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The prescriptions behind the SDGs drew from a global body of knowledge and the lessons of the Millennium Development Goals. All the 191 member states of the UN system agreed to achieve the eight goals by 2015. As with the SDGs, the MDGs dealt more with the challenges of the Third World, yet countries therein failed to attain the targets due to lack of diligent application by governments and absence of citizen awareness and engagement. Those eight goals were the eradication of extreme poverty and hunger; achievement of universal primary education; promotion of gender equality and empowerment of women and reduction of child mortality. Others were to improve maternal health; to combat HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other diseases; to ensure environmental sustainability, and to develop a global partnership for development.
Nigeria failed with the MDGs. However, we have the testimony of one of our former governors of the application of the MDGS in the development template and the results it yielded. Applying the SDGs, now 17 targets instead of eight, should enable the South East states and region fast track development. One advantage is global benchmarking rather than local standards.
The SDGs are interdependent. One influences the other and leads to improvements in each area in a mutually reinforcing circle of virtuousness.
SDG 11: Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable
Citizens of the South East must wake up to the changing dynamics of our habitations. The romantic notion of our villages is changing. They are not pristine; many are now unsafe and unsustainable. We are falling into the pattern of the rest of Africa. Non-agricultural activities such as manufacturing and industrialisation are the basis for the organisation of urban centres. Unfortunately, with de-industrialisation, our urban centres are hermaphrodites. Urbanisation is catching up with our settlements. With it comes many challenges. They include unemployment, inadequate health facilities, poor sanitation and the growth of slums. There is environmental degradation. The South East should worry about the statistics on urban degradation that indicts our poster cities of Onitsha and Aba.
We must compel LGs and the State Governments to wake up to their responsibilities. Towns unions must also do more and better. Structure the care of our settlements and no longer leave it to vacations or mass return periods. It will simply not suffice.
SDG 12: Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns
We are increasingly eating what we do not produce. There is a link between nutrition and health. The incidence of diseases and ailments of diet is growing in our land. But sustainable consumption practices should compel a return to agriculture or the development of alternatives that will ensure our citizens have enough resources for such consumption. Best we produce. Embrace modern agro-processing.
SDG 13: Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts
There is so much literature on climate change already. We can only emphasise that it is real and regional bodies should commission studies that would show what to do. Then get on with implementation.
SDG 14: Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development
Seas and marine resources are not our robust suite. Effective utilisation of the rivers and lakes in our land is the call.
SDG 15: Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification and halt and reverse land degradation and biodiversity loss.
Degradation of our lands is a significant challenge manifested in erosion, silting and others. The region should view the erosion menace as a common challenge. What have our soil scientists and others trained in cognate disciplines discovered? With the lead of such researchers, what should the region do, state by state and LG by LG? What would it cost? We need a SMART plan.
SDG16: Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels
Of concern here are issues around women and children. Nnebuihe is our collective nod to the importance of the fairer sex. Cultural practices that work against them should not follow us up to 2023.
Education remains central and contributory to building sustainable and inclusive societies. According to Stears Business, evidence exists that in addition to low enrolment numbers, even those in schools do not learn much. “The latest evidence comes from the recently launched World Bank Human Capital Index (HCI), which measures the amount of human capital that a child born today can expect to attain by age 18. According to the Index, a child born in Nigeria today will acquire, on average, 8.2 years of school by the age of 18. However, when the years of school are adjusted by the quality of learning, we find that Nigerians are learning the equivalent of only 4.3 years of school.
“Put in more practical terms; this implies that the average child who completes JSS 2 (second grade of Junior Secondary School) would have learned only what a primary four student is supposed to learn. What’s more, the index shows that children in Nigerian schools lag behind other African children in terms of learning.”
The South East must move the needle on datasets such as this and truly stand out.
SDG 17: Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalise the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development
States and LGs should develop SDG goals. Share them with citizens. Involve citizens in the implementation of the SDGs. Link to national and international frameworks and partnerships. The many platforms of citizens working on contributing to the development of the region can do so more effectively by taking on specific areas, forming local and international partnerships and getting on with it.