Opinion

Applying lessons from the MDGs to the SDGs in Nepal

Published on 27 April 2016

Image of Jimmy Lama
Jimmy Lama

Alumni Ambassador Nepal

To celebrate IDS’s 50th anniversary this year, Nepal’s IDS alumni association recently hosted a panel discussion on how Nepal can effectively respond to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and what knowledge gaps and capacity issues need to be addressed to do so. With such a big topic, we welcomed the opportunity to hear from experts representing government, civil society organization and research institution perspectives. The engaged audience added energy to the discussion along with a variety of views.

We came away from the discussion with an enriched sense of expectation as Nepal moves from successful progress in the MDGs to work toward the SDGs. While challenges, gaps and capacity issues remain, the energy in Nepal is one of moving forward.

Localising Nepal’s response to the SDGs

In response to the question of ‘how’, our panellists agreed with the current momentum in Nepal toward localisation, as demonstrated in the move towards federalism. A major lesson learned from Nepal’s response to the MDGs was that goals must make sense within a local context. Global goals must be achieved through local changes, so the SDGs must be translated into locally specific goals and must be implemented locally.

Civil society organisations (CSOs) are particularly well positioned to take on work with the SDGs given both their proven ability to mobilise and train people and the goals’ alignment with their own aims. Nepal’s diversity, while one of its strengths, also requires that people within specific contexts take on the work of creating change, making local CSOs a potential strong partner to the government in its response to the SDGs. Youth efforts can also play a role in popularising the SDGs so that people work together to demand the planned changes they lay out.

Localising the SDGs to Nepal

To ensure that the SDGs make sense within local contexts, particular emphasis should be given to the quality of changes achieved and the end result on people’s lives. One audience member pointed out, for instance, that while Nepal had achieved its school enrolment MDG, many students now live in boarding houses in order to attend private schools since public schools perform so poorly. This tension on families and finances begs the question ‘are these the people’s goals?’. Those responding to the SDGs in Nepal should continually question whether the goals work toward a Nepal renaissance that includes all marginalized groups.

Making the SDGs fully pertinent in Nepal may be challenging since some key issues to Nepal were not fully incorporated into the goals. Nepal’s priority focus should be on the basic needs goals and environmental goals, particularly since the country’s mountains are highly vulnerable to climate change. Mountain ecosystems are included only in Goal 15, but they form a key resource for Nepal’s development. Appropriate and sustainable use of Nepal’s natural resources, including water, forests and agriculture, will be its main growth engine. As Nepal translates the SDGs into action across its diverse landscapes, therefore, appropriate implementation in vulnerable mountain ecosystems should be a priority.

While work toward the SDGs should be localized, the panellists noted that it should also be well coordinated. The current sectoral focus within Nepal’s government has led to gaps in implementation, with development resources available but unspent. Coordination should not just occur within the government, however, but should extend to recognize the important roles of CSOs and of the private sector.

Issues to be addressed

As a Least Developed Country, the issue of resources is key in Nepal and one that several panellists and audience members raised. While Nepal is supported by outside actors in its development, that money often does not reach the local actors who are best suited to implementing work toward the SDGs. The recent political volatility has made it difficult for the government to even spend the budget it has according to plan, which makes utilizing resources appropriately more of an issue than getting resources.

Another issue is technical knowledge. While development actors assisted Nepal in achieving the MDGs, technology transfer to local partners was slower. Local actors are best positioned to work toward the SDGs, but often capacity is lacking. Finding and teaching technical solutions that directly link with the changes Nepal wants to see will be an important gap to address, in particular as it relates to environmental knowledge. With better knowledge about directly applicable, sustainable solutions to environmental problems, Nepal will be better positioned to sustainably make use of while also conserving its wealth of natural resources. Nepal should work on filling this gap in knowledge as it seeks to address the SDGs.

The government has already recognised the importance of the content of the SDGs. The recently promulgated constitution includes a number of issues that align with the SDGs, particularly fundamental human rights, and the current 14th development plan also includes many of the goals. In a volatile political climate with an uncertain outcome, however, challenge remains to implement these documents into action in a way that makes sense to Nepal and its diverse group of citizens. 

IDS Alumni Ambassor Jimmy Lama will be discussing these points further at the IDS conference States, Markets and Society at the panel session on day two ‘How can low-income countries respond effectively to the SDGs?’.

Photo credit: Jimmy Lama

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