The concluding part of a three-part essay on SDGs & Bangladesh
The first Bangladesh progress report on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) implementation was prepared in 2018 following a rigorous methodological framework. This involved a thorough understanding of the 7FYP and other documents related to SDGs prepared by the GED including Monitoring and Evaluation Framework of SDGs: Bangladesh Perspective (2018), National Action Plan of Ministries/Divisions by Targets in the Implementation of SDGs (2018), Data Gap Analysis for SDGs: Bangladesh Perspective (2017) and SDGs Financing Strategy: Bangladesh Perspective (2017). In addition, efforts were made to gather data on the indicators from BBS and other concerned ministries/divisions. Data and information were also collected from international sources such as World Bank, UN, FAO, ILO and OECD to fill the data gap. The preliminary draft of the document was reviewed internally in GED and necessary revisions were carried out. Following the long established tradition of GED of involving stakeholders in the various stages of preparation of national policy and plan documents, two stakeholder consultations were organised. The valuable inputs obtained from these consultations helped improve the document.
Bangladesh, and the global community at large, is now on course of five years into the SDGs. The year 2020 is a critical juncture to reflect on the first four years of the Agenda 2030 implementation and to allow for adjustments to priorities and course corrections. It represents a key window of opportunity to inject urgency and catalyse updated or new commitments from all stakeholders - all of which will be necessary if leave no one behind and Agenda 2030 are to be achieved.
In the above context, this Bangladesh SDGs Progress Report 2020 aims to prepare the ground in the lead up to 2019, highlighting how much more effort will be needed to reach the SDGs and the commitment to leave no one behind. The preparation process of the Bangladesh SDGs Progress Report 2020 replicates the similar methodology as adopted in preparing the Bangladesh SDGs Progress Report 2018.
Further, this Progress Report 2020 is important for Bangladesh at least on two counts: first, four-years represent almost one-third of the SDGs implementation time, an important milestone to assess the direction of implementation and progress achieved to draw lessons on what has worked, what improvements are still needed, and in which areas major challenges persist; and second, there is still a decade left to achieve SDGs in 2030, and insights and policy implications from the lessons will raise the efficiency of the SDGs implementation process in the coming years.
BANGLADESH'S PROGRESS IN SOUTH ASIAN CONTEXT: For the South Asian countries, many of the SDGs present formidable challenges as these require a reversal of the past trends, such as reducing inequalities, or promoting sustainable patterns of consumption and production and meeting the climate change impacts. These countries, therefore, should not be expected to make significant progress on the SDGs in the initial years, but the key concern would be to ensure that the countries have identified the right direction and gathered the required pace towards meeting the SDGs. Table-1 shows the progress of South Asian countries by individual goals. All South Asian countries are both at moderate or good level and on track in meeting SDG1. For the SDGs for which the performance is moderate and shows some improvement, the current rate of progress needs to be accelerated to meet the goals. Most countries also show stagnation or no progress for several SDGs.
Even with optimistic assessments for some indicators, most of the 17 SDGs may be missed by the South Asian countries at the current rate of progress (ESCAP, 2019). The key for South Asia is to address the constraints imposed by inequalities of income, power, access to services, and citizen's entitlements, which affect all SDGs in these countries. Despite the relatively low Gini coefficients of consumption inequality, all South Asian countries suffer from a complex and intersectional system of hierarchy and discrimination in which ethnic and gender discriminations are highly distinct. These significantly influence the opportunities for employment and income, affect access to housing, basic social services including health and education, and amenities like clean water and energy. Thus, reducing inequalities is a critical cross-cutting goal for South Asia; and right strategies of addressing this goal will significantly change the implementation outcomes of SDGs towards achieving the 2030 Agenda.
Industrialisation (SDG 9) and economic growth (SDG 8) are critical for poverty alleviation (SDG 1) and other SDGs. Although South Asia has emerged as the fastest growing sub-region, its growth is creating inadequate jobs for its youthful population and more than 80 per cent of the labour force works in the informal sector. The structural transformation in South Asia has moved from agriculture to services largely bypassing the industry sector; precluding the realisation of the opportunity of harnessing the substantial backward and forward linkages of industry for job-creation. A regionally coordinated industrialisation strategy could leverage spill overs of manufacturing across borders, creating productive capacities across South Asia through regional value chains.
