Q&A: Making the SDG agenda work for LDCs

Article, 25 May 2016

Farah Kabir discusses how the Least Developed Countries have been driving their own sustainable development, and outlines what's needed for these vulnerable countries to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.

An image of a man faking injury being treated by a Bangladesh firefighter as part of a training exercise on collaborative search and rescue operations, helping the city to respond more effectively to disasters (Photo: Oregon National Guard, Creative Commons via Flickr)

The Least Developed Countries (LDC) Independent Expert Group (IEG), IIED and the ESRC's STEPS Centre will host a dialogue on Monday, 13 June to discuss the challenges and opportunities that the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) create for LDCs.

Ahead of the event in London, IEG member Farah Kabir discusses how LDCs have been driving their own sustainable development, and outlines what's needed for these vulnerable countries to achieve this set of aspirational goals.

The SDGs seek to bring development that is inclusive, sustainable – and resilient. LDCs have already done much work to build resilience at the community level, what are some examples of this?

FK: We first need to determine what's meant by resilience. Following an extreme weather event, a poor person already living on the margins of society may find themselves slipping further into poverty. Does resilience mean that person is able to recover and bring themselves back to their original situation of poverty?

For me, resilience means having the capacity, not only to manage shocks or stresses, but to move out of existing struggles.

In the North Chanel of Faridpur District in Bangladesh, we worked with a rural community on a riverine island to construct a flood-proof village. Landless families were relocated to homes built on raised mud plinths, able to withstand storm surges, floods and cyclones.

Within the village, women – often hardest hit by the impacts of climate change – were allocated land for rearing animals and growing crops. Community research groups established a framework to monitor the families' resilience – their capacity to manage the impacts of climate change, and how far their livelihoods had improved through the allocation of land.

In an urban context, we worked with the Dhaka South City Corporation to help prepare for hazards such as earthquakes, fires and building collapses. This included training community volunteers to help the city manage such shocks, building capacity within the local fire and civil defence departments to respond to disasters in a more timely and effective manner, and improving gas pipes and electricity systems to help stabilise the supply of utilities in the event of a disaster.

What have been some of the challenges in carrying out these projects?

FK: In both the rural and urban context, efforts to support the development of marginalised groups involves tackling inequality and redressing the imbalance of power.

This links closely with access to natural resources such as land, water and forests – but who owns these resources? In Bangladesh, with its population of 160 million, natural resources are ever more squeezed and equitable access is an ongoing challenge.

What's needed to ensure the implementation of the SDGs stays focused on bringing real change for the LDCs – and avoids getting trapped in bureaucratic debates around target-setting and monitoring?

FK: LDCs need to be in ongoing dialogue with their national governments. In Bangladesh, we maintained conversation with the Ministry of Planning as it prepared its 7th Five Year Plan, setting out how the government will deliver its national development agenda.

The plan took on board some of our recommendations, particularly around measures to support communities heavily impacted by climate change. We saw tangible outcomes as a result of working with the planning ministry in this way.

LDCs depend on each other and strong South-South cooperation is also essential. We need to share each other's learning, knowledge and leadership of how to adapt the global agenda in the national context.

Despite all the promises around official development assistance (ODA), climate finance has been slow in coming and LDCs will have to be very smart and creative in attracting funding to roll out the SDGs at the country level.

This set of goals give us a unique opportunity to transform the lives of citizens all over the world. Governments, donors, development partners and the private sector have taken up the SDG mantra but we still need to develop targets and ways of monitoring progress.

This must to be done carefully, it must be a collective effort – and it must be done with strong civil society participation.

In establishing the Millennium Development Goals there was almost no participation when setting the targets. The SDGs make a big leap where we see potential for developing targets in a more participatory way, with lots of ideas already coming from civil society.

But in many countries we are also seeing the shrinking voice of civil society in political spaces – and that worries me. It's something we need to be aware of and there must be mechanisms in place to enable their participation.

What are your concerns regarding implementation of the goals?

FK: An area that appears to be groundbreaking, but that could go wrong, is the goals' success depending on strong global partnerships, particularly in relation to the private sector.

The private sector will go where there is profit. I see large multinationals thinking more about opportunities that await them and I see big business getting ready to explore new trade avenues with LDCs.

That's fine – but I also see too much caution from governments around, for example, collecting tax revenues. LDCs need to get much tougher on taxing the private sector if they are to raise the finance needed to achieve the SDGs.

With more dialogue around the goals there's increasing awareness of the private sector's role in implementation of the SDGs. But LDCs still have some way to go in working out a partnership that will engage the private sector while benefiting the poor and marginalised.

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