There is no doubt the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are ambitious, yet most countries in sub-Saharan Africa have a lot of progress to make if they are to get even close to hitting their targets by 2030. That is a key finding of a ‘scorecard’ entitled Projecting progress: The SDGs in sub-Saharan Africa published by Development Progress, part of the Overseas Development Institute (ODI). It’s the first of several global scorecards analysing current trends from the past ten years that anticipate how different regions of the world are likely to fare in completing selected targets – one from each of the 17 SDGs.
Data on these targets was collected primarily from the World Bank or, in relevant cases, from UNICEF or UNHABITAT. It reveals that while achieving both economic growth and domestic resource mobilisation is very much on track for the region, the subcontinent looks set to fall considerably short on the targets selected from the rest of the goals. ‘We found that although we can expect gains for many of the goals and targets, low starting points and inequality both within and between countries will make sub-Saharan Africa’s achievement of the global goals particularly difficult,’ says ODI research officer Tanvi Bhatkal. ‘The majority of goals – including ending extreme poverty, reducing maternal mortality, and access to energy – must increase the speed of progress by several multiples of current rates in order to reach SDG targets.’
Most concerning are efforts to reduce slum populations, reduce waste, combat climate change, protect marine conservation, and reduce violent deaths, all of which are not only not progressing on target, but in fact require a reversal of current trends. ‘[That] group of five goals and targets is especially worrying: they are heading in the wrong direction across sub-Saharan Africa,’ says Bhatkal. ‘That said, progress has been seen, and is possible, across the sub-continent but a concerted effort is needed across countries.’
As has frequently been highlighted by attempts to analyse SDG progress (or their precursor, the Millennium Development Goals or MDGs), there are problems caused by a significant lack of relevant and reliable data. While Bhatkal points out this that this particular report was ‘not a demanding exercise in terms of data’, she also says that for some targets, ‘data were unavailable for a considerable number of countries’.
‘For instance,’ she explains, ‘child marriage data were unavailable for 35 per cent of countries in the region. In East Africa, the share of countries with data was about ten percentage points lower than the regional average across a range of indicators, including poverty, undernutrition, sanitation, energy and inequality. Overall, there is remarkably poor knowledge on progress being made. In fact, the UN Independent Expert Advisory Group has reported that globally there isn’t a single five-year period since 1990 where we have enough data to report on more than 70 per cent of MDG progress.’
She continues: ‘This problem is even more so in terms of identifying who is being “left behind”, particularly within countries but also between them. We need more frequent data, but also, as highlighted in the call to “leave no one behind”, disaggregated data to go beyond the national level and to understand the performance of different groups within countries.’
Overall, it isn't a hugely successful first scorecard for sub-Saharan Africa. However, the the report notes by way of a conclusion: ‘Despite what could be taken as a gloomy assessment, this scorecard is far from a prediction of failure. Goals should stretch beyond current trends, with ambitious targets that inspire action.’