Positive signs as Asia-Pacific moves toward global development goals

Positive signs as Asia-Pacific moves toward global development goals

Shamshad Akhtar*
With just over a year since the adoption of a historic blueprint to end poverty and protect the planet, positive signs have already started to emerge among countries in the Asia-Pacific region as they push ahead with the implementation of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

It is encouraging to note that most countries in the region have made serious attempts to domesticate the landmark global action-plan by developing national sustainable development strategies– a first and crucial step if we are to fully realize the ambitious targets set out in the landmark agreement. 

Steady economic growth over the past year has seen a decline in poverty and an improvement in the quality of life. A bright spot worth highlighting is the progress on gender equality. Gender parity has been achieved in primary education, and maternal mortality rates have been brought down across the region with the exception of certain pockets. 

Notwithstanding these incremental gains, a number of outstanding challenges remain, which may scuttle our collective efforts if not effectively addressed.
A joint study undertaken by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), the Asian Development Bank (ADB), and the U.N. Development Program (UNDP) reveals that some 400 million people in Asia and the Pacific region continue to live in extreme income poverty and more than one in four people experience poverty in multiple dimensions that impact their health, education, and standard of living. South Asia is the worst affected with 15 percent of the population living in extreme poverty and 86 percent living in rural areas where income diversification opportunities are limited and challenges of poor natural resource management persist.

With 12 percent of the population, or 490 million people, still undernourished in our region, ending hunger and poverty will heavily depend on introducing sustainable food production systems and more resilient agricultural practices.  

Enhancing the health of citizens will also require an expansion of coverage of health services in many countries. This means increasing government spending on health, as per capita government spending is as low as $4 per person in low income economies of our region.

As a whole, the region has also experienced declining biodiversity levels. This is a major source of distress for Pacific island economies, where the value of fish caught in the territorial waters of some small island developing states is worth up to three times their GDP. Future risks to ocean resources are further underscored by the fact that 40 percent of our oceans are heavily affected by unsustainable practices.

Needless to say, these challenges must be urgently addressed. Strong continued leadership, knowledge sharing and U.N. system collaboration are pivotal tools that will move us all closer to realizing the aspirations set out by the 2030 Agenda. 

ESCAP remains committed to strengthening the capacity of countries, so they can embrace integrated strategies to confront the multidimensional facets of poverty, and promote the opportunity for prosperity for all.

ESCAP held the Asia Pacific Forum on Sustainable Development (APFSD 2017) in Bangkok from March 28-31, bringing together senior representatives from across the region to define a road map that will support member states’ implementation of the 2030 Agenda over the next 15 years.

Forums like these are key to marshalling the international support required to achieve this ambitious agenda. Advancing the SDGs in Asia and the Pacific is central to achieving the global 2030 Agenda. 

* Dr. Shamshad Akhtar is an Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations and the Executive Secretary of the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP).