Third world countries lag far behind their counterparts in the developed world in terms of development primarily because of directionlessness and shortsightedness in the realm of policy formulation. In these countries, the development policies are, unfortunately, marred by a myopic thinking of getting re-elected just to stay in power; thus, true meanings of development are lost in the process. This is an appalling dilemma of the countries like Pakistan where development is confined to building physical infrastructure and that too at the cost of wellbeing of the masses.
Global development agenda set either by the United Nations (UN) or any other organization are always a blessing in disguise for the countries where holistic development programmes do not catch the sight of those at the helm of affairs. These agenda force and motivate the third world countries to design their development programmes in tandem with global development goals and targets. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which replaced the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in September 2015, are to be achieved by 2030.The SDGs are a global set of 17 goals which are aimed at addressing all the three important dimensions of development—social, economic and environmental.
The MDGs have been instrumental in triggering the global efforts to reduce poverty in the developing world during the period 2000-2015. The MDGs played a significant role in the overall development worldwide, but all the targets could not be achieved. Much needs to be done in Africa and Asia when it comes to eradicating poverty, illiteracy, maternal mortality, and combating HIV/AIDS and protecting environment. For example, at present, nearly 1 billion people, according to the World Bank, still live on less than $1.25 a day and more than 800 million people do not have enough food to eat. Majority of these people reside in Africa and Asia.
The major difference between the MDGs and the SDGs is of application and scope. The SDGs, as compared with the MDGs, are universal in nature. Sustainability of the development programmes is not something that the developing world relates to, it is equally important for the developed world as well. The development must be sustained for the future generations. So, the SDGs are now applicable to each UN member state and this very nature of these global goals offers unique opportunity to work collectively for their attainment.
Pakistan failed terribly to achieve the MDGs. There are 9.8 million stunted children in Pakistan, according to recent reports, and the country is ranked third in the world in terms of having the greatest number of children with stunted growth. According to an estimate, 45 percent of the children in Pakistan are stunted and 39 percent do not have access even to a decent sanitation. According to Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI), 4 out of 10 Pakistanis—nearly 39 percent—are poor. More than 40 percent of the people lack access to clean drinking water. Literacy rate is 60 percent; the lowest in the region. As far as environment is concerned, Pakistan is among the top ten countries in the world that are badly hit by global warming and climate change.
Amidst these circumstances, SDGs assume more importance for us. Learning lessons from a bad MDGs experience, the government needs to devise an overarching policy by taking all the stakeholders on board. Albert Einstein once dubbed insanity as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. In order to develop different policy to achieve different results, the government needs to take the following points into consideration.
Firstly, after the 18th Amendment, the matter of social sector development rests with the provinces. Being the signatory to the SDGs, the federal government must liaise with the provincial governments. Ministry of Planning, Development and Reform should also coordinate with other federal ministries regarding the implementation of SDGs. This must be taken as a collective responsibility by all the stakeholders. Earlier this collectivity was missing in case of MDGs. This must not be repeated, if we are actually interested in achieving the goals.
Secondly, reliability of data is a matter of great concern for the policymakers and researchers. Reliable data are important instruments to know the country’s present standing. It also helps in fixing the problems. Sadly, the last census in the country was held in 1998. It was only in 2016 that Pakistan gave its official figure of poverty since 2005-06. Pakistan Bureau of Statistics needs to come out of the deep slumber by providing reliable data so that we may stand sure-footed while analyzing the problems facing the country.
Thirdly, MDGs were taken as externally-imposed agenda. Had the government been serious in attaining them, the results would have been entirely different. Keeping in view the socioeconomic indicators, the SDGs should be taken as an opportunity to pay heed to much-neglected development programmes, addressing all the essentials of the sustainable development. The government should make the SDGs indigenous agenda, and all the stakeholders should show unflinching commitment to achieving them by 2030.
Fourthly, the government should involve private sector as well. Public-private partnership has been very successful in different fields. Therefore, the government must not hesitate to join hands with the private sector especially in the areas where private sector is well-placed to come up with meaningful contribution.
Last but not least, the leading political parties should also respond to SDGs. As the 2018 election is not that far, the parties should incorporate these development goals in their manifestos. This will sensitize the political workers as well as the public about their importance. By incorporating the SDGs in their manifestos, political parties will stand committed to move toward their attainment. As the global community is determined to extend support to the developing countries to achieve the global development goals, the ruling political elite and other stakeholders must not miss the opportunity to pull the country and the people out of dark valley of backwardness and poverty to the highway of development and prosperity.