Autism and SDGs

Published April 2, 2024
The writer, a former federal secretary, is CEO, ASD Welfare Trust
The writer, a former federal secretary, is CEO, ASD Welfare Trust

THE 2024 observance of World Autism Day is aligned with the implementation status and progress on the Sustainable Development Goals. Autism is a neurodevelopmental condition representing human evolution and neurodiversity among all world populations. The SDGs are universally agreed goals adopted in 2015 by the UN to bridge economic disparities in 17 overlapping areas including access to quality health, education and safety. They promote gender equality and inclusive economic growth and employment for all.

The Sustainable Development Agenda was to be fulfilled by 2030. However, the SDG report of 2023 shows that progress on more than 50 per cent of targets is inadequate while in 30pc, it has reversed. The most important reason cited is the neoliberal fiscal and monetary policy environm­ent created by the “outdated, dysfunctional and unfair international financial architecture” of the 1940s’ Bretton Woods institutions. Inequalities within rich and poor countries are increasing, and the North-South divide is deepening. According to the report, the SDGs are in peril; their failure would sound the death knell for the planet.

Centuries of colonisation and exploitation have left developing countries with the poorest, most vulnerable people. Continu­ing injustices through institutional monetary and political instruments play a major role in the lack of progress on SDGs. The promise of increasing official development assistance by developed countries towards achieving the SDGs hasn’t been kept, and targets on climate change haven’t met with success, not least because the financial co­­m­­­­­mitment of $100 billion per year was ignored.

Poor progress on SDGs is bad news for the marginalised.

At the same time, the developing countries’ governments cannot be absolved of their responsibility of eradicating poverty and providing education, health, access and employment opportunities to their people. In the 2023 Human Development Ind­ex, Pakistan ranks below Togo and Rwanda, with only 4.4 average years of education (SDG-4), while India and Bangladesh (se­ven years) are in the Medium Development Index, and Iran and Sri Lanka (11 years) in the High Development Index. The SDG Status Report issued by the Planning Com­mission in 2021 admits Pakistan’s progress has been dismal in education and poor on economic growth and employment.

Pakistan has failed to provide literacy to 60pc of its population in the last 77 years; its primary and secondary healthcare systems are deteriorating due to low budgetary allocations and unbridled population growth; poverty is rising; its infrastructure of roads, railways and air travel is collapsing; business growth is restricted by high interest rates, chronic energy deficit, rentier capitalism and elite capture; and its position on world indices of poverty alleviation, economic opportunities, per capita productivity, human rights, safety, gender equality, inclusion of persons with disabilities and almost everything else has remained at shamefully low levels.

A critical component of development in general and achieving SDGs in particular, is good governance, oversight and accountability of governments and public institutions. Governance in Pakistan has deteriorated alarmingly, with the bureaucracy and state institutions becoming partisan, self-serving and rapacious. Two political dynasties have ruled in the name of democracy for more than 40 years, evading public accountability, weakening domestic institutions, and compromising national interest with ad hoc policy decisions. The SDGs have thus been sidelined.

The options of economic recovery are fast disappearing for Pakistan and other countries on the radar of the US and EU agenda in their war for capitalist hegemony. The re­­cent failure of UN agencies, int­ernational hum­an rights groups and Western media to stop genocide in Palestine has ex­­posed the hollowness of many slogans fed to the world in the last 80 years. This debacle has undermined the credibility of international institutions and also called into question developed countries’ respect for international law.

In 2019, Pakistan ranked 67th on the World Happiness Index, faring better than many developing countries. Cynics said it was due to our low self-esteem and lack of awareness.

In 2023, this ranking fell by 41 positions to 108 mainly because of a public awakening as to what could have been. There is widespread anger, frustration, and bitterness. People with a formal education or a degree are migrating abroad, triggering Pakistan’s biggest brain drain.

In our bleak environment of economic, sociocultural and political insolvency, achieving the SDGs seems impossible in the next seven years, particularly those relating to access, education, vocational training, employment and inclusion of persons with autism, physical dis-abilities, women, and all marginalised communities.

The writer, a former federal secretary, is CEO, ASD Welfare Trust.

Published in Dawn, April 2nd, 2024

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