THE stark disparity between public aspirations and the unforgiving truth has grown even wider for the majority in Pakistan as the UN General Assembly takes stock of the situation at the mid-point of the ‘2015-30’ global development plan. The burden of the economic downturn seems to fall disproportionately on families, hitting the most vulnerable the hardest.

The slippage in the country’s ranking on the Sustainable Development Goals Index was no surprise. It only scratches the surface of the reality. Desperate and crushed, the people of Pakistan yearn for an outlet to express their mounting frustration. The way public anger finds expression on the ballot will become evident if the country manages to hold free and fair elections, now expected in January 2024.

The Sustainable Development Goals Index and Dashboard, prepared annually by the Sustainable Development Solutions Network and the Institute of European Environmental Policy, provides a report card for the country’s performance on the Global Development Agenda 2030.

The said report ranked Pakistan 128th this year out of 166 countries assessed. It occupied the 125th position in 2022. The current country’s score of 59 is 7.8 points below the regional average of 67.2. Out of 17 global goals, Pakistan has managed to be on track for just one Goal 10 — reduced inequalities within and among countries.

The report ranked Pakistan 128th this year out of 166 countries assessed, whereas the country occupied the 125th position in 2022

It is assessed to be moderately improving in six goals (Goal 1: No poverty, Goal 6: Access to water and sanitation, Goal 12: Responsible consumption and production, Goal 13: Climate action, Goal 14: Life below water, Goal 17: Partnership for the goals). It is said to be stagnating in the rest of 10 goals.

To its credit, it has not been found to be totally off track in any. The country’s access to data has been improving, and the missing data accounts for barely five per cent of indicators.

“Working Pakistani families cannot afford to surrender; for them, it’s a matter of life and death. The country is likely to persist underperforming unless the public pressure compels the establishment to recognise the gravity of the situation.

“It is imperative to reform the self-serving governance system at its core, cease the patronage of parasitic elements, ensure institutional vitality, confine overenthusiasts within their designated roles and earnestly pursue the implementation of global development goals,” commented an anonymous observer.

“The rulers of Pakistan cannot be absolved of their costly mistakes. Despite the challenges posed by Covid-19, climate impact and conflicts, other nations have not ceased their efforts to safeguard their citizens and foster private entrepreneurship. What seems to impede the ruling coterie, if not their own self-interest?” remarked an anonymous business leader, alluding to other Asian nations that have outperformed Pakistan on the SDG Index.

Muhammad Ali Kemal, Chief of SDGs at the federal level, made a valiant effort to defend the government by attributing the country’s weaker performance on the SDGs annual evaluation chart to factors like natural calamities and global market volatility, as he sought to explain the economic challenges.

Responding to queries in this regard, he said, “The performance of Pakistan was below the mark. To an extent, floods and the decline in economic activity were responsible.”

He claimed to be working in tandem with the private sector partners and civil society leaders, identified during the collaborative process of producing the Voluntary National Review last year, for the realisation of development targets.

“We started the mid-term review soon after the VNR report last year. It has been completed in consultations with all the stakeholders but has yet to be published, awaiting the final approval of the Ministry of Planning. Based on the track record, the report proposed a way forward.”

On a question regarding the quality and credibility of data, he said, “since 2016, the Ministry of Planning, Development and Special Initiatives started working on filling the data gaps. In 2016-17, we had 21 indicators available for reporting. A mechanism was developed to collect data through survey instruments. Currently, 140 indicators are calculated to monitor the progress of SDGs.”

Mr Kemal did acknowledge the government’s lack of focus on imparting awareness of global goals. “Unfortunately, the public awareness part did not get the attention it deserved. There are 169 national targets. Over the next six months, we are planning to engage with the private sector, media and civil society and select 50 key targets for a structured awareness campaign through media and introducing the subject in the curriculum of schools, colleges and universities”.

“Many targets can be achieved through effective compliance and do not necessarily need huge financing,” he concluded. Multiple trade and industry bodies were approached, such as the Federation of Pakistan Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Pakistan Business Council, Overseas Chamber of Commerce and Industry, American Business Council, etc for their input on the subject. Sadly, their responses did not arrive till the filing of this report.

Published in Dawn, The Business and Finance Weekly, September 25th, 2023

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