Achieving the Sustainable Development Goals in South Asia

Achieving the Sustainable Development Goals in South Asia

Key Policy Priorities and Implementation Challenges You do not have access to this content

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30 May 2017
9789210606219 (PDF)

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Global progress on the Sustainable Development Goals will depend to a large extent on the collective action of South Asia to implement them. The sub-region indeed accounts for almost one fourth of the world’s population, 36 per cent of the world’s poor and nearly half of the world’s malnourished children. The sub-region’s success in implementing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, however, hinges on addressing current capacity gaps and strengthening the means of implementation. Recognizing the host of challenges faced by the sub-region, UNESCAP has attempted in the present Report, to unpack the 2030 Agenda at the sub-regional level, outlining tangible, high priority and relevant policy actions that are critical to achieve sustainable development in South Asia. The Report identifies seven key priorities that can help accelerate the SDG achievement in South Asia by leveraging the relationships between the Goals. Based on rigorous policy simulations and evidence, it offers insight into ways a regionally coordinated sustainable industrialization strategy could generate more than 56 million new jobs by 2030 in South Asia, and lift 71 million additional people out of poverty, relative to a business-as-usual scenario. It is hoped that this Report will be useful for analysts and practitioners of development policy in the sub-region and beyond, in stimulating a debate on the ways and means of bringing sustainable prosperity to all in the dynamic and population subregion of South Asia.

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  • Foreword

    South Asia’s economic dynamism and promising prospects provide confidence in the subregion’s ability to transform itself and build a sustainable future for all. A determined political will is, however, required if the subregion is to expeditiously adopt and implement the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. To do so, the subregion will need to mainstream the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) into national development plans and budgets as well as reorient growth frameworks to be inclusive, equitable and promote low-carbon development pathways.

  • Executive summary

    The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) present a unique opportunity for South Asia to eradicate poverty and provide a life of dignity to all its people. Despite their economic dynamism and remarkable achievements with regards to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), South Asian countries still account for 36% of the world’s poor, nearly half of its malnourished children, and suffer from a number of development and infrastructure gaps. A disproportionate concentration of the deprived populations in the subregion that accounts for a quarter of the world’s population means that the global achievement of the SDGs will not be possible without South Asia achieving them.

  • Acknowledgements

    Under the overall direction and guidance of Dr. Shamshad Akhtar, Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations and Executive Secretary of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP), the preparation of the Report Achieving the Sustainable Development Goals in South Asia: Key Policy Priorities and Implementation Challenges was led by Nagesh Kumar the then Head, UNESCAP South and South-West Asia Office (UNESCAP SSWA) and currently Director, Social Development Division. The core Report team comprised Ivana Brnovic, Matthew Hammill, Joseph George, Swayamsiddha Panda and Wanphen Sreshthaputra of the UNESCAP SSWA. Kaveh Zahedi, Deputy Executive Secretary for Sustainable Development provided valuable advice and guidance. The Report has also benefited from comments provided by Hongjoo Hahm, Deputy Executive Secretary for Programmes.

  • Explanatory notes

    The designations employed and the representation of the material in this publication do not imply the expression of any opinion whatsoever on the part of the Secretariat of the United Nations concerning the legal status of any country, territory, city, or area, or of its authorities, or concerning the delimitation of its frontiers or boundaries.

  • Abbreviations
  • Introduction

    The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, comprising 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) adopted by world leaders at the United Nations Sustainable Development Summit in September 2015, is especially relevant for the eight countries of South Asia (Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka). Despite the subregion’s economic dynamism and remarkable achievements of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), South Asia still accounts for 36% of the world’s poor and suffers from a number of development and infrastructure gaps. Given its large and growing population, which currently represents nearly a fourth of the world’s population, the subregion has a critical role to play in the global achievement of the SDGs.

  • Outlook for sustainable development in South Asia

    South Asian countries’ record of MDG achievements has been mixed. The subregion has reduced extreme poverty by 54.7% from the 1990 level, overshooting the MDG target of 50% reduction (Table 1). It has also met its MDG targets on universal primary education enrolment and completion. However, at 59% in 2014, the subregion’s net secondary enrolment rate lagged behind the current global average of 65%. Girls, especially in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and children from lower socioeconomic strata and lagging regions continue to have lower access to primary education. Quality of education has often been poor, particularly in rural and remote areas, with low student achievement levels in most of the countries. The outcomes are partly explained by low public expenditure on education as a percentage of GDP, ranging from 1.7% in Sri Lanka, or 2.0% in Bangladesh, to 3.9% in India and 2.5% in Pakistan, well below the recommended threshold of 6%.

  • Key policy priorities for achieving the SDGs in South Asia

    Consistent with the unfinished MDG agenda and emerging development challenges faced by the subregion, at the 18th SAARC Summit, the leaders of South Asia identified the following key development issues for South Asia: poverty alleviation; jobs for youth; agriculture and food security; health and education; women and children and social protection; energy, environment and blue economy. In this context, this Report has identified seven strategic policy priorities for addressing these challenges and operationalizing broad-based and integrated SDG achievement in South Asia.

  • Institutional arrangements for implementing the SDGs

    Several institutional changes are required to effectively implement the SDGs, at national, local, subregional and regional levels. The following section discusses these changes according to the level at which they need to be taken.

  • Addressing the capacity Gaps and means of implementation

    South Asian countries will need support with the means of implementation if they are to achieve the 2030 Agenda. The means of implementation are included under select SDGs, as well as under SDG 17, and covered in the Addis Ababa Action Agenda (AAAA) on Financing for Development. These include finance, technology, capacity-building, trade, policy coherence, data and monitoring and multi-stakeholder partnerships. The key priorities for countries in South Asia in this respect are described below.

  • Concluding remarks

    With nearly a quarter of the world’s population and 36% of the world’s poor, South Asia holds the key for the global achievement of the SDGs. Given its large population base and huge burden of implementation, the pursuit of the economic and social goals must go hand-in-hand with ecological sustainability considerations to avoid an increase in carbon emissions and a depletion of natural resources. The 2030 Agenda therefore presents a unique opportunity for South Asia to eradicate poverty and other deprivations and provide a life of dignity to all its people in a more sustainable, integrated and balanced manner.

  • Endnotes
  • Selected indicative sustainable development indicators for South Asia
  • References
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