With the fifth anniversary of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development fast approaching, it is timely to assess the current state of affairs. The Agenda, with its 17 sustainable development goals (SDGs) and 169 targets, provides a blueprint for shared prosperity in a sustainable world. However, the world is currently not on track to achieve the SDGs by 2030. Reports published in 2019 by the United Nations High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF) indicate that, despite progress being made in a number of areas on some of the SDGs, it has largely been a slow and even regressive process. Vulnerable populations are still subjected to inordinate levels of suffering, stemming from systemic inequalities and exposure to climate-induced disasters. The global response has not been ambitious and effective enough to stimulate the level of transformation needed to achieve the Goals.
The SDGs and disaster risks are interconnected. Many of the SDGs focus on issues that are underlying drivers of risk. Achieving SDG 1 eradicating poverty in all its forms and SDG 10 reducing socio-economic inequalities would significantly reduce and alleviate the impact of disasters. However, the onset of disasters can also exacerbate poverty and inequalities in societies. The UNESCAP Asia-Pacific Disaster Report 2019 shows that a 1 percentage point increase in exposure to climate events increases the Gini coefficient by 0.24 and decreases education rates by 0.26 percentage points. Our goal to end poverty by 2030 has been severely jeopardised by the increased frequency and severity of disasters in recent years. When you consider that the poorest countries in the world experience a disproportionate share of damage and loss of life when disasters hit, the need to source for effective scalable solutions becomes even more apparent.
One way to address this is by encouraging a humanitarian-development-peace nexus approach. This is not a new concept but it is one that is notoriously difficult to implement effectively. How do you ensure that immediate needs are met in a timely manner, while simultaneously incorporating longer-term development initiatives that address systemic causes of vulnerability? To this end, humanitarian and development stakeholders are constantly striving to find the right mix of humanitarian, development and peace approaches. Working towards the fulfilment of SDGs 11 and 16 for example, with a focus on promoting peaceful and inclusive societies with sustainable and disaster-resilient infrastructure, is a step in the right direction.
As the world enters the ‘decade of delivery’, there is a need to make a concerted effort to meet most, if not all, the SDGs by 2030. The multi-faceted and wide-ranging nature of the SDGs necessitates the need for multi-stakeholder participation, across all sectors. For instance, as part of the Business Avengers campaign launched in September 2019, 17 companies each focusing on one SDG will come together to communicate the overall importance of the Goals as well as showcase their efforts in achieving them. This initiative was conceived as a means to foster private sector collaboration and action in support of the SDGs. Hopefully, this will translate into greater investment in disaster risk reduction and development programmes, which is of particular significance considering that sourcing for such investments has not always been an easy endeavour.
Forging inter-regional partnerships through knowledge sharing platforms is another excellent way to lay the foundation for the achievement of the SDGs and to help communities and governments cope with the numerous complexities of humanitarian challenges. An example of this can be found in the recent ASEAN Strategic Policy Dialogue on Disaster Management (SPDDM), which engaged with members from the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat and the African Union on issues such as disaster management and climate security. Knowledge sharing and building communities of practice can help to bridge gaps between regions, and strengthen collective efforts to address overlapping issues.
At face value, addressing the multifaceted and wide-ranging nature of the SDGs might prove to be a daunting task. However, the agenda’s vision of ‘shared prosperity in a sustainable world’ is not beyond reach. It is imperative that we continue to champion this vision, in pursuit of a better future for everyone.