Greater regional development cooperation is critical for South Asia to enhance the effectiveness and efficiency of SDG interventions. The subregion has been lagging in terms of its overall progress towards the SDGs. Sharing similar structural constraints and challenges including disproportionate dependency on agriculture, industrial stagnation, huge infrastructural gaps, inadequate access to public services, increasing inequalities and marginalization of the poor and vulnerable sections of the population, South Asian countries collectively reveal characteristics that calls for enhanced regional cooperation. Moreover, bound together by geography, shared natural resources, riverine systems, agro-climatic zones and consequent common environmental vulnerabilities, the subregional countries also exhibits transboundary linkages that make regional cooperation an absolute necessity. The need for greater policy coordination and collaboration is also accentuated by the socio-economic disruptions caused by the COVID-19 outbreak, which has endangered developmental gains achieved by the subregion over many years.
This paper examines how regional cooperation could be utilized as a powerful tool to support and complement the national level SDG implementation efforts. It appraises the main areas of sustainable development that can benefit from enhanced regional cooperation and explores various ways and means to achieve it. The paper finds potential beneficial outcomes of cooperation in a wide range of policy areas including elimination of poverty and hunger, improved access to health, education and universal social protection, trade, connectivity, energy, technology, development financing and environmental sustainability. The paper further presents ways and means to strengthen and build on existing institutional, legal and regulatory frameworks for enhanced cooperation for achievement of the SDGs in South Asia.