South Asia SDG Forum opens with call to accelerate sustainable development progress

Dhaka (ESCAP news) – The third South Asia Forum on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), jointly organized by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) and Government of Bangladesh, opened in Dhaka today with over 100 government, think-tank and civil society participants from eight South Asian countries underscoring the need for accelerated action to achieve the SDGs by 2030.

Mr. Nagesh Kumar, Director, ESCAP South and South-West Asia Office highlighted the need for accelerated action for achieving SDGs in South Asia, noting that with 25 per cent of world’s population, the subregion has a larger share of 36 per cent of all people living in extreme poverty and hunger in the world. He further noted that the world could not achieve SDGs if South Asia fails to achieve them. Citing the ESCAP’s Asia and the Pacific SDG Progress Report 2019, he said that South Asia was lagging behind in 15 out of 17 goals, despite a sustained and robust economic growth rate. In particular, South Asia has not done well in achieving Goal 2 (Zero hunger), Goal 5 (Gender equality and empowerment), Goal 9 (Reduced inequalities), and Goal 11 (Sustainable cities and communities).

Mr. Kumar stressed the need for South Asia to strengthen its means of implementation of the 2030 Agenda, including for finance, technology, market access, data and statistics and capacity building as it would be hard to achieve the SDGs in South Asia without making progress in regional cooperation and global partnerships. In particular, he emphasized the importance of regional cooperation, especially in complementing the national strategies for achieving SDGs, given the shared challenges and vulnerabilities that South Asian face.

Mr. Monowar Ahmed, Secretary, Economic Relations Division, Government of Bangladesh, highlighted the ambitious nature of the SDGs, which cannot be achieved in isolation and need strong regional cooperation among all stakeholders and actors. The development trajectories being followed by all South Asian countries and common challenges shared by South Asian countries related to the availability of reliable, disaggregated data and resource mobilization, calls for a need for raising support for SDG funding and drawing from a common pool of resources to support and sustain SDGs implementation in South Asian countries. Given that three out of four South Asian Least Developed Countries (LDCs) are looking to graduate very soon, including Bangladesh, he emphasized the simultaneous implementation of smooth, sustainable graduation, and the achievement of SDGs in these countries is critical.

Ms. Mia Seppo, the UN Resident Coordinator of Bangladesh, drew attention to the considerable challenges related to climate change and resilience. One of the greatest challenges has been eradicating all forms of poverty and reducing all forms of violence and conflicts. She highlighted further that many sections of the people are marginalized and vulnerable with differential access to common resources.

Mr. Abul Kalam Azad, Chief Coordinator for SDG Affairs, Prime Minister’s Office, Bangladesh, highlighted that the Forum provided a great opportunity to all the South-Asian countries to share their experiences, and to discuss how to overcome the challenges and strengthen the means of implementation. With respect to resource mobilization, innovative ways of mobilizing local resources are key to financing SDGs.

Dr. Puspa Raj Kadel, Vice-Chairman, National Planning Commission, Government of Nepal underlined that the Forum provides room for delegates to share country experiences, explore mechanisms for overcoming challenges related to the implementation of SDGs, review SDG progress, and forge common paths to enhance regional cooperation. He pointed out that while all 17 SDGs and 169 targets are legitimate, governments need to prioritize, localize, and motivate a bottom-up path towards greater progress.

In his inaugural address, Mr. Khandker Anwarul Islam, Cabinet Secretary, Government of Bangladesh noted that the SDG agenda faces several critical challenges such as inadequate resources, insufficient FDI, low tax collection, inadequate data, limited private investment, and other emerging challenges that stem from the sustainable graduation of several Asia-Pacific countries during the span of SDGs implementation. He highlighted the fact that investments in trillions of additional dollars and related strategies to finance the additional funds will be needed.

The Forum serves as the South Asia subregional preparatory process for the 7th Asia-Pacific Forum on Sustainable Development (APFSD) to be held in March 2020, on theme of “Accelerating action and delivery of the 2030 Agenda in Asia and the Pacific”. Inputs from the Forum will also feed into the global High-Level Political Forum (HLPF) 2020.

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