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Dr Debapriya Bhattacharya on SDGs

Against the backdrop, it is puzzling that those who have sharp differences on wars and conflicts across the globe also agree to work for better future of the world in the next 15 years. Dr Debapriya Bhattacharya, Chair of Southern Voice on Post-MDG International Development Goals, termed this ‘a paradox of SDGs’.

Published in The Financial Express on Wednesday, 14 October 2015.

SDGs in a turbulent time

Asjadul Kibria

When the world leaders gathered at the United Nations headquarters last month to formally adopt the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for the next 15 years, they were well aware of the wars and savageries running riot across the world. While wars in larger scales are destabilising different parts of Asia and Africa, armed conflicts and state-sponsored violence are visible in other regions.  Lack of cooperation among different countries in critical areas like poverty and violence is becoming a growing phenomenon. Adopting the ambitious SDGs in such a turbulent time may be viewed both as a positive move as well as a paradox.

HISTORICAL ANNIVERSARIES: It’s not that the world is facing a turbulent time for the first time. But the year, 2015, is indeed notable for several reasons. It is the year that coincides with a series of historical anniversaries of wars and conflicts which shaped and reshaped the world order.  Seventy years ago in 1945, the Second World War came to an end with the defeat of the Axis power by the Allied forces. It is the 70th anniversary of Hiroshima-Nagasaki atomic tragedy that killed thousands of people besides causing permanent human and environmental damages. The year also marks the 50th anniversary of the arrival of the first US combat troops to South Vietnam, but more importantly, the 40th anniversary of the fall of Saigon that ended the 10-year-long Vietnam War and the final eviction of US forces from Vietnam. The year marks the 25th anniversary of Iraqi invasion of Kuwait that ultimately opened the door of prolonged de-stabilisation in the Middle-East and the Arab world. Again 25 years ago, the three-year-long war in Bosnia came to an end which was noted for ethnic cleansing of Bosnian Muslims and Croats by the Serbians. These are the few but crucial historical events in last hundred years.  Going back over centuries, 2015 is the bicentennial of the Battle of Waterloo.

TURBULENT TIME: The year 2015 is also a year of untold human miseries and doom. The surge of millions of refuges to Europe from the Middle-East, especially from Syria due to four years of war, has worsened the situation. More than two million Syrians got killed in this war where global and regional powers have critical stakes. President Bashar Al-Assad and his government have full support from Russia and Iran while opposition forces are backed by the United States and the European Union, with Saudi Arabia and Turkey in different scales. The presence of Islamic States in Iraq and the Levant (generally known as ISIS) has put the Syrian crisis into a very complex situation. As Russia launches attack against ISIS in Syria, global geo-politics has turned to be more complicated in the last quarter of the current year.

This year Saudi Arabia has sent forces to Yemen. For over 67 years, Israel has been continuing with its annexation of Palestinian territory and ethnic cleansing of Palestinian people, and the year 2015 becomes another brutal year for Palestine. Throughout the North and Sub-Saharan Africa, armed upheavals have taken place in Libya, Nigeria, Egypt, Chad, Niger, South Sudan and Somalia. Other troubled African counties include Ethiopia, Mali and Central African Republic.

Afghanistan and Pakistan are the two most troubled countries in South Asia where consolidation of Taliban militants and US drone attacks make lives of the people increasingly imperilled.  Ethnic cleansing of the Rohingyas by Myanmar creates millions of new state-less refugees in South and East Asia.

These are parts of the global conflict-map, but good enough to grasp the worsening situation. Whatever the reasons underlying the wars and conflicts, it is clear that little cooperation or geo-political will is there to stop all these devastating conflicts.

Against the backdrop, it is puzzling that those who have sharp differences on wars and conflicts across the globe also agree to work for better future of the world in the next 15 years. Dr Debapriya Bhattacharya, Chair of Southern Voice on Post-MDG International Development Goals, termed this ‘a paradox of SDGs’.

PARADOX INDEED: The heads of states and governments at the meeting held at the UN headquarters in New York from September 25 to 27, 2015 categorically proclaimed: “We envisage a world free of poverty, hunger, disease and want, where all life can thrive. We envisage a world free of fear and violence. … We envisage a world of universal respect for human rights and human dignity, the rule of law, justice, equality and non-discrimination; of respect for race, ethnicity and cultural diversity; and of equal opportunity permitting the full realisation of human potential and contributing to shared prosperity.”

All these good words sound encouraging in this turbulent time. But like many previous global commitments, these assertions and commitments may remain confined to resounding proclamations only, if geo-political situation does not improve.

The world leaders also acknowledged: “We are meeting at a time of immense challenges to sustainable development. Billions of our citizens continue to live in poverty and are denied a life of dignity. There are rising inequalities within and among countries. There are enormous disparities of opportunity, wealth and power. Gender inequality remains a key challenge. Unemployment, particularly youth unemployment, is a major concern. Global health threats, more frequent and intense natural disasters, spiralling conflict, violent extremism, terrorism and related humanitarian crises and forced displacement of people threaten to reverse much of the development progress made in recent decades.

POSITIVE FINALLY: These assertions clearly reflect the turbulence across the world where millions of lives are under serious threat. But, at the same time, agreeing to achieving 17 broad gaols supported by 169 targets by 2030 by the 193 member countries of the UN is a highly positive gesture.


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