The South Asia Forum on the SDGs (SAFS) was conceived as the subregional preparatory meetings for the Asia Pacific Forum on Sustainable Development (APFSD) to be held in March 2022, which in turn contributes towards the annual High-Level Policy Forum (HLPF). They have been organized by the South and South-West Asia office of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP) in collaboration with South Asian member States, stakeholders and partners since 2017. The Forums facilitate dialogue and deliberations between Government officials, civil society, think-tanks, experts and other stakeholders on the themes of the annual APFSD and the HLPF, providing a unique opportunity to share information on subregional implementation efforts, highlight subregional priorities and share good practices. The outcomes and recommendations from the Forum feed into regional and global processes, in particular the annual APFSD and HLPF. The Fifth SAFS is being jointly organised by UNESCAP and the Government of Sri Lanka.
Countries of South and South-West Asia are not on track to achieve any of the 17 Goals without concerted efforts from all stakeholders to accelerate action in the Decade of Action for Achieving the 2030 Agenda. The unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic has undermined South and South-West Asia’s progress towards achieving the SDGs, making it critical for the subregion to build back better, aligned with the 2030 Agenda for sustainable development. UNESCAP’s flagship SDG progress report 2021 finds that the South and South-West Asia subregion has made most progress on no poverty (SDG 1), zero hunger (SDG 2), and good health and well-being (SDG 3). Among the priority areas that require urgent accelerated action to reverse negative trends are reduced inequalities (SDG 10); Sustainable cities and communities (SDG 11); climate action and life below water (SDG 13 and 14); and Peace, Justice and strong institutions (SDG 16). The far-reaching, mutually reinforcing impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, poses further hurdles in the way of the subregion’s efforts to accelerate SDG implementation, making it critical to strengthen the means of implementation and partnership for the goals (SDG 17).
With a population of 1.8 billion (25% share in world population), the South Asian subregion (Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka) has a crucial role to play in the global achievement of the SDGs. Despite economic dynamism and steadily high rates of economic growth in the past decade, South Asia accounts for disproportionately high share (34 percent) of people living in extreme poverty and other multiple and often, intersecting socio-economic deprivations. With a global share of 37% in people who are undernourished and 40 million stunted children under the age of 5 years, South Asia accounted for almost 39% of children under 5 years of age suffering from stunting. With persistent development challenges, including low levels of intraregional trade, poor cross-border connectivity, wide infrastructure gaps, pervasive informality, lack of decent work opportunities and low rates of female labour force participation. The subregion remains particularly vulnerable and lacks adequate coping capacities to address the severe socio-economic effects of the pandemic. Recovery efforts from the COVID-19 pandemic must focus on implementing the 2030 Agenda. ESCAP Resolution 77/1 calls for greater regional cooperation at all levels to build back better, for getting back on track to achieve the SDGs and to build resilience to future pandemics and crises.
Against this background, the “Fifth South Asian SDG Forum” will focus on inclusive, resilient and sustainable strategies towards COVID-19 recovery efforts and identify priorities to accelerate the Goals of the 2030 Agenda, with emphasis on climate- and environment-responsive approaches to building back better from the COVID-19 pandemic. The theme of the 2021 SASF is aligned with the theme of the 2022 HLPF and the APFSD, “Building back better from COVID-19 while advancing the full implementation of the 2030 Agenda. The Forum provides an opportunity to discuss how the South and South-West Asia subregion can cooperate to assess progress on the thematic SDGs for review by the HLPF in 2022, i.e., Goals 4 (Quality education), 5 (Gender equality), 14 (Life below water), 15 (Life on land) and 17 (Partnership for the Goals).
As part of the follow-up and review process for the SDGs, all countries in the subregion submitted their first Voluntary National Reviews (VNRs) by 2019. Turkey presented its second VNR in 2019, while Bangladesh, Nepal and India presented their second VNRs in 2020 and Afghanistan and Bhutan submitted their VNRs for the second time in 2021. Sri Lanka intends present its second VNR in 2022. In this context, this year’s Forum will focus on experiences of member States participating in voluntary national reviews, and focus on national and subregional perspectives on challenges, progress and achievements, lessons learned as well as, forward-looking dialogue on partnership to accelerate the progress of SDGs.
As a subregional preparatory meeting, the Forum seeks to bring together multiple stakeholders from the government, international community, civil society, academia and the private sector on a common platform to discuss achievements and challenges in the process of implementation of the 2030 Agenda, assess progress on the thematic SDGs for review by the HLPF 2022 and advance regional cooperation to build back better from the pandemic.