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Are MENA countries on track with achieving SDGs?

Are MENA countries on track with achieving SDGs?
UN in 2015 led its member states to adopt the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development

By: Ingy ElSafy

Mubasher: The United Nations (UN) led its member states in 2015 to adopt the 2030 Agenda with 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that include 169 specific targets, covering social, economic, and environmental dimensions, in order to improve the quality of people’s lives. In the following lines, we take a look at the progress made by the MENA region in achieving SDGs based on recent data.

The achievement of the SDGs differs across the MENA, as more progress has been seen in sub-regions like the Gulf, while there was little progress witnessed two years ago in other sub-regions such as Mashriq.

Between 1990 and 2015, prior to the SDGs agenda, the MENA region succeeded in reducing hunger and poverty from 27% to 16% based on the share of people living on less than $3.20, according to the Economic Research Forum (ERF).

Furthermore, school enrolment was also enhanced, as primary school enrolment reached 104.3% in 2017. The region showed improvements in indicators of infant mortality, as well as child and maternal malnutrition.

Achievement of IsDB MENA Member Countries

Bahrain is topping the MENA region in achieving two SDGs, namely Zero Hunger and Good Health and Well-Being, according to a recent report by the Islamic Development Bank (IsDB), titled “Reaching the SDGs: Progress of IsDB Member Countries.”

The Bahraini performance in these two SDGs was moderately increasing in 2019. Meanwhile, the kingdom maintained the achievement of No Poverty while it was on track with both Decent Work as well as Economic Growth and Industry, Innovation, and Infrastructure SDGs back then, according to the Middle East and North Africa Regional Architecture (MENARA) report on “Sustainable Development in the Mena Region.”

Among the 54 IsDB member countries, Algeria and Tunisia registered the highest achievement levels in North Africa at 72.3% and 71.4%, respectively, followed by Morocco at 71.3%.

The UAE and Oman have the highest achievement rates of 70.3% and 69.7%, respectively, while Bahrain and Egypt both follow at the same level of 68.8%.

Saudi Arabia and Qatar have an achievement level of 65.9% and 64.7%, respectively, while Kuwait is at 63.1%.

Countries like the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Oman, Qatar, Egypt, and Morocco have built on the greater progress they experienced with regard to the SDGs prior to the COVID-19, according to MENARA.

As for the first SDG of eradicating poverty, Egypt has an achievement level of 90.5%. It follows Jordan, which reached 90.8%, while Lebanon, Algeria, Tunisia, and Morocco all have high achievement levels exceeding 95%.

Saudi Arabia and Bahrain have the highest realisation across the MENA region in the Quality Education SDG at 95.6% and 95.1%, respectively.

The UAE tops the region in the Gender Equality goal at 73.7%, ranking third among the IsDB countries.

Following Iraq at 71.5% in the Clean Water and Sanitation SDG, Bahrain and Egypt have accomplished 71.3% and 66.5%, respectively.

Egypt comes in third place, after Bahrain, in achieving the SDG of Affordable and Clean Energy.

Bahrain ranks second in the Decent Work and Economic Growth list, topping the MENA region after achieving 79.5%.

The UAE, meanwhile, advances the Industry, Innovation, and Infrastructure SDG list. Meanwhile, it comes in second place, after Algeria, in the Reduced Inequalities with 85.9%.

Oman and the UAE are the top across the region in achieving Sustainable Cities and Communities with 77.9% and 77.5%, respectively.

In the meantime, the score of IsDB members on the Responsible Consumption and Production goal is relatively high at 89%, classified very satisfactory, where Egypt scores 88%. All GCC countries have achievement levels below 75%, the IsDB report prepared by the Economic Research and Statistics Division at the Islamic Research and Training Institute (IRTI) indicates.

As for the goal of Climate Action, high-income countries among IsDB member states like Kuwait and Qatar show low achievement of 33.8% and 15.2%, respectively, while the UAE is seen at 28.9%. The achievement of Saudi Arabia, meanwhile, is slightly higher at 58.6 %, yet still below the 60% IsDB’s satisfactory level.

As for the Life Below Water goal, Oman tops the region with 70.2%. Meanwhile, Morocco leads the region in terms of Life on Land, with 78.4%, while the remaining countries in MENA score below 70%.

