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SDGs: Strong political commitment needed  

Shahiduzzaman Khan     | Published: April 20, 2019 22:09:49 | Updated: April 23, 2019 22:28:14


Bangladesh still faces numerous challenges in reaching the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). A deepening cycle of hunger and malnutrition, persistent poverty, limited economic opportunities and environmental degradation in rural areas are the problems that retard the progress of the goals. The International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), in its global food policy report, said these rural crises also threaten global climate targets, and improved food and nutrition security.

Bangladesh had earlier achieved the targets of Millenium Sustainable Goals (MDGs) set by the United Nations. At present, the main objective of the country is to achieve the targets of the SDGs by 2030. The SDGs mean a 'universal call to action to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity'.

The SDGs, which have been designed on the MDGs, seek to address issues of economic growth, education, health, social protection and climate change. The SDGs were adopted by the world leaders in 2016 and came into effect in January 2016.

For the present, Bangladesh could make little access to basic sanitation in rural areas, hovering just above 40 per cent. Such limited access to sanitation signifies why child stunting here still remains too high. Progress in these and other areas of development remain critical to improve rural livelihoods.

IFPRI report highlighted the need for closing the persistent rural-urban development gap by continuing to design and implement innovative development programmes that address rural needs. Unlike many developing countries, rural Bangladesh remains underserved and faces multiple challenges like severe environmental degradation, agrarian crises and acute youth unemployment.

As such, there is a need for rural revitalisation through highlighting policies, institutions and investments that can make such areas vibrant and healthy to live, work and raise families that are destined to help achieve SDGs. Rural areas should be made premier hubs of innovations through revitalisation. Such revitalisation should be timely, achievable and critical to ending hunger and malnutrition in just over a decade.

It may be mentioned here that improving rural roads helped Bangladesh reduce extreme poverty by 3.0 to 6.0 per cent and boosted secondary school enrolment. Besides, availability of health workers and women's political, social and economic empowerment also contributed to its success.

Emphasis on sustainable land management and pursuing the goal of enhancing agricultural productivity may help face the challenges of environmental sustainability. Besides, there is a need for investment in quality schooling in rural areas, creating new source of employment in agriculture and high productivity employment in non-farm sector.

Bangladesh needs extensive focus on eradicating poverty and hunger, reducing inequalities and taking climate action properly in achieving SDGs. Among the 17 goals of the global agenda, the four goals - no poverty, zero hunger, reduced inequalities and climate action - are very important for Bangladesh.

It appears that Bangladesh needs to address these four areas properly to get successes in implementing the SDGs. However, it is very difficult for the country to reduce inequalities, take climate action and ensure good governance. Obviously, these are the most challenging areas for Bangladesh to implement the SDGs.

A recent report of the government on SDGs financing strategy provides an outlook of the annual resource gap and an opportunity to revise the government interventions and financing strategies accordingly. The report says that the National Board of Revenue (NBR) must embark on new initiatives based on reforms, automation, capacity development and audit to improve revenue mobilisation to the required level.

Though the country has been posting modest economic growth consistently, income inequality at individual-level is making room for consumption inequality. As such, the country needs to address all sorts of inequality among the people and inequality between the men and women.

If inequalities are reduced, another goal- gender equality (Goal-5)-will be achieved because one is related to the other s. Alongside poverty eradication, Bangladesh needs to address hunger particularly malnutrition problem as even many children of the well-off families are suffering from malnutrition.

The rate of inequality in Bangladesh is neither high nor low. The annual average gain in income share for the top-class 20 per cent population (the highest quintile) is 0.46 per cent, according to a study. Though rise in inequality is a global problem, Bangladesh needs to reduce inequality, particularly related to income, to gain sustainable development.

The country does also need to strengthen climate policies, strategies and projects to mitigate and adapt with the impact of climate change. Climate change is causing multi-faceted problems in Bangladesh which  now are quite visible.

Climate change leads to many problems, including frequent and intensified cyclones and floods, deeper penetration of saline water, erratic rainfall, drought, riverbank erosion, climate refugees, health disease, food insecurity, water insecurity, landslides etc.

There are other challenges too on way to achieving the SDGs. There is no denying the fact that the efficiency gain in public sector spending is a must to that end. Delays in project implementation have deleterious impact on cost as well as on the intended benefits to be accrued.

In reaching the SDG targets, concerted and collective efforts are needed with strong political commitment at all levels. The country incorporated priorities of SDGs in all its development policies. It adopted an inclusive approach to development so that the poorest and the most vulnerable section of the country can be integrated into its national development efforts.

All said and done, the country is striving hard to meet the challenges of development goals in several areas that include resource mobilisation and data management etc. Nevertheless, all should nourish a dream of finishing the tasks in time to achieve the SDGs.

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