Achieving SDGs – Challenges Ahead

Bangladesh is set to celebrate the golden jubilee anniversary of its independence in just a year from now. The country has passed through a long and arduous journey since its hard-earned liberation. The journey was not an easy sailing at all.The country had to struggle a lot to overcome the infamous observation of the then American Secretary of State Henry Kissinger who had termed Bangladesh ‘a bottomless basket case’. It has achieved the targets of Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) set by the United Nations. It has already fulfilled the criteria of graduation from the least developed country (LDC) status to that of a developing country.

At present, the main objective of the country is to achieve the targets of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) set by the UN by 2030. The SDGs mean a ‘universal call to action to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity’.The SDGs, which build on the UN’s previous MDGs, seek to address issues of economic growth, education, health, social protection and climate change. The SDGs were adopted by world leaders in 2016 and came into effect in January 2016.

But the fact remains that the country’s performance in the initial year was not that much encouraging. It scored a rank of 120 out of 157 countries in the SDG Index and Dashboards Report 2017 by the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network.Its overall performance on the index was 56.2, lower than the regional average score of 63.3. Bhutan, India, Nepal and Sri Lanka all scored higher than Bangladesh on the index, while Pakistan and Afghanistan scored lower. Bangladesh has a ‘red’ threshold on 10 of the 17 SDGs, indicating that it needs to overcome major challenges in order to meet the goals.

As such, the country needs wide focuses on eradicating poverty and hunger, reducing inequalities and taking climate action properly in achieving SDGs. Four among the 17 goals of the global agenda – no poverty, zero hunger, reduced inequalities and climate action – are very important for Bangladesh.A recent report of the  General Economic Division (GED) on SDGs financing strategy provides an estimate of the annual resource gap and an opportunity to revise the government interventions and financing strategies accordingly.

The report says that the National Board of Revenue (NBR) must embark on new initiatives based on reforms, automation, capacity development and audit to improve revenue mobilisation to the required level to meet the need necessary.The moot point is that Bangladesh needs to address the four areas – no poverty (Goal-1), zero hunger (Goal-2), reduced inequalities (Goal-10) and climate action (Goal-3) – properly to get successes in implementation of the SDGs like it got in the MDGs.

These four SDG goals are, in fact, very important for Bangladesh. If these goals are attained, it will help reach some other goals of the global agenda.Though the country has been posting modest economic growth consistently, income inequality at individual level is leading to consumption inequalities.

If the inequalities are reduced, another goal- gender equalities (Goal-5) of the agenda – will be achieved as because one is related to other ones. Alongside the poverty eradication, Bangladesh needs to address hunger, particularly malnutrition.

Though rise of inequalities is a global problem, Bangladesh needs to reduce inequalities, particularly income-related ones, to gain sustainable development.  Also it needs to strengthen its climate policies – strategies and projects to mitigate and adapt with the impact of the climate change. The impacts of climate change in Bangladesh are now visible as it causes multi-faceted problems.

Climate change leads to many problems, including frequent and intensified cyclones and floods, deeper penetration of saline water, erratic rainfall, drought, riverbank erosion, climate refugees, health disease, food insecurity, water insecurity, landslides in Chattagram Hill Tracts etc.

As per the Paris agreement of Conference of Parties (COP21) held in 2015, developed countries committed to jointly raising $100 billion per year by 2020 to help developing countries cope with climate change, but contributions from them have not been guaranteed as yet.

Negotiation is, however, a very complex process to get the fund or compensation for climate change. Bangladesh needs to build capacity to negotiate to get climate compensation from the developed nations, who are mainly responsible for climate change, and the use the climate fund in adaptation measures. There is a need for ensuring good governance in the use of climate fund.

There are, however, other challenges too on way to achieving the SDGs. It is to be kept in mind that the efficiency gain in public sector spending is a must to that end. Delays in project implementation have deleterious impact on cost as well as on the intended benefits to be accrued.

Achieving the targets of SDGs demands concerted and collective efforts with strong political commitment at all levels. The 2030 Agenda comes at a time when Bangladesh has already kicked off its journey towards an upper middle income country by 2030 and a developed country by 2041.

The country incorporated priorities of SDGs at all its development policies. It adopted an inclusive approach to development so that the poorest and the most vulnerable section of the country can be integrated into its national development efforts.

As the country moves ahead, challenges in several areas, including in resource mobilisation and data management, need to be addressed. Nevertheless, let’s hope that all such works are done on a priority basis to reach the SDGs targets in time.


Shahiduzzaman Khan

The Financial Express, 18 August 2018, Bangladesh