UN sustainable development goals: Countries need bottom-up approach, urgent actions to meet targets

‘It is high time countries took urgent, extraordinary actions towards a just & inclusive recovery’

By Pragati Prava
Published: Monday 27 March 2023
Most residents of Bilabandha village, Odisha die untimely deaths due to kidney ailments. Residents blame it on the quality of water they have to consume. Photo: Pragati Prava

Seven years after the adoption of Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) — halfway to the 2030 deadline — the visionary promises of no poverty, zero hunger, good health and well-being, social justice and a rights-based, equitable and ecologically just world for all appears to be a distant dream.

The Global People’s Assembly (GPA), organised by the Global Call to Action against Poverty (GCAP) during the 77th session of the United Nations General Assembly in September 2022, highlighted the fact that nations across the globe have failed to achieve both human security and climate change mitigation. GPA voiced the concerns of 1,300 civil society participants from 127 countries representing diverse, excluded and marginalised people.

The 2019 Social Progress Index, compiled by the United States-based non-profit Social Progress Imperative, ranked 149 countries’ social performance over the past five years. It forecast that at the current trends, the world will not meet the 2030 targets for SDGs until 2073 — more than four decades past their target date. It maintained that the biggest areas of underperformance are related to water and sanitation, nutrition, basic healthcare and shelter. 

If we glance through, almost all nations present a grim picture of human conditions. 

Localising SDGs 

I had recently visited Bilabandha village in Keonjhar district of Odisha. Out of 65 families in the village, multiple members of 45 families were affected by kidney ailments. A number of co-morbidity combined with extreme poverty has made their lives a living hell. 

Occurrence of unnatural deaths at an average age of 45 has been a trend for the last several decades. The residents blamed it on the quality of water they have to consume from the local sources. 

The government, however, is yet to address the problem despite repeated appeals by the villagers. Various government schemes for poverty alleviation, free housing, job guarantee and social security pension have failed to provide the villagers a secured and dignified life. 

The Indian government’s endeavours towards localising the SDGs, which emphasises on aligning the local plans of the states and the Union territories with the SDGs scheme, seem to be quite promising. However, they are still at a nascent stage and the result is yet to be reflected on the ground. 

Kenyans losing hope, cases of suicide up

African countries are performing poorly in all aspects of SDGs, especially poverty, hunger, education, peace and justice. 

The condition of people living in informal settlements in African countries like Kenya is miserable, Jane Anyango, director of Polycom, an organisation that works for women living in informal settlements, pointed out at the GPA.

During the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, inhabitants of Kenya’s informal settlements had a very tough time, she said. Entire families were forced to pack themselves in their tiny one-room shanties; they were beaten up by the police for not wearing masks and crowding the streets when they stepped out of their crammed huts to breathe fresh air during lockdown, she added. 

The residents who already suffer scarcity of drinking water had a hard time maintaining hand hygiene. Many people died of COVID-19 because they could not afford protective measures and medical facilities, she elaborated.

People in Kenya are losing hope and cases of suicide are shooting up in the current drought situation, Anyango shared. Local organisations lack access to funding, which makes the situation seem irreversible, she lamented. 

Vaccine inequality 

Vaccine inequality between the countries of global South and Global North in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic is a serious matter of concern, pointed out people’s representatives at the GPA. Countries like Haiti, Madagascar and Nigeria had never heard of life saving antivirals for COVID despite being accessible widely in the global north, said Dr Fifa Rahman, civil society representative of the Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator. ACT-Accelerator is a global collaboration to accelerate development, production, and equitable access to COVID-19 tests, treatments, and vaccines. 

The GPA urged the nations to establish a global roadmap for vaccine equality to ensure free and universal access to all vaccines and treatments, prioritising the most marginalized countries, people and communities to ensure that No One is Left Behind.

Budget cuts to affect millions

Oxfam International’s report titled “End Austerity: A global report on budget cuts and harmful social reforms” shows that 85 per cent of the world’s population will live in the grip of austerity by 2023. This trend is likely to continue until 2025, when 75 per cent of the global population (129 countries) could still be living under these conditions.  

“Post COVID, when social protection mechanisms hold immense importance, budget cuts on public expenditure would affect the lives of millions of people,” pointed out Isabel Ortiz, Director of Global Social Justice Program, Columbia University, at the GPA. International financial organisations need to focus on social protection of vulnerable communities, policies must be formulated negotiating with trade unions, employer federations and civil society organisations to avoid salary cuts of teachers and healthcare workers or commercialising public services such as energy, water and public transportation, and reducing pensions, she added.

Countries catalyse climate actions

Apart from the pandemic and human rights crises, the world is also faced with a climate crisis. Most nations have done “too little, too late” towards achieving SDG 13 (climate action). 

Developing countries like India and Kenya as well as industrialised countries like the European Union, the United Kingdom and South Africa are on track to achieving goals associated with limiting global warming to 1.5-2 degrees Celsius over pre-industrial levels. However, developed countries like the US, Japan and Canada are lagging behind the target. 

“In order to achieve global justice, we must achieve climate justice, and in order to achieve climate justice, we must stop ecocide,” emphasised Emma Buretta of #FridaysForFuture.

#FridaysForFuture is a youth-led global movement joined by thousands on the streets of New York on Fridays to put pressure on the leaders to catalyse climate actions to secure a peaceful, clean and green planet for the future.

Bottom-up approach for sustainable development

When the world is off-track in achieving almost all the aspects of SDGs, countries cannot address the situation with a business-as-usual approach. It is high time they took urgent and extraordinary actions towards a just and inclusive recovery, said Ingo Ritz, director of GCAP. 

He underlined the need for a bottom-up approach and taking inputs from the grassroots groups for sustainable and equitable growth of communities and green recovery. 

The global- and national-level planning to achieve SDGs must incorporate the points of the declaration prepared by GPA. It has galvanised the voices of the most marginalised communities and focused on issues like vaccine equality, democracy and human rights, gender equity, need to meet Paris Climate agreement as well as debt and economic justice.

Views expressed are the author’s own and don’t necessarily reflect those of Down To Earth.

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