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Tuesday, November 28, 2023

Will Pakistan meet its Sustainable Development Goals?

History is full of failures due to the government playing a repressive rule, encouraging social unrest, greed, injustice, poor healthcare, mass human rights violations and a fragmented economy. In a battle for supremacy, the leading players are caught in the crossfire, with no dates in sight for democratic elections in the country, catapulting a civil war-like situation within the country.

In the aftermath of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, it is evident that Pakistan faces dire challenges across the board, with the economy on the downside since this time last year. Last year’s theme at WWF was ‘stakeholders for a cohesive and sustainable world’, which remained a distant illusion as the country representatives presented Pakistan, as facing uncertain times. It seems that the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were not met as committed, with time running out to ensure Pakistan meets its commitments made last year.  At the time, the government of the day was in a progressive mode, with the economy steadily on the road to recovery. This year, we saw the country limp its way out of the crisis, battered by the deadly flood crisis and reeling from the damage left behind.

Prime Minister of Pakistan and his delegation made many speeches on the sidelines of the summit where the main challenge was to pitch the ‘ Pakistan perspective on climate change’. Being the 5th most populated nation, after China, India, USA and Indonesia, its global GDP contribution among these six most populous nations stood at a negligible 0.4%, out of a total of 65% – their combined contribution to global GDP growth. That alone speaks volumes when it comes to the state of the country in terms of diversity and inclusion. More than 53% of the country’s population are women and half of them do not contribute to the economy. According to the world population survey results from last year, the projected population growth of Pakistan will exceed in excess of 300 million people by the year 2050.

Read more: SDGs and Climate Justice: The Case of Pakistan

Understanding the matter better

Last year, the world population survey analysis 2005-2015 indicated that Pakistan is one of six nations where the projected population growth will exceed in excess of  300 million by the year 2050. Being climate-sensitive, the nation was hit by one of the most destructive floods, wiping our households in 3 of the 5 provinces, destroying agricultural yield, forcing mass rural migrations to urban centers, and fueling the already burning environmental crisis, through flash floods and heavy rains. As a result, homes and infrastructure were damaged.

This year at the DAVOS platform, over 2700 leaders connected together to tackle major environmental and economic challenges, revolving around the theme: ‘Cooperation in a fragmented world’. Solutions were sought by some of the most powerful leaders from global civil society, government and the corporate world.

At the summit, the Pakistan delegation on climate change managed to put forward the  ‘climate-injustice narrative’, identifying the need to engage in immediate public-private partnerships, foreign direct investment and intra-country alliances in helping the country of a major ‘climate crisis’. The recent decrease in foreign exchange reserves comes at a difficult time for a nation, where basic food, water and housing is a major developing challenges for the government, due to poor governance, weak tax collection and the inability to curtail non-development expenditures.

History is full of failures due to the government playing a repressive rule, encouraging social unrest, greed, injustice, poor healthcare, mass human rights violations and a fragmented economy. In a battle for supremacy, the leading players are caught in the crossfire, with no dates in sight for democratic elections in the country, catapulting a civil war-like situation within the country. The recent increase in the price of fuel has further led to an all-time increase in prices of basic food items like wheat and other commodities.

Did Pakistan meet its millennium development goals (MDGs) in 2015?

In Pakistan, people are fatigued and desperately seeking the help of the country’s leadership to help ordinary citizens survive. In the 61st session of the UN commission on social development, Pakistan pressed upon the global community to ensure the ‘pandemic of inequality’ is not allowed to destroy developing nations and that borrowing costs must be immediately reduced or even eliminated for some nations to survive this catastrophic crisis of ‘debt deficits’ with an immediate need to provide ‘debt relief’ to nations impacted by climate emergencies. A recent report by a UN expert further stated that ‘the increasing debt burden faced by most indebted developing nations may be unsustainable today, presenting the greatest challenge in eradicating poverty’.

By 2050, Pakistan is expected to have around 309 million people. The Water Crisis may lead to Water Wars. Future decisions will have to be made by governments looking beyond individual welfare to propose solutions in the national interest of the people. The Pakistan Council of Research in Water Resources (PCRWR) has warned that the country may run dry by 2025 if the authorities didn’t take immediate action.

Read more: SDGs: Is Pakistan doing better than its neighbors?

According to reports, the Islamic country touched the “water stress line” in 1990 and crossed the “water scarcity line” in 2005. Pakistan has the world’s fourth highest rate of water use globally. It’s water intensity rate-the amount of water, in cubic meters, used per unit of GDP is one of the highest globally.  This suggests that no country’s economy is more water-intensive than Pakistan’s.

Despite the historic challenge of economic stability, Pakistan managed to show improvements since SDGs replaced the millennium development goals in 2012. Poverty was reduced by 26% since 2018 while stunting and malnutrition decreased by 6-9 % between 2013-2018. In 2016, Pakistan became the 1st country, successfully integrate its SDGs into its agenda for development.

The country also designed a ‘national SDGs framework’, taking a firm stance on ensuring transparency at many levels, building meritocracy, improving monitoring and evaluation mechanisms, promoting gender equality and working towards women’s empowerment. Pakistan also had the highest number of legislations related to SDG 16 (Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions), SD8 (Decent Work and Economic Growth) and SDG4 ( Quality Education).

Things were progressing well for the nation as many reforms were introduced from 2018 to 2021, leading the country towards progress. In 2022, things took a drastic turn towards disaster as the government had a fallout and in less than 6 months, Pakistan was hit by internal and external threats, that continue to this day.

Today, Pakistan fears a massive power crisis, a severe health emergency, a looming economic crisis and a devastating post-flood climate crisis. Will Pakistan meet its sustainable development goals? Possibly yes.

The way forward

On the UN Sustainable goal index, Pakistan was 115th in 2016, falling down to the 130th spot in 2019. Today, Pakistan is expected to further slide down a few more notches, as it deals with growing public unrest and a feeble government, that has failed its people. Pakistan must embark on its battle for ‘social justice and well-being’ and must unite against its enemies by moving towards the restoration of democracy.

For Pakistan, there are challenges ahead on SDGs. Firstly, economic growth must increase the pace, backed up by improved governance and a consistent influx of foreign investment and development assistance over the next 3 years in a row. Foreign funding will only be achieved if Pakistan rebuilds its severed ties with North America and the Middle East. Without global partnerships and integration through cooperation, it’s a difficult task.

Read more: Pakistan’s poverty alleviation, achievement of SDGs govt’s priorities: FM

Secondly, Pakistan needs to bring back rule of law within its framework by taking strict measures against ‘financial corruption’ by moving towards justice and accountability. This cannot be achieved if Pakistan stands isolated.

Pakistan can be seen slowly moving in the right direction but has been hit by a storm of misgovernance and political chaos. Improving overall environmental governance, ease of doing business, access to cheap energy, enhanced job creation and better public health, it is possible that Pakistan may well be on its way to achieving its SDG goals by 2030. On the pathway to progress, Pakistan needs to build its line of sight with its allies and prepare for free and fresh elections at the earliest. This will steer the country back on track.


The writer works with the health sector and writes on international relations, the environment, the economy and social justice. He is a distinguished broadcaster and writer. He tweets on @zeeshan8244998. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.