Towards a Better Future
By Shanuka Kaduptiyage
The move towards a more sustainable Sri Lanka is currently underway in tandem with the Sustainable Development Goals introduced by the United Nations. However, the journey hasn’t been easy, especially with a number of road bumps slowing down progress, including the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, which has caused a major paradigm shift on the entire subject of moving towards a more sustainable world and nation.
It is in this context that the fifth South Asia Forum on Sustainable Development Goals was held in Sri Lanka; a result of the collaboration between the Government of Sri Lanka and the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP).
The forum facilitated discussion and deliberation between delegates from a number of South and Southwest Asian states including India, Pakistan, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Maldives, Nepal, Iran, Turkey and others. They gathered together to conduct a number of discussions under the theme, ‘Building Back Better from COVID-19 while Accelerating the Implementation of the SDGs in South and Southwest Asia.’
After holding the inaugural session at Temple Trees under the patronage of Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa on 15 November, subsequent sessions were held both online and in attendance at the Hilton Colombo.
Multiple sessions were conducted over a three day period, where numerous knowledge sharing sessions, panel discussions and more programmes on various Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and their context for each respective State in the post-COVID era were held.
Addressing the gathering, Secretary to the Ministry of Economic Policies and Plan Implementation, Anusha Palpita, highlighted the importance of the forum as a platform to strengthen partnerships to improve cooperation to advance the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
Adding to his words, the UN Resident Coordinator of Sri Lanka Hanaa Singe-Hamdy noted the importance of the forum in focusing on the discussion of creating inclusive, resilient, and sustainable strategies towards COVID-19 recovery and identifying priorities to accelerate the goals of the 2030 Agenda with emphasis on climate and environment responsive approaches to building back from the pandemic. She further pointed out that this can be achieved through three priorities of concern in the recovery effort: Climate conscious agriculture, Disaster resilience, and Role of data.
Some of the highlights of the forum include the sessions on national progress, achievements and challenges with respect to the 2030 SDG Agenda in the context of the pandemic. Also a highlight was the session on reviewing of selected SDGs such as Quality Education (Goal 4), Gender Equality (Goal 5), Life Below Water and On Land (Goals 14 and 15) as well as the impact on progress due to the pandemic to discuss challenges to their progress and to propose solutions to accelerate change.
There was also the Policy Dialogue on Regional Cooperation for Sustainable Development in South Asia, highlighting areas of interest in enhancing regional economic integration in South Asia. This covered a variety of subjects on increasing regional cooperation for enhancing sustainable growth in the sectors of freight transport, energy, regional cooperation for addressing disaster risks and building climate resilience and more.
Along with the many programmes, came the launch of the Sri Lanka National SDG portal at the hands of Prime Minister Rajapaksa, which aims to provide an integrated approach in providing relevant information clearly and concisely to the public. Through the portal, over 80 Government institutions in the country will be linked, providing reliable data to help Sri Lanka in its journey to reaching its objectives for the 2030 Agenda. If used wisely, the data made accessible could assist in a range of policy-making measures in the field of improving human development.
Although the pandemic has been somewhat of a rut in the progress of achieving satisfactory results on the path to a more sustainable future, through collaboration with regional bodies and sharing the best practices observed by individual States, South Asian countries have the opportunity to band together in order to create a unified movement in becoming more sustainable, with sensitivity to the specific challenges faced by us in the region today. Programmes such as the South Asia Forum will be instrumental in moving forward towards a better future.