South Asian countries are also characterised by wide infrastructure gaps in transport infrastructure (SDG 9), basic infrastructure such as access to drinking water and sanitation (SDG 6), electricity (SDG 7), and ICT. Investing in human development through universal health coverage (SDG 3) and quality education and vocational training opportunity to all (SDG 4), will enable South Asia to reap the demographic dividend from its youthful population. Such investment will also allow the sub-region to bridge the global skills deficit with secondary and higher education by 2020. Social protection strategies and financial inclusion are smart investments for accelerating poverty reduction (SDG 1) and reduce inequality (SDG 10). South Asian countries can scale up models of social protection they have evolved over the past decade including those based on income support, employment guarantee and conditional cash transfers. Besides expanding microfinance programmes, the governments may also leverage new innovations such as agent banking and mobile financial services for enhancing financial inclusion. Food security and eradication of hunger (SDG 2) is a key development challenge in South Asia. Policy action is needed to eradicate extreme poverty to ensure better access to food and reduce inequality, combat the high levels of anemia and vitamin A deficiency, extend social protection programmes to improve household incomes and consumption and increasing smallholder agricultural productivity.
Despite achieving gender parity in education, South Asia lags behind in economic and political empowerment of women, as well as other dimensions of gender equality (SDG 5). Promotion of women's entrepreneurship can be a potent catalyst for women's economic empowerment and can be promoted through a gender-responsive policy attention and 'one-stop shops' for information and guidance, incentivising credit availability, and capacity building besides regional sharing of good practices.
Policies for transformative development must reengineer growth towards sustainable development pathways given South Asia's high degree of vulnerability to climate change. Changing the energy mix in favour of renewable sources viz. hydro, solar and wind; moving towards cleaner fuels such as gas-based energy, and employing new technologies for reducing emissions from conventional energy generation will need to form part of decarbonisation strategy for South Asia. Industry needs to move towards sustainable production through enhanced energy efficiency, waste recycling, and cogeneration. Lifestyle changes including 3-R (reduce, reuse and recycle) practices and sustainable solid waste management need to be adopted as a part of sustainable consumption. The rapid rise in urban population in South Asia over the next three decades provides the sub-region with opportunities to leapfrog to greener and more resilient buildings and urban infrastructure, and urban transport systems in sustainably smart cities.
LIMITATIONS AND WAY FORWARD: The Bangladesh SDGs Progress Report 2020 has several limitations. It could not provide a uniform degree of assessment for all SDGs due to lack of data altogether and/or non-availability of up-to-date data for the relevant indicators. Where data for two consecutive years from the start of SDGs are available, linear projection has been used to see if the progress is on track to reach the 2020 milestone. In other cases, data from the SDGs period have been used in combination with data from the latest years of MDGs period to make such a judgment. In the case of a single data point the report does not provide any quantitative judgment.
The government is aware of the paucity of relevant data and has taken measures to generate timely and quality data and update data at required intervals. Despite these limitations, GED has decided to produce the Bangladesh SDGs Progress Report 2020 to reflect on the progress of first four years of the Agenda 2030 and to allow for adjustments to priorities and course corrections. This will also help realise the inner problems of SDGs implementation and to be aware of limitations. Further, the report provides a key window of opportunity to inject urgency and catalyse updated or new commitments from all stakeholders for implementing the SDGs agenda by Bangladesh.
The preparation of the Bangladesh SDGs Progress Report 2020 demonstrates the deep commitment of the government to its pledges made to the international community at the UN by signing the Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development to take comprehensive steps todesign and implement policies and programmes for achieving the SDGs by 2030. Furthermore, the report helps evaluate progress and adopt necessary actions to be on the right course. This report is also a source of motivation for all stakeholders to undertake actions to enhance performance in SDGs implementation to achieve the milestones in the course of achieving the SDGs by the deadline of 2030. The important priority, in this regard, is to capture real progress (or lack of it) in specific SDGs targets using reliable data for which existing weaknesses in data generation involving timeliness, frequency, quality and disaggregation need urgent action.
Dr Shamsul Alam is Member (Senior Secretary), General Economics Division), Bangladesh Planning Commission and a Recipient of Ekushe Padak in Economics in 2020. [email protected]