-moving bureaucratic structures are also involved in SDGs’ implementation.

The experience of implementing Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) tell us that capacity at all levels of government needs to be bolstered. The key step here is to improve federal and provincial coordination mechanisms as the capacities within public sector are usually not aligned or harnessed in a productive manner.

Pakistan and the developing world need to lift millions out of poverty and take care of unmanageable cities, climate, water scarcity and unsustainable use of energy resources. This is why systematic monitoring and evaluation of the SDGs is vital to check if implementation is on track.

The author works as Associate Program Officer in a government funded project on SDG-focused social entrepreneurship at a public sector university in Sindh. Email: [email protected]

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