The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is a new, universal set of goals, targets, and indicators that all UN member states endorsed and adopted at the United Nations Sustainable Development Summit in September 2015. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) had replaced the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) which consisted of eight goals and expired in 2015. 

The SDGs are focusing on the basic pillars of sustainable development, which are:  economic, social, and environmental aspects. The plan is consisting of some additional elements such as peace, justice, and equality. The SDG aims at being universally applicable and will address the wishes and aspirations of all people especially the disadvantaged people, people with disabilities, developing countries, and landlocked countries.

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is consisting of 17 goals, and 169 targets that all member states are expected to make efforts towards achieving by 2030. As one of the active UN member states and a country in transition and developing phase; the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan endorsed the SDGs, in the summit which was attended by the Afghanistan CEO H.E. Abdullah Abdullah in September 2015, and afterward, Afghanistan has taken some concrete steps to affirm its commitment to attaining the SDGs.

As a first step towards achieving the SDGs, the Ministry of Economy (MoEc) has been designated by the Afghanistan government to lead the line ministries, international stakeholders, and focal points for the coordination, monitoring, and reporting on Afghanistan Sustainable Development Goals (A-SDGs) plans and progress,  and Ministry of Economy together with the Secretariat of the Executive Committee on SDGs, in close cooperation with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) created a comprehensive document called ‘ Afghanistan Sustainable Development Goals (A-SDGs). In which, the government has aligned A-SDG targets and indicators for 2020 with the Afghanistan National Peace and Development Framework (ANPDF) and National Priority Programs (NPPs). In the meantime, the government was supposed to design a comprehensive development plan for achieving A-SDGs over the years 2020-2030.

As part of the nationalization process of the SDGs, the Afghanistan government developed national targets and indicators and adopted 16 of the 17 goals, 110 targets from the 169 targets, and 177 indicators from the 232 indicators, and the adopted goals, targets, and indicators were divided into eight budgetary sectors. The government also committed to aligning all its strategies, agendas, developmental plans, priorities, and policies in line with the A-SDGs to achieve the adopted goals and targets until 2030.

Despite all of these ambitious planning and commitments, on Tuesday 2nd March 2021, Tolo TV reported that the government did not have any progress over the past six years in terms of achieving the A-SDGs which is very frustrating to the Afghan people and the international community that has been supporting Afghanistan in its efforts for development and reconstruction of the country over the past 19 years. The report also quoted from the Deputy Minister of Economy that so far no program had been outlined to achieve the SDGs’ targets in Afghanistan, and for this reason, they had organized a workshop in cooperation with UNDP and other stakeholders to review the A-SDGs progress, to do cost estimation of A-SDGs, and choose the best policy options for achieving the A-SDGs.

The statement from the Deputy Minister of Economy clearly shows that the previous commitments and planning on A-SDGs have remained on paper over the past six years, and no concrete steps have been taken so far for fulfilling those commitments and plans by the government. One can assume that lack of progress on achieving the A-SDGs might be due to low capacity in the government relevant ministries for proper planning, monitoring,  and following up of the A-SDGs, and to some extent lack of robust accountability frameworks for monitoring the Afghanistan government’s commitments and progress on SDGs by the international partners.

So, if the government institutions especially the Minister of Economy which is a leading institution for implementing the government commitments and plans for achieving A-SDGs and strengthening coordination and collaboration among the national and international stakeholders accelerates its efforts and further strengthen collaboration and coordination among the government relevant institutions and international partners, the Afghanistan government still has an opportunity to make tangible progress in achieving most of the A-SDGs by 2030.

For increasing the effectiveness and efficiency of government plans and strategies and accelerating efforts for achieving the A-SDGs, the Afghan government should review the existing plans, policies, and strategies on A-SDGs based on the lessons learned of the past six years to make sure that the existing plans and strategies are inclusive, flexible, realistic, and attainable for each sector, and have a realistic timeframe for each goal and target and make some modifications based on the current progress and ground realities to make sure that the plans and strategies will achieve the A-SDGs over the years 2021-2030. 

Furthermore, proper prioritization of government and donor-driven projects is essential for achieving the A-SDGs. Any development programs and projects which have a lower priority to the government and to the country and will not contribute to the achievement of the A-SDGs should not be implemented. Likewise, national and international development plans and policies should be aligned and the existing mechanisms should be further strengthened to improve coordination and collaboration between national and international stakeholders. The government should also establish new accountability mechanisms and monitoring procedures and should periodically review the government’s progress on achieving the SDGs to make sure that the implementation of short-term and long-term plans will achieve the A-SDGs. The review mission should also provide reports on A-SDGs implementation and progress in close coordination with existing national and international partners. 

Moreover, as part of the accountability mechanisms, the government should also provide more opportunities for civil society organizations engagement to monitor the implementation and reporting process of the A-SDGs. The government mechanisms on auditing the A-SDGs budget and funds should be also strengthened to prevent or reduce to the most possible extent the misuse of government and donor funds.

Finally and most importantly, the A-SDGs implementation and achievement requires a long-term financial commitment of donors, transparent spending of government and donor budget and funds, government strong will and comprehensive plans and policies for fighting corruption, reforming financial sectors, and improving accountability mechanisms toward donors as committed in the Geneva Conference because without attracting the commitment, support, and assistance of donors in terms of expertise, technology, and funding, it will be impossible to even think of achieving the A-SDGs by 2030.