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By Cara Kennedy-Cuomo

The world is made up of fragile ecosystem upon which all life on Earth depends. Once natural tipping points, or planetary boundaries, have been breached within these crucial natural systems, society risks “irreversible and abrupt environmental change”(Steffen et al. 2015).  The term planetary boundaries was first coined in 2009 by a cohort of scientists led by Johan Rockström from the Stockholm Resilience Centre and Will Steffen from the Australian National University. According to them, the Earth has already surpassed four of the nine boundaries.

To enhance awareness of planetary boundaries, the Jeffrey Sachs Center on Sustainable Development at Sunway University, Malaysia, paired up with the SDG Academy, a free online education platform offering graduate-level courses related to sustainable development. The result was a Blended Learning Program that combined the SDG Academy’s expert-led online syllabus with in-person classroom instruction tailored specifically to the national context of Malaysia. The Blended Learning Program educated participants about the global environmental consequences of their everyday life choices, to encourage more conscientious decision-making.

The course was developed with a dual objective. First, to familiarize participants with the concept of planetary boundaries and second, to encourage practical application of the knowledge gained in the course. One case study that was featured demonstrated how human-led deforestation has created a positive feedback loop resulting in an increased occurrence of forest fires in the peat swamp forests of northern Selangor, Malaysia. Thanks to concerted efforts, reforestation initiatives are slowly raising the water table and restoring the swamp forest as a natural carbon sink. Participants were also invited to present case studies from their own individual life experiences, and to consider how they actively address sustainable development. One participant recorded the number of times she was able to refuse plastic by carrying her own reusable water