Douglas Keh, Op-Ed: Afghanistan and the Sustainable Development Goals

Sep 27, 2015


Sep 27, 2015 — On September 25, world leaders from 193 nations including Afghanistan endorsed an ambitious agenda for global change called the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).  The SDGs represent a fifteen-year agenda (2015-2030) to guide the international community in our shared efforts to achieve three objectives: end extreme poverty, fight inequality and injustice, and protect our planet. At the UN General Assembly, Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah, on behalf of the Government of Afghanistan, committed to pursuing these goals together with Afghanistan’s development partners.

Afghanistan continues to face major challenges in its pursuit of a better life for its people. Yet despite everything, over the past fifteen years, with the Millennium Development Goals as the backdrop, Afghanistan has witnessed some encouraging and noteworthy successes. For instance, there are more than 8 million children—boys and girls— in school today compared to a mere 70,000 in 2001. Life expectancy has increased from 45 to 62 years during this period. In 2001, one in four Afghan children would die before the age of five; today, it is one in ten – still an extremely high number when compared to other parts of the world, but a marked improvement from 15 years ago.

I am hopeful that Afghanistan will see more progress over the next 15 years. Afghanistan today has a large number of trained and committed development practitioners who are passionate about serving their country. It also has experienced leaders who seek to guide this country on a path toward peace.  

Efforts that will help Afghanistan achieve the SDGs are underway. Despite the on-going conflict, small- and medium-sized enterprises have blossomed in various parts of the country, demonstrating the resilience and resourcefulness of a population that refuses to give up. Awareness among civil society of what justice and human rights really mean, particularly for women, continues to grow, contributing to cautious optimism that the rule of law – a prerequisite for any prosperous society – is no longer an unreachable aspiration. UNDP contributes to addressing the conflict and maintaining security through the Law and Order Trust Fund for Afghanistan.

But today I want to bring your attention to the SDGs and climate change. Afghanistan is not a major producer of greenhouse gases by any means – but it will continue to be affected by the changing climate.  Adapting to the risk of increased natural disaster and, in the absence of concerted action on climate change, preparing for a much warmer Earth in about 2 to 3 decades, are priorities that we must all pursue together with a greater sense urgency.

Indeed, inasmuch as the conflict in Afghanistan today is a major cause of suffering and divisiveness, I am of the view that, starting in about 20 years, when the world really starts to witness the terrifying and irreversible impact of global climate change, today’s instability could seem, in retrospect, like a minor preoccupation. 

Initial progress in confronting the challenge of climate change in Afghanistan is underway. More than 180 micro hydropower plants, solar panels and wind turbines today are bringing power to over 36,000 households in many Afghan provinces through National Area-Based Development Programme (NABDP), a joint rural development initiative of UNDP Afghanistan and the Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and Development, as well as by Global Environment Facility’s Small Grants Programme. In addition, NABDP has provided clean drinking water to around 350,000 households in the country through thousands of water and sanitation projects. UNDP looks forward to the imminent launch of a major new project with the Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and Development aimed at expanding access to renewable energy among Afghanistan’s poor.

Unlike 2001, when Afghanistan embarked on the Millennium Development Goals with scarce resources and human capital, there is now an experienced government under President Ghani’s leadership that clearly understands its development priorities, and has the ability to plan, implement and work effectively with key development partners. UNDP, together with our donor partners, will do everything it can to support the Government in the latter’s pursuit of the Sustainable Development Goals. UNDP has recently held discussions with the Ministry of Economy, for example, and we are prepared to support the Government in identifying a “baseline” of where Afghanistan currently stands on the various areas covered in the SDGs, and developing a monitoring and evaluation system to track progress in the coming 15 years. This is precisely the kind of technical assistance that should form the bridge of partnership between the Government of Afghanistan and UNDP. 

Throughout this week, UNDP worldwide is leading a global movement to raise awareness about the Sustainable Development Goals. We are organizing “Social Good Summits” in more than 100 countries around the world to call attention to the newly-adopted SDGs and the importance of working together to reduce poverty and protect our planet - this is probably the last chance for the countries of the world to work together to prevent climatic catastrophe from happening in about twenty years.  In Afghanistan, UNDP in partnership with the Afghanistan Centre at Kabul University and Saba Television is organising a Social Good Summit on September 28th where university students, civil society activists, development practitioners and government representatives will engage in discussions on the SDGs.

I hope you will join this conversation and support Afghanistan to achieve the SDGs by 2030.



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