The Sustainable Development Report 2021 has been released and hotly debated among policy circles. Here I take a deeper look at the report with a reference to Pakistan.
An annual publication, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) Index claims to track a country’s performance on the 17 SDGs. The report combines data and analyses produced by the United Nations, the World Bank and others as well as from non-official sources (research institutions and non-governmental organisations).
It is not an official SDG monitoring tool but instead complements efforts of national statistical offices and international organisations to collect data on and standardise SDG indicators. Due to time lags in data generation, reporting and addition of new indicators, this year’s SDG Index and dashboards do not fully reflect the impact of Covid19.
Owing to changes in the indicator selection, the 2021 rankings and scores are not comparable with last year’s results. The report points to consider countries’ performances at the goal and indicator level.
The report highlights that the pandemic has been a huge setback for sustainable development. For the first time since the adoption of the SDGs in 2015, the global average SDG Index score for 2020 has decreased from the previous year: a decline driven to a large extent by increased poverty rates and unemployment following the outbreak.
Pakistan’s position — 2020 vs 2021
The score signifies a country’s position between the worst (0) and the best or target (100) outcomes.
Pakistan with an overall Index score in 2021 of 57.7 means that the country is on average 57.7 per cent on the way to the best possible outcome across the 17 SDGs. This score is 1.5pc higher than the country’s score in 2020. Pakistan is categorised in the East and South Asia region that comprises 21 countries including China and Singapore, pushing the regional scores upward. Compared to 2020, Pakistan’s performance has increased by 3pc in the region.
Despite the Covid-19 global pushback, Pakistan’s SDG Global Rank is 129 (out of 193) in 2021, improved by five ranks, 134 (out of 166) in 2020. Compared to its neighbours, Bangladesh’s rank stayed at 109 during 2020 and 2021. India’s rank declined by three, from 117 to 120 between 2020 to 2021.
The report acknowledges a data lag — for example, the proportion of the population with access to electricity is reported to be at 71.1pc, however, according to updated national data sources access to electricity stands at 96pc
Despite the overall improvement in the score, in terms of trends for Goals’ achievement, Pakistan’s performance is only on track against Goal 13 (Climate Action). All other goals’ progress is either moderately improving or stagnating and worsening in the case of Goal 15 (Life on Land).
The report does not refer to national and updated data sets at some places, thus affecting the ranking and scoring of the country. The report acknowledges that data lags in reporting. This means some of the progress in certain areas that countries including Pakistan made remains unaccounted for in the report. For example, against SDGs indicator 7.1.1, the proportion of the population with access to electricity is reported to be declining and at 71.1pc (2018). According to updated national data sources (Pakistan Social and Living Standards Measurement), access to electricity has increased by 3pc between 2015 to 2020 and stands at 96pc in 2020 including 5pc off-grid.
Similarly, population with access to clean fuels and technology for cooking, SDGs indicator 7.1.2, has been reported 43.3pc (2016). According to the latest national data sources (PSLM), the population with access to clean fuels and technology for cooking increased by 5.7pc between 2015 to 2019 and stands at 47pc in 2019-20.
The government has taken a number of steps to help keep the achievement of SDGs on track. To measure the effects of Covid-19 and to produce an evidence-based plan, the government initiated a dedicated survey.
According to the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics Covid-19 specific survey (2020), 27.31 million working population was affected. Related to SDG 1 (No Poverty) and SDG 2 (Zero Hunger) and SDG 8 on Decent Work and Economic Growth, 20.6m people could not work during the first wave of the pandemic in 2020. Whereas 6.7m people said that their income was declined. As a coping mechanism, half of the households reduced their non-food expenditures and 74pc of the informal workers were affected.
The government came up with an Rs1.24 trillion stimulus package to boost the overall economic situation and especially, in a bid to reduce the impact of Covid-19 on poverty (SDG 1), hunger (SDG 2), health (SDG 3) and SDG 8 on Decent Work and Economic Growth.
Related to SDG 3 on Good Health and Well-being, even before Covid-19, Pakistan had a fragile healthcare system with insufficient facilities to meet the needs of the population. There is on average one hospital bed available for over 1,680 people.
Related to SDG 4 on Quality Education, the Covid-19 pandemic directly impacted 42m children from pre-primary and primary to higher secondary and degree college levels. Mobility constraints, non-availability of internet, non-access to tele-schooling facilities had a disproportionate adverse impact on the most vulnerable groups, particularly females and other marginalised groups and those in rural areas and urban slums.
The government is continuing with the better containment of pandemic along with the roll-out of vaccination and continuation of Ehsaas Programme, linked to SDG 1, SDG 2, SDG 3 and SDG 4. As of December 1, 2021, 33pc (5.07m) of Pakistan’s eligible population has been fully vaccinated with a total of 124.05m vaccines administered. Taking timely action in view of the new coronavirus variant Omicron, the government, NCOC, also approved a booster shot of Covid-19 vaccines for healthcare workers, immunocompromised people and those aged over 50 years on December 1, 2021.
One of the key areas of government’s attention is education. Concerning education achievements, the country’s progress has been dismal. The primary completion rate has stagnated at 67pc in five years between 2015-20. Similarly, the gender gap of 9pc between the primary completion rate of males and females has also persisted in this period.
The government, like other developing countries, faces huge fiscal challenges to meet SDGs. This has been also been acknowledged in the Sustainability Report 2021. According to an International Monetary Fund study (2021) on the costing of SDGs relating to education, health and physical capital (electricity, roads, and water and sanitation), additional annual spending of about 16pc of GDP will be required until 2030 from the public and private sectors combined to help these SDGs.
The writer is an economist and development practitioner based in Islamabad.
Published in Dawn, The Business and Finance Weekly, December 13th, 2021