UNITED NATIONS, Sep 25 (IPS) — When the UN’s 193 member states reviewed the current status of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), including the eradication of extreme poverty and hunger by 2030, the verdict was mostly failures—and with little or no successes.
The hunger/poverty nexus was best characterized by Alvaro Lario, President of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), who warned last week that under current trends, 575 million people will still be living in extreme poverty in 2030—and as many people suffering from hunger by 2030 as in 2015 (600 million people).
“Hunger remains a political issue, mostly caused by poverty, inequality, conflict, corruption and overall lack of access to food and resources. In a world of plenty, which produces enough food to feed everyone, how can there be hundreds of millions going hungry?” he asked.
According to the UN, all developing countries also suffer from severe debt problems. These countries cannot fund progress on the SDGs if they are facing exorbitant borrowing costs and paying more on debt servicing than on health or education.
“Developing countries face borrowing costs up to eight times higher than developed countries – a debt trap. And one in three countries around the world is now at high risk of a fiscal crisis. Over 40 per cent of people living in extreme poverty are in countries with severe debt challenges,” warned UN Secretary-General António Guterres last week.
The high-level segment of the General Assembly attracted about 88 Heads of State, six vice presidents, 43 Heads of Government, four deputy prime ministers, 41 ministers, seven chiefs of delegations, plus three high-level speakers from UN observer states.
The high-level meetings included the SDG Summit and a forum on Financing for Development (FfD), among others. The active participants also included scores of civil society organizatiions (CSOs).
Mandeep S. Tiwana, Chief Officer – Evidence and Engagement at CIVICUS told IPS that a major reason the SDGs are off-track is because 85% of the world’s population live in countries with severe civic space restrictions which severely impedes meaningful civil society partnerships and deprives communities of innovations in sustainable development, service delivery to the most excluded, and importantly, transparency, accountability and participation in how development policies are implemented.
The ambitious SDG Stimulus put forward by Secretary General Guterres, he pointed out, should be accompanied by guarantees for civic freedoms and effective civil society partnerships.
Otherwise, funds intended for sustainable development, that leaves ‘no one behind’, are likely to be channeled to support networks of patronage and to shore up repressive state apparatuses, he noted.
“It’s unacceptable in this 75th year of the celebration of the Universal of Declaration of Human Rights that civil society activists and investigative journalists should be persecuted for uncovering high level corruption and serious human rights violations”.
He said demanding transformative social and economic policies is a dangerous activity in far too many countries around the world.
“The globe is a facing an acute crisis of leadership due to a toxic mix of authoritarianism and populist nationalism which is leading to unabashed promotion of perceived national interest at the expense of the rules based international order intended to create a better world for all,” Tiwana declared.
Guterres gave a new political twist to the SDGs when he said the ”goals” were really ”promises”
“A promise to build a world of health, progress and opportunity for all. A promise to leave no one behind. And a promise to pay for it”.
This was not a promise made to one another as diplomats from the comfort of this chamber, he argued. “It was — always — a promise to people”.
People crushed under the grinding wheels of poverty. People starving in a world of plenty. Children denied a seat in a classroom. Families fleeing conflicts, seeking a better life. Parents watching helplessly as their children die of preventable disease. People losing hope because they can’t find a job — or a safety net when they need it. Entire communities literally on devastation’s doorstep because of changing climate. So, the SDGs aren’t just a list of goals, he declared.
In an interview with IPS, Amitabh Behar, interim Executive Director of Oxfam International, said: “Unfortunately, in Oxfam’s programmatic, advocacy, and campaigning work, we see clearly that at this half-way point, we are very off-track to achieve the SDGs.”
The UN SG’s latest progress report shows that 80% of SDG targets are either showing weak progress or regression. Much blame is cast on the pandemic, but in reality – it simply magnified an already bleak trend.
By many measures, he said, Goal 10 is the furthest off-track of all the goals. For example, inequality between countries has risen for the first time in three decades.
Oxfam, a global organization that fights inequality to end poverty and injustice, is bringing this focus on inequality (Goal 10) and how it intersects with the entire 2030 agenda, said Behar who previously served as the Chief Executive Officer of Oxfam India.
At this year’s General Assembly, Oxfam pushed leaders to make bold commitments and more importantly follow-up with action to get the SDGs back on track.
“We know what works to address these challenges, and we know there are more than enough resources to do so. We must ensure that resources and capacity are in the hands of those on the frontlines tackling these complex issues.”
He said the lives and futures of millions of the most vulnerable people are directly impacted by the decisions and actions taken by leaders now and “we are running out of time”.
“We heard leaders reiterating their commitments to tackling issues of inequality, hunger, poverty and more. If they can work together to prioritize and finance the solutions to these issues, there is still hope to get the 2030 agenda back on track.”
Asked what was really needed to accelerate the pace, Behar said: “We are not seeing the financial and policy commitments from leaders needed to tackle the major challenges of our day – economic, gender and racial inequalities, the climate crisis, and the ongoing conflicts and humanitarian crises”.
Most of the trends and barriers which are contributing to the dire state of SDG implementation, he said, were in place before COVID, including the widespread unwillingness to put in place highly redistributive fiscal policy at the national level – or other measures to rein in the power of the top 1% of large corporations, and the failure of rich countries to meet their commitments or responsibilities, climate finance, official development assistance (ODA), debt relief and international finance reform.
“We support the Secretary-General’s emphasis on the importance of financing the SDGs and his call for an “SDG Stimulus” including a surge in development finance, reform of multi-lateral development banks, action on debt relief, the expansion of contingency financing in invest in basic services and clean energy, and to deal with the root causes of this situation”.
“We are calling on leaders to work on these areas so we can regain the momentum we’ve lost on the SDGs and get back on track before we’re too late,” he declared.
IPS UN Bureau Report