Oman, the UAE, Qatar, Egypt, and Kuwait lead the region and the 54 IsDB member countries in achieving the SDG of Peace, Justice, and Strong Institutions.

The last SDG, Partnerships for the Goals, indicates the highest performance by Algeria and Tunisia at 83% and 80.6%, respectively. The rest of the region scores below 80%.

Regional Hub

Ranking the seventh out of 12 hubs, Egypt Hub which comprises Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Sudan, and Syria score an achievement of 63.1%, slightly above the overall performance of IsDB member states of 61%. Among the 17 SDGs, the six countries in this hub attain the highest achievement of Climate Action SDG.

As for IsDB’s Headquarters Hub, which comprises the six GCC countries and Yemen, it ranks the ninth with a performance of 61.9%. This Hub performs very satisfactory on the SDGs of Quality Education in addition to Affordable and Clean Energy.

About 12% of the Arab world’s population is suffering from undernourishment, slightly higher than the 11% of the globe’s population, according to the World Bank’s latest report on the SDGs in the Arab World.

Meanwhile, 81% of the population in the Arab countries uses basic sanitation services, compared with 68% of the world’s population. People using basic drinking water services and have access to electricity in the Arab world account for 87% and 89% of the population, respectively, compared with 88% and 87% globally.

Most Challenging SDGs to Achieve

IsDB’s Egypt and Headquarters hubs both face challenges in achieving the SDGs of Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure; Gender Inequality; and Zero Hunger.

Inequality, informality, increasing population, low levels of growth, and governance failure are all challenges that hinder the MENA region’s development, according to ERF. The SDGs of Gender Equality and Reduced Inequality are necessary conditions to reduce poverty, end hunger, ensure healthy lives, and increase the quality of education.

Having equal opportunities for men and women in accessing the labour market could yield a 34% increase in Egypt’s gross domestic product (GDP) while boosting income per capita by 50% in Morocco, according to ERF.

“Progress in realising sustainable development in most parts of MENA is slow. Positive changes can be observed – concerning, for example, renewable energy – but even in the case of the most pressing issues fulfilment of the SDGs remains limited,” the MENARA report highlights.

The water-energy-food connection is seen of highest importance compared with other challenges for MENA countries, and to strengthen regional and local sustainable development, all kinds of resources are needed, from financing in the forms of subsidies and funds to knowledge transfer and network-building exchanges. For example, Egypt’s agriculture is an important sector of its economy, as it provides livelihoods for 55% of the population, employs 30% of the labour force, and accounts for 20% of exports and foreign exchange earnings and nearly 14% of GDP.

“The Egyptian government adopted a multi-faceted strategy for improving socio-economic development, applying a policy mix that entails an increase of employment opportunities due to prioritising economic growth, improved land and water use, increasing yields, income and food security due to efficiency improvements, and a more participatory governance,” according to MENARA.

Climate change, meanwhile, is expected to affect the MENA region, as it is the most water-scarce region worldwide that suffers from poverty and an increasing population. ERF cited a report predicting a decline of 0.4% to 1.3% of GDP in MENA countries due to climate change effects, which could rise to 14% if no mitigation and adaptation measures are implemented.

The negative impacts of climate change can also include lower agricultural production, which would threaten food security across MENA. In addition, rural-urban migration could put more pressure on urbanisation and hit the tourism sector.

Human Capital

Human capital could be the most important long-term investment any country can make for its people. Bahrain is the top MENA country investing in human capital, ranking the 47th globally, according to the World Bank. The UAE and Oman follow with global rankings of 49th and 54th, respectively.

Qatar and Saudi Arabia come in the 60th and the 73rd places, while Kuwait and Egypt are 77th and 104th.

“Building human capacity is one of the key requirements needed to make a qualitative shift towards sustainable development. It is recommended to reform the current institutional arrangements at the regional as well as national levels, such as establishing High Councils for Sustainable Development,” according to MENARA.

What Governments Need to Do?

In order to progress on the 17 SDGs, governments have to ensure a balanced system while utilising finance for development. There are several axes to rely on in this regard, namely official development assistance, domestic resources, as well as the participation of the private sector, both locally and internationally.

A sound financial sector could be established by mobilising savings and allocating investments, in line with having consumer and investor protection, effective regulations, in addition to financial literacy and innovation. All these factors would be efficient under a legal framework that boosts trust and confidence in financial agreements and transactions.