This week in New York, the United Nations’ grandly-titled High Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development is reaching a crescendo. It’s not quite the level of chaos as the UN General Assembly that takes place in September when monarchs, presidents, prime ministers and their entourages bring Manhattan to a Delhi-style gridlock. But the HLPF, as it is known in the development jargon, is a mind-boggling cacophony of experts and meetings all trying to get a handle on how we can deliver on the hugely ambitious Sustainable Development Goals (SDs)agenda by the 2030 deadline.
The HLPF has a significant role to play in achieving the SDGs as it serves as a global platform for the delegates who review the targets, note the positive momentum, warn about the challenges that leaders will face in the following year and provide suggestions that can help the world in moving forward on the right path. These discussions are vital as they will help in turning the highly ambitious goals into a reality.
The evidence from the discussion so far is that three years in, we are only now getting to grips with how hard this is going to be. And there are only 12 years to go to figure out and implement a solution.
To get a sense of the challenge take one of the ‘simpler’ challenges: eradicating hunger. This is a real problem for India but one where we have made real progress in the last decade. If we go by the India Social Progress estimates, the country has observed significant progress on Goal 2 — end all forms of malnutrition by 2030. The average score for the country on the Nutrition & Basic Medical Care pillar(reflecting Goal 2) has increased at a Compound Annual Growth Rate of 3.09 per cent. However, even if we maintain our current rate of progress against hunger, we will fall well short of the lofty goal that no one should go to bed hungry.
Why? Because the fight against hunger in India is not a problem with one solution. Behind the averages is a considerable diversity of states and districts, where some are doing better than the others. At the state level, Kerala, Manipur and Goa are doing exceedingly well. The rates of stunting, wasting, underweight children are lower than the country average in these states, and therefore their scores on Nutrition & Basic Medical Care are high. On the other hand, Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh are the ones that require immediate attention. These states form the lower tier on the Nutrition & Basic Medical Care pillar due to the high prevalence of hunger. For instance, the incidence of underweight children in Jharkhand (47.8), Bihar (43.9), Madhya Pradesh (42.8), Uttar Pradesh (39.5) and Rajasthan (36.7) is way higher than the country average of 28 per cent. The same holds true for rates of stunting, wasting and anaemia, among others in these states.
Similarly, there exists diversity within the states as well. For instance, the Nutrition & Basic Medical Care scores of Rajasthan’s districts range from 45 (Banswara) to 70 (Sikar). The scores on the higher end are comparable with some districts of Kerala and Manipur.
Therefore, it is important for us to realise that unless we focus our efforts on the states and districts that are struggling the most, we will not achieve this laudable goal. However, it is encouraging to note that states in the lower tier have driven progress during the last decade. The scores for this tier have grown at an average of 18.9 per cent against the country average of 3.09 per cent.
The lesson here is that SDGs are not about one top-down plan for the planet. If we wait for the experts in New York to figure it out, we will still be waiting in 2030. Only if we can turn the vision of the SDGs, a world where no one is left behind, into local action – country by country, state by state, city by city, district by district, community by community – do we have a chance to make this a reality.
The Social Progress Index for India is the roadmap that can guide these actions. Through the SPI we already know, district by district, where we stand on the SDG agenda, from hunger to sanitation, to health, to inclusion. It is now up to government, businesses, and NGOs to take the actions necessary to tackle these problems. Today, not in 2030.
(Amit KAPOOR is chair, Institute for Competitiveness. He can be contacted at [email protected] Michael Green is CEO for Social Progress Imperative. The views expressed are personal)