Sustainable Development: How far has Pakistan come and how far do we have to go?

Published : 10 April 2018

By Khaleeq Kiani

PAKISTAN secured a score of 55.6 under SDGs’ global index against a far better regional average of 63.3 and is even lower than regional peers Bangladesh’s 56.2 and India’s 58.1.

As a result, the country ranked 122 on the SDG index of 157 nations compared to Bangladesh’s 120 and India’s 116 position, according to July 2017 results.

The good news, however, is that its preparedness to deliver on 2030 targets is among some of the top in the world, raising hopes that it would not be repeating its dismal performance of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) when it missed almost all targets. Pakistan’s performance would be assessed in about 230 unique indicators on 17 goals set under UN commitments.

To begin with, parliament has adopted the SDGs as a national development agenda unlike the MDGs that were generally considered a UN-driven initiative only to be complied with by four-yearly progress reports. These reports were prepared by consultants, without any implementation mechanism in place to actually deliver.

Special SDG units have already been established at the Planning Commission and provinces — as committed early last year by the country’s planning ministers — to mainstream SDG objectives by creating synergies among various federal and provincial organisations and agencies.

At the federal level, however, three separate SDG units have been created — one at Prime Minister Office, another at parliament led by Speaker Ayaz Sadiq and yet another at the Planning Commission. The three do not have an internal interface for policy coordination.

Interestingly, the first two units have huge funds at their disposal on an annual basis, with current’s year allocations estimated at Rs55 billion in the form of prime minister’s SDG programme (Rs30bn) and Rs12.5bn each for clean drinking water for all and electricity for all.

There is zero to negligible information about the outcome of the spending made through parliamentarians mostly belonging to the ruling party. There are fiduciary concerns because this amount is normally spent outside the normal financial regulation mechanism.

A step forward, the mission for SDG implementation has been taken to the grass roots level via the local government (LG) system — for bottom up engagement and implementation of targets as majority coverage areas stand devolved to the provinces — and onwards to the district level.

Representatives of the LGs at the district level were engaged through a national conference where they were given a chance to express their priorities. Most referred to education, health, water and unemployment as top issues. Interestingly, sanitation and climate missed their radars, perhaps because of lack of general awareness. It also emerged that absence of bathrooms was impacting female education.

A major challenge for the planning commission appeared to be the data gap reporting analysis. It was noted that of the 230 indicators, reporting of data on 14 overlapped to where either data was not being reported at all or was being reported on the sidelines. Reporting on around 45 per cent variables was available but was not being computed.

The remaining 55pc variables are of a serious nature. The newly inducted Deputy Chairman Planning Commission, Sartaj Aziz, with his development background has required the commission to replicate these goals as national development goals and be made part of the next five year plan 2018-23 — prioritising education, health, economic wellbeing, water, peace and security and affordable energy, in that order. He has directed that these goals be made part of the planning processes and given to the line ministries for implementation.

Another problem at the gross root level that was noted was the absence of administrative and financial powers of the district governments. An even greater challenge was how to create awareness and knowledge about how critical the SDG goals were to uplifting the lives of the people and how to make the process sustainable. At the planning commission level, the authorities proposing any big project are required to articulate if and how much their project papers were related to the SDGs.

But more importantly, authorities have to work on balancing outcomes of various goals. Pakistan’s performance on prevalence of poverty is impressive with only 4.1pc population reported poor at $1.90 per day and estimated to go further down to 0.2pc by 2030.

But this performance does not appear to be translating into other goals. For example, if the rate of poverty is so low why then are 45pc children under 5 years of age growing stunted and why is 22pc of the population still undernourished?

It transpired that average family budgets had diverted towards dense food — meat, milk etc. The planning commission analysis showed the country’s philanthropic network was actually supporting the social network to a great extent.

Also, while Pakistan’s overall economic indicators were comparable with emerging economies its general social indicators were lagging behind even Nepal and Bhutan.

It has been noted that Pakistan is very poor in terms of water quality despite a number of initiatives at the federal and provincial level. The indicators have gone down drastically over the last 10-15 years resulting negatively on health and nutrition and resultantly education.

Poor water quality arose out of untreated industrial waste and arsenic flowing into drinking water resources, causing increased prevalence of hepatitis, cancer and other diseases.

In fact, all this appeared to boil down to governance problem as housing societies and industries expanded without planning in all major cities, leaving untreated industrial water and sewerage waste into canals and water channels, affecting urban infrastructure.

As part of the SDG monitoring unit, a score card is being developed on how much expenditure out of the federal or provincial development plan has gone into a district and what the outcome has been.

A sample study showed a Rs15,000 per capita expenditure out of the provincial annual development plan last year compared to Rs40 in Layyah District. A next step would be to explain the outcomes of these expenditures on health, education and other rankings.

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Federal SDGs Support Unit

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