The SDGs one year on – how are we doing?

Andrew Griffiths, September 2016

“We cannot let the optimism we felt a year ago dissipate.”

Andrew Griffiths reports on the progress being made so far in meeting the 17 Sustainable Development Goals set for the years 2015-2030:

It has been 12 months since the Sustainable Development Goals were agreed. At this early stage, how we measure what success actually looks like is still rather up in the air – and I would say that they were particularly bad 15-year targets if we’d achieved them already! But there have been some successes so far, as well as challenges highlighted that will need to be addressed in the coming years.

A good example of success is the work being done in Sierra Leone on access to health services. Disability groups have successfully lobbied the Chief Medical Officer to write to all the Provincial Medical Officers asking them to ensure people with disabilities have free access to healthcare. In my view, this is the sort of incremental change we need to reach the targets and goals: in this case, Goal 3.

We’ve also seen a coalition set up in Sierra Leone, coordinated by Caritas and Sightsavers, which is working with the government on its implementation plan and supporting its input into the High-level Political Forum (which was held in New York in August 2016). This has been a huge success, with the government being extremely receptive, and lots of opportunity for civil society to input.

As far as the challenges go, it’s a difficult thing to answer in terms of impact on people’s lives; most countries are still trying to work out not only what they have to do differently, but also how to do it.

Overall, there are two main areas where there has not been the progress we expected:

  • Inclusion and engagement with civil society in implementation planning: the post-2015 process was the most inclusive UN process in history, but this has not translated into inclusive processes at the national level. CSOs have not felt that they have been included and engaged, and often have complained that when they have it has been tokenistic. Together 2030 did a survey of perceptions among its members, and the results are quite interesting.
  • Data: there is still a lot of rhetoric about the importance of data, but generally very little progress. Lots of countries have simply looked at what data they already collect and then discounted everything else. This is really apparent at the High-level Political Forum, where everyone is still saying the same things they were saying in September 2015, and there are very few interesting projects on exactly how to make the data revolution happen (although new ways of gathering disaggregated data are being developed, as Sightsavers’ Everybody Counts project shows).

Two of the key principles of the 2030 Agenda are those of the indivisibility of sustainable development issues and the integration of human rights. So, for us, one of the most disappointing setbacks so far has been the outcome of the recent selection of the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). Despite a strong candidate list (including Sightsavers’ own Gertrude Oforiwa Fefoame) being nominated for positions on the CRPD, the results saw the number of women in the committee of 18 people drop from an inadequate three to an unacceptable one – a real step backwards in representing the voices of women, and particularly women with disabilities, and a blow to the principles outlined in the 2030 Agenda.

I have (rather belatedly) recently read an excellent paper by Molly Elgin-Cossart and Rahul Chandran from the Centre for American Progress which, among other things, argues the best way to hold governments accountable for the implementation of the 2030 Agenda is to make champions out of “countries and cities that demonstrate significant progress toward meeting or have achieved individual goals and targets.”

We are clearly a long way from seeing the hopes of 25 September 2015 realised, but we cannot let the optimism we felt a year ago dissipate – that would mean returning to business as usual. While working on this agenda can sometimes make you feel a bit like Sisyphus, there are stories and examples of progress that we can all look to, highlight and share.

The Sustainable Development Goals – successes and challenges so far: find out more about what’s been happening in the countries Sightsavers works in.


By Andrew Griffiths, Sightsavers’ Head of Advocacy

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