Weekly Digest

19.04.2021

PROSPECTS FOR NORTH AND CENTRAL ASIA:

MAIN DIRECTIONS FOR PROMOTING THE 2030 AGENDA

 

SDG development prospects in Central Asia

 

In the first quarter of 2020, when news of isolation measures in other parts of the Asia-Pacific region was received, Kazakhstan, like other countries in the region, developed appropriate urgent measures in anticipation of possible cases of COVID-19 in the country. A similar scenario played out in the countries of Central Asia and the South Caucasus, where the first confirmed cases of COVID-19 were reported only in March and April 2020. People were forced to quickly adapt to isolation and quarantine measures.

 

People come first. At the beginning of the pandemic, communities across the region were glued to the news channels, constantly trying to extract more information from the changing situation. Checking the number of infections and getting updates on whether the isolation measures would be extended was common. Inevitably, health systems were quickly overwhelmed, and anxiety among the population increased due to the growing uncertainty. Of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), good health and well-being (Goal 3) were the most affected by the pandemic, with isolation and social distancing exacerbating the situation where vulnerable groups, especially the elderly, migrants, women and people with disabilities, were most at risk. The strain on health resources dedicated to fighting the pandemic has reduced the capacity to support non-COVID-19 patients. Domestic violence and mental health problems have also increased. The pandemic highlighted the vulnerability of existing social systems in North and Central Asia.


Promoting a comprehensive digital transformation. People quickly turned to digital technology to adapt to life in isolation. Distance learning and the ability to work from home were widespread, and e-commerce became the norm. Despite the support of digital technologies, the pandemic has affected people's access to education, working hours, and income. One worrying statistic that emerges from the Asia-Pacific SDG 2021 Progress Report is that Central Asia has recorded the highest percentage increase in out-of-school children and youth among other sub-regions in the Asia-Pacific region. Labor income losses in the sub-region increased by almost 9 percent in 2020 compared to 2019. The introduction of digital technologies has also highlighted the challenges of the digital divide, especially between urban and rural areas. The rural population has limited access to digital products and services, which exacerbates the problems associated with the attendance of online training. As the countries of the subregion accelerate their digital transformation efforts, digitalization must be implemented in a way that promotes the twin benefits of economic development and social inclusion.


Integration of green economy strategies. During the isolation, air quality improved briefly in cities in North and Central Asia - in contrast to harmful emissions in a normal year, especially during the winter months, it is worrying that 85 percent of countries in the Asia-Pacific region do not take environmental aspects into account in their recovery plans, given the close relationship between the environment and people. In North and Central Asia, all regressing SDGs are related to the environment; including sustainable cities and communities (Goal 11), action on climate change (Goal 13), and life under water (Goal 14). Urgent action is needed to reverse these regressive trends. Transport, energy and agriculture are among the sectors that should be given priority in the development of low-carbon systems and infrastructure in the subregion. Green economy strategies must be integrated into recovery efforts to ensure long-term sustainability for future generations.


Accelerated action is needed to achieve the SDGs in North and Central Asia. So far, progress is either slow or stagnant for most purposes, and data availability remains limited. COVID-19 should not serve as an excuse for secondary efforts to achieve the SDGs, but rather as an incentive to advance the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The 2030 Agenda Framework provides a common framework for recovery and future development in the subregion, precisely because its ambitious, transformative and integrated approaches are needed.


Expert opinion:

The review showed that the region is making relatively little progress in implementing the 2030 Agenda and is quite deeply sensitive to the challenges associated with COVID-19. The health care system is not sufficiently prepared for exogenous factors, which is associated with a high overload of medical services. The education of future generations in the region is alarming, as Central Asia has a relatively high proportion of children and young people who miss school. Moreover, along with social factors, little attention is paid in the region's economies to the development of the environmental aspects of post-pandemic recovery. At the same time, according to the 2030 Agenda, the concept of sustainable development is based on the development of three components: economic, social and environmental aspects, so the approaches to the implementation of the 2030 Agenda in the region should be more pragmatic.

 



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