Development report

The Sustainable Development Report 2020 has been released and hotly debated among policy circles. However, many of the readers of the report know but little and they tend to quote the report as the most authentic judgement on the progress of a country. Here I take a deeper look at the report with a reference to Pakistan to clarify some myths.

First, the report is the joint annual publication of the Sustainable Development Solutions Network and Bertelsmann Stiftung, published by the Cambridge University Press.

An annual publication, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) Index claims to track a country’s performance on the 17 SDGs. The report combines data and analyses produced by the United Nations, the World Bank, and others as well as from non-official sources (research institutions and non-governmental organizations).

Second, it is not an official SDG monitoring tool but instead complements efforts of national statistical offices and international organizations to collect data on and standardize SDG indicators. Due to time lags in data generation and reporting, this year’s SDG Index and Dashboards do not reflect the impact of Covid-19.

Third, owing to changes in the indicator selection, the 2020 rankings and scores are not comparable with the last year’s results. The report considers countries’ performances at the goal and indicator level. Three Nordic countries; Sweden, Denmark, and Finland top the 2020 SDG Index. However, every country faces major challenges in achieving at least one SDG.

Fourth, the report relies on 115 indicators with 85 global indicators plus an additional 30 indicators for the OECD countries. The SDG Global Index maps 166 countries. However, 49 (57 percent) of the indicators, more than half, are non-SDG indicators. Therefore, it’s a report on sustainability, not a report on SDGs. Pakistan’s performance dashboard has been constructed on 85 indicators.

The score signifies a country’s position between the worst (0) and the best or target (100) outcomes. Pakistan with an overall Index score 56.2 means that the country is on average 56 percent on the way to the best possible outcome across the 17 SDGs. This score is 11 percent less than the regional average score. Pakistan is categorised in the East and South Asia region that comprises 21 countries including China and Singapore, pushing the regional scores upward.

The country’s SDG Global Rank is 134 (out of 166), lower than neighbouring Bangladesh (109) and India (117). However, Pakistan is among most of the countries in its region (East and South Asia) which are on track in achieving the first SDG (No Poverty).

Despite major challenges, in terms of trends for Goals achievement, Pakistan’s performance is on track against Goal 1 (No Poverty) and Goal 13 (Climate Action). It means end of poverty in Pakistan by 2030 as defined by the Global SDG 1.

Overall, with lacklustre performance, Pakistan’s progress on most of the indicators is off track. In terms of progress on the trends for SDGs indicators, Pakistan’s performance is on track for only for 16 indicators. Trends could not be reported owing to non-availability of enough information against 25 indicators.

Often, the report does not refer to national and updated data sets, thus affecting the ranking and scoring the country. The report acknowledges that around 82 percent of the data relied for the East and South Asian region (includes Pakistan) relates to the year 2016, on average. This means much of the progress that countries including Pakistan made in the last 3-4 years remains unaccounted for in the report. To cite an example, Pakistan is reported facing major challenges in mobile broadband subscriptions (per 1000 population) because of the reference year 2018. It ignores Pakistan has seen a dramatic increase, more than doubled, in mobile broadband penetration over the past four years, and strong growth is predicted in coming years due to further adoption of 4G and eventually 5G services.

Similarly, there seem to be some data errors as well. For example, adjusted GDP growth for 2018 has been reported as -1.80 percent. This indicator is defined as the growth rate of GDP adjusted to income levels and expressed relative to the US growth performance. It is unclear how the authors arrived at this figure. According to National Accounts of Pakistan, the growth rate for 2018 was 5.4 percent. Yet another example, the indicator on share of renewable energy in total primary energy supple is not included in the construction of index though Pakistan has data on it, SDG indicator no 7.2.1. If these and other such observations are considered, Pakistan’s rank might change.

Despite some of the limitations of the report, the report provides a chance for introspection and improvement. Here we identify areas of actions for the Ministry of Planning to take forward.

Under SDG 4 of Quality Education, an extremely worrying indicator is of lower secondary completion rate, 48.2 (2018), lowest in the East and South Asia. The federal government needs to take this up with the provincial governments to focus on retention strategies.

Yet another worrying factor hindering the country’s progress is the ratio of female-to-male mean years of education, at 58.5 (2018). In part, this indicator can be improved through targeted media campaigns for parents where female education enrolment and retention is low.

In the wake of Covid-19 and increased focus on washing hands, Pakistan can improve the percentage of population using at least basic sanitation services. This is an important indicator under the SDG 6, Clean Water and Sanitation. Ongoing media campaigns for washing hands can be strengthened and tweaked to aggressively target areas where basic sanitation remains a challenge.

Two other areas of policy reform with minimal fiscal implications under SDG 16; Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions, are reduction in the number of unsentenced detainees and improving birth registration.

01 Sep 20/Tuesday                                                                   Source: THE NEWS