Overcoming challenges to sustainable development

Polin Kumar Saha | Published: September 25, 2018 21:24:46 | Updated: September 29, 2018 21:36:06

In March this year, the UN Committee for Development Policy (CDP) declared that Bangladesh has gained eligibility for graduation to 'developing country' status. Bangladesh has been in the list of least developed countries since 1975. It needs to be determined how sustainable is this development for Bangladesh and what steps can be taken by the country to get an official status of 'developing country' by 2024.

This will help Bangladesh in building confidence towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Other examples of Bangladesh's progress which were witnessed by the entire globe since 1990 include the fastest rate of poverty eradication of 22.4 per cent currently, cutting down infant mortality from 92 per 1000 live births in 1990 to 46 now and decreasing malnutrition in children from 66 per cent in 1990 to 32.6 per cent in 2013.

Additionally, student enrolment in primary schools has reached nearly 100 per cent, gender balance and women empowerment is being ensured in most sectors, alongside improvement in water and sanitations. The country has also undergone significant infrastructural changes over the past decade. A number of mega projects are in the pipeline, the completion of which will undoubtedly result in better economic growth and help the country on its path of reaching its SDGs.

Still, Bangladesh has substantial challenges ahead. A global report on the SDGs, published recently by the UN Sustainable Development Solution Network (SDSN), had an SDG index of 149 countries. It showed the standing of each country based on their 2015 status on each of the goals. Unfortunately, the report says, Bangladesh ranked last (118) among the BIMSTEC countries (India, Bhutan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Thailand, Sri Lanka), and second last among the SAARC countries (Afghanistan 139, Myanmar 117, Pakistan 115, India 110, Nepal 103, Bhutan 82). This ranking shows Bangladesh still has quite a lot to strive for to ensure sustainable economic growth.

To overcome the current challenges faced by the country, substantial investments in the SDG relevant projects are required. The investments need to be on areas of focus like basic infrastructures of roads, rail and ports; agricultural and rural development; food security and safety; power projects; climate change alleviation and adaptation; public health; and improving the quality of education.

But the recent trend of investment is still not up to the desired level for achieving many targets of the SDGs. New projects should be initiated in clean energy (goal 7), work environment (goal 8), resource utility and mobilisation, production and consumptions (goals 10, 12), sustainable cities (goal 11), quality of life under water and on land (goal 14, 15), governance everywhere (goal 16), and building new collaborations (goal 17). Budgetary allocations of government or collaboration with development partners in these areas are not sufficient to upgrade the status of the country on the present SDGs index.

Failure to initiate projects that can satisfy the goals and lack of adequate funds have been the concerns in the final report by the Intergovernmental Committee of Experts on Sustainable Development Financing (ICESDF). For achieving the SDGs in all countries, additional global investment along the range of US$5 trillion to US$7 trillion every year up to 2030 will be required, the report mentioned.

After this, the Bangladesh government published the SDGs Financial Strategy in 2017, which estimated that an approximate US$ 928.48 billion is required to achieve the SDGs by the country from 2017 till 2030. On average, the annual cost of the country will be US$ 66.32 billion for implementing the SDGs. This again indicates that finance and resource mobilisation is one of the important elements for achieving the SDGs.

According to experts, domestic resources in the country need to be moved up to at least 18 per cent from the present 12.1 per cent over the next five to 10 years. But this projection is far from the actual which is about 14.2-16.2 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP) in the 7th FYP (Five Year Plan, 2015-16 to 2019-20). Private sector investments' contribution to GDP has also been sluggish with around 25 per cent of GDP in the last few years, though at least 35 per cent is required annually for implementing the 7th FYP.

Another major concern in achieving the SDGs is the lack of integration of these goals into the country's strategic planning process. A study by the CPD (Centre for Policy Dialogue) revealed that about 20 per cent of the SDGs targets are missing from national priorities. Only eight of 17 goals are comparatively well integrated in the existing development process.

The most important requirement toward implementing SDGs in the country is to reduce inequality. Development will not be sustainable until a proper system of resources distribution and a healthy rate of economic growth are ensured. But in reality, presence of inequality becomes clear when income and condition of living are compared between households in urban and rural areas. Income generating sources should be equal in both urban and rural areas.

There has also been little progress in integrating the coastal population of the country in the government's national plan. The coastal belt covers about 20 per cent of the country's geographical area. Around 50 million people live in these areas and most of them are living below the poverty line. Thousands of people from these areas have been migrating to urban slums and creating ancillary challenges for SDGs implementation in cities of Dhaka and Chattogram. But the kind of financial support required to address the conditions of these people is still absent from the country's strategic plans.

It's also very important to build democratic institutions for effective governance. In June 2017, Bangladesh submitted its first Voluntary National Review (VNR) report to the High-Level Political Forum (HLPF) of the United Nations. The report shared updates on the country's SDG efforts during the first two years of the goals.

Ultimately, national government, local government, private sector, media and civil society must work together to achieve the SDGs. Also adequate resources mobilisation is necessary.

Polin Kumar Saha is senior research associate and sustainability professional at BRAC Research and Evaluation Division. polin.msls2009@gmail.com; polin.kumar@brac.net

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