Sustainable Development in Places of Extreme Poverty

Five years on from their initial implementation, questions are being raised about the applicability of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in places of extreme poverty. In the coming months, here at Afghanaid we will be sharing our experiences implementing various SDGs in one of the most challenging parts of the world. 

What are the Sustainable Development Goals?

The United Nations’ SDGs are an all-encompassing global set of objectives designed to provide countries with a pathway to peace and prosperity. Composed of 17 goals, subdivided into 169 targets and 304 indicators, they address everything from ending hunger and protecting marine wildlife, to making cities sustainable and reducing gender inequalities. 

Acting as the follow-up to the hugely successful Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the SDGs were first introduced in 2015 with the hope that they could be achieved by 2030. What makes the SDGs particularly ambitious, however, is that within this time frame they are supposed to apply equally to all countries, both developed and developing, regardless of individual context. 

Why is this a challenge?

Despite the world being richer than ever before, the Overseas Development Institute estimated that the number of people in extreme poverty across the world is set to increase to 430 million by 2030, highlighting the scale of interrelated poverty and global inequality that endures. The poorest amongst these will also be increasingly condensed in countries which lack the necessary resources to tackle these issues.

Afghanistan and the SDGs

Afghanistan is one of the countries where such a commitment to ‘leave no-one behind’ is most rigorously put to the test. Aside from suffering from 40 years of conflict, Afghanistan’s geography, susceptibility to climate change and natural disasters, and predominantly rural population make it an especially difficult place to operate in.

With 10 years left until the completion of the 2030 agenda, addressing this question is now more important than ever.

How Afghanaid and the Afghan Government utilise the SDGs 

The SDGs inform the design of all of Afghanaid’s projects, which are split between four key themes: Women’s Rights and Empowerment, Emergency and Disaster Risk Reduction, Livelihoods and Basic Services. This means that at the very start of our project design process, there is a consideration of the extent to which particular programmes are in line with the SDGs.

As well as directly being involved in the design of our own programmes, the SDGs also help design Afghan Government coordinated projects that we participate in. In their 2019 SDG National Document, the Government of Afghanistan reaffirmed their commitment to fulfilling the UN’s goals, with the explicit ambition of creating a “democratic political system... boasting both internal peace and security as well as peaceful relations with neighbouring countries…” 

To achieve this aim, since 2015, the Government of Afghanistan has adopted the following three step plan to match the SDGs.

  1. Nationalisation, which involves a critical review by different stakeholders in the country with realisation of national context and circumstances. This process reshaped the government’s SDG priorities to focus on 125 of 169 national targets and 190 of 304 national indicators.
  2. Alignment, this is the phase that aims to make sure national strategies, policies and plans reflect and are geared towards the achievement of pre-existing national targets and indicators.
  3. Implementation, which has come into action in the past year, and, as the name suggests, is about the initiation of the national programmes, projects, and interventions required to achieve the targets and indicators. During the implementation period, monitoring, evaluation, and reporting of the SDGs in Afghanistan are planned to be assessed and revised every three years until 2030.

Although this method of implementation differs somewhat from Afghanaid-led projects, what it does mean is that we have a wealth of knowledge of the goals' implementation from a number of angles.

What we are planning to do

Over the coming months, we will be taking a closer look at several SDGs that are relevant to our work and exploring some of the challenges we have faced in implementing them. Given that Afghanistan was last year ranked at the bottom of the Global Peace Index, and has 54.5% of its population living below the national poverty line, we hope these insights will help contribute to ongoing conversations about the applicability of the SDGs in places of extreme poverty and conflict.