Development Bulletin | Political economics

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Jhe Sustainability Report 2021 (SDR) is a joint annual publication of the Sustainable Development Solutions Network and Bertelsmann Stiftung, published by Cambridge University Press. The report was written by a group of authors, including economist Jeffrey D Sachs. The report does not reflect the views of any organization, agency or program of the United Nations.

An annual publication, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) Index claims to track a country’s performance on all 17 goals. The report combines data and analysis produced by official and unofficial data sources. Most of the data (about two-thirds) is compiled by international organizations, including the World Bank, OECD, WHO, FAO, ILO and UNICEF. When insufficient data is available for an official indicator, or to fill data gaps, other measures from official and unofficial providers are used.

The index is not an official SDG monitoring tool. Instead, it complements the efforts of national statistical offices and international organizations to collect data and standardize SDG indicators. Due to changes in indicator selection, 2021 rankings and scores are not comparable to last year’s results. The report highlights country performance on goals and indicators.

The 2021 report includes 91 global indicators as well as 30 additional indicators for OECD countries. The 2021 SDG Index covers 165 countries. As one of the limitations regarding data availability, in order to minimize bias due to missing data, the SDG Index only includes countries that have data for at least 80% of the variables included in the index world of the SDGs.

The report highlights that the Covid-19 pandemic has been a huge setback for sustainable development. For the first time since the adoption of the SDGs in 2015, the global average score of the SDG Index for 2020 showed a decline compared to the previous year: a drop due in large measure to the increase in rates of poverty and unemployment following the epidemic of Covid 19 pandemic.

The index score indicates a country’s position between the worst (0) and the best target results (100). Countries are grouped only in their geographical regions. The demographic context, the level of conflict or the question of political stability are ignored. South Asian countries are categorized in the East and South Asia region which comprises 21 countries including China and Singapore, pushing up the regional scores. Afghanistan is part of the Eastern Europe and Central Asia region.

Achievement of SDGs by South Asian countries

Despite global Covid-19 pushbacks, South Asian countries’ SDG scores have either steadily improved since 2015 or stagnated but not deteriorated. Progress in South Asia is promising for 1.836 billion people, nearly a quarter of the world’s population. The pandemic is estimated to have caused 48 to 59 million people to become or remain poor in 2021. Hit hard by the economic shock of Covid-19, between 2019 and 2020, the annual GDP growth rate of South Asia fell to -5.7% from 4.04%.

Case studies should be developed and knowledge exchange should take place among SAARC countries to leverage this knowledge and best practice collaboration to improve the lives of people in this region.

South Asia’s average annual growth is projected to be 3.4% over the period 2020-2023, down 3 percentage points from the four years before the pandemic. Some South Asian economies will begin to recover in 2021-222. According to World Bank projections, India’s economy, the largest in South Asia, is expected to grow by 8.3% in the fiscal year 2021-22. The recovery in exports and consumption will help growth rates to recover and reach 6.4% in the financial year 2021-22 in Bangladesh.

South Asia has an average annual index of 63.58 in 2021. This means the region is on average 63.58% on track for the best possible outcome for all 17 SDGs. This score is 2.64% higher than the region’s benchmark score in 2015, the year the SDGs began. With the continued reduction in Covid-19 cases and the onset of economic recovery, the region is poised to show better performance in achieving the SDGs in the coming years.

In the South Asia region, the top three performers are Bhutan (70.02), Maldives (69.27) and Sri Lanka (68.1). Afghanistan (53.56), Pakistan (57.62) and India (60.07) remain the worst performers. Nepal (66.56) and Bangladesh (63.45) show average performance in the region.

Most countries in South Asia face major challenges in achieving SDG 2 (zero hunger), SDG 3 (good health and well-being), SDG 6 (clean water and sanitation), SDG 9 (industry, innovation and infrastructure) and SDG 15 (Life on land). In particular, the performance of all South Asian countries lags behind SDG 15 (Life on land).

Due to a low carbon footprint, most countries in South Asia are on track to achieve SDG 13 (Climate Action). Performance on SDG 8 (Decent Work and Economic Growth) is stagnating in most South Asian countries.

Regional platforms, such as the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) should be used for South-South learning. The Government of Pakistan convened the first SAARC Planning Ministers Meeting on November 25, 2020. The meeting was dedicated to the theme, Achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in South Asia: Shaping the 2030 Vision of SAARC. The meeting agreed to revitalize regional approaches to successfully achieve the Sustainable Development Agenda-2030, in particular with regard to poverty, food security, hunger, health, education, inequalities and financing of sustainable development.

SAARC countries lack fiscal space to fund emergency response and investment-driven recovery plans aligned with the SDGs. The Planning Ministers meeting also raised an important point to collectively raise the voice of debt relief and availability of concessional finance for the SAARC region to effectively combat the Covid-19 pandemic. 19.

There are several opportunities for South-South learning and adopting regional approaches. Achieving the SDGs is a globally shared responsibility. All SDGs are interconnected. A collective approach that strengthens regional economic integration, so far the least connected economic region in the world, can deliver huge dividends in improving people’s quality of life.

The 2021 SDR shows that the Maldives and Sri Lanka are the only two countries in South Asia on track to achieve SDG 4 (Quality Education). The Maldives is the only country in the region that is on track to achieve SDG 1 (no poverty) and SDG 7 (clean energy). Case studies should be developed and knowledge exchange should take place among SAARC countries to leverage this knowledge and best practice collaboration to improve the lives of people in this region.


The writer is a economist and development practitioner based in Islamabad. He can be reached at [email protected] com


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