The ambitious Global Goals for Sustainable Development will be challenging to reach for most countries. In conflict ridden environments like Afghanistan they may even seem utopic. In this seminar, UNDP representatives, the Swedish Ambassador to Afghanistan and the Swedish Committee for Afghanistan discussed what implementing Agenda 2030 means in the particular context of Afghanistan. What key aspects must be addressed to get on the right road? And what are the priorities of different stakeholders in their support to the country?
Haoliang Xu, Director of UNDP Regional Bureau for Asia and the Pacific, started off broadly by discussing SDG implementation in fragile states and pointed to the key role of Goal 16. A special approach is needed in conflict-affected environments and support must be targeted to address bottlenecks. Afghanistan being a member of the g7+, Haoliang Xu stressed that mainstreaming the 2030 Agenda provides opportunities to revisit and embed the five Peacebuilding and Statebuilding goals of the New Deal.
Douglas Keh, UNDP Country Director Afghanistan, discussed the SDGs that UNDP focus on in Afghanistan, following some of the current trends in the country. Despite 15 years of hundreds of billions of aid dollars being poured into the country, poverty has actually increased in the last three years. Furthermore, today Afghanistan’s development budget is 95% dependent on donor aid. This tells us that the focus of the international community has clearly not been on building capacity, but rather on delivery, and this must change in the coming years. It’s all about governance, Keh stressed, again emphasising the importance of Goal 16.
40 years of war and violence have affected all sectors of the Afghan society and the ongoing conflict, currently moving in the wrong direction, directly impacts the prospects of achieving the SDGs. It affects investments and jobs, and increases migration flows directly and indirectly. According to Douglas Keh, Afghans leave the country for three reasons; lack of jobs, insecurity and corruption and the absence of rule of law.
Douglas Keh also exemplified UNDP’s work in relation to Goal 5 on gender equality, which is a huge challenge in Afghanistan but there are historical foundations for a more equal society to build from. He saw some reasons for optimism in the great potential for renewables – including solar, hydro and wind power – on Afghanistan’s road to affordable and clean energy (Goal 7) and promising projects on adaptation to climate change (Goal 13). UNDP will also work with policy support to the government and help bring all the different policy frameworks together. 15 years from now the SDGs will be the only game in town, he concluded.
Anders Sjöberg, Sweden’s Ambassador to Afghanistan, echoed Douglas Keh in stressing that Afghanistan is currently in a very crucial transition phase – politically, economically and with regard to the security sector. He stressed three encouraging trends. Firstly, the President’s initiative to reach out to regional players to settle for peace. Some progress has been made and the ongoing negotiations with one group, if successful, could work as a templet for settlements with other groups. Secondly, regional actors have been brought into the economy, and a number of large scale projects are on the way. Thirdly, the President is serious about tackling corruption, partly because the levels of aid is declining.
Ander Sjöberg ended by mentioning the upcoming pledging conferences in Warsaw and Brussels, stressing that the current window of opportunity must be matched by aid commitments. All the development plans are in place and aligned, including Agenda 2030 and the New Deal, and the Afghan government is in the driving seat. Now it’s time for implementation.
Lastly, Krister Holm, Communications Manager for the Swedish Committee for Afghanistan, shared experiences from the committee’s 30 years of work as a development actor in the country. The committee currently has 5300 employees in Afghanistan, all but 12 being Afghans. With such local and long-term commitment, the organisation has support from the people and all stakeholders, which makes it possible to reach results despite the difficult circumstances.
The long-term perspective of Agenda 2030 is needed for sustainable development, and continued aid commitments are necessary to achieve it. Krister Holm emphasised that Sweden’s long-term aid pledge is commendable, now other countries must join. The committee sees worrying trends that the refugee crises will divert aid funds and that development cooperation is used as a bargaining tool for the return of migrants. These measures are counterproductive according to the committee as cuts in aid will increase migration. Lastly, Krister Holm pointed out that the committee also tries to use its knowledge of Afghanistan to help in the integration process in Sweden, to contribute to inclusion and reduced inequalities in Sweden, targets captured in SDG 10.