Slide in SDGs

September 24, 2019

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PAKISTAN’S continuous decline in rankings for the Sustainable Development Goals over the past few years — from 115 in 2016 to 130 in 2019 — is yet more evidence of how little successive governments have worked towards fulfilling their promises to the electorate. Whether it is garbage collection in Karachi or building schools in Balochistan, any effort in this direction by officials is guided by the level of public attention they are likely to receive. Under the present circumstances, a stifled economy and regional and domestic political constraints will make it even more difficult to focus on the efforts required to uplift the quality of life of millions of Pakistanis. Where there have been efforts for achieving development-related targets, they seem to have been stymied by the lack of resources and trained personnel, as well as bureaucratic delays. The 18th Amendment saw many subjects, including health, education and transport, devolved to the provincial governments that have mostly failed to build up the requisite financial and human capacity to manage and improve service delivery. For almost a decade, more than 70pc of SDG-related development responsibilities have rested with the provinces, while around 20pc are under federal authority.

To cope with the lack of finances and expertise, public-private partnerships and donor-funded development programmes are emerging as one solution. However, at the moment, the sustainability of such initiatives remains questionable. Governments might lighten their load by outsourcing short-term development projects to corporate or international donor agencies, but the projects usually lapse when funds dry up or are later abandoned by the provincial administrations. Moreover, successive federal and provincial governments are overlooking the biggest factor that ties almost all development-related SDGs together — the country’s burgeoning population. Pakistan has surpassed Brazil to become the fifth-most populous country in the world, and by 2030 (at the current population growth rate) it is expected to rise to fourth position. All development-related efforts will remain insufficient until the authorities take stock of the population growth rate. The present government’s Ehsaas programme is said to be linked to 11 out of the 17 SDGs, but it is still in the planning stage. Its effectiveness will only become clear when and if the programme is launched. Until then, the people will have to tighten their belts and hope that someone in public office thinks of them soon.

Published in Dawn, September 24th, 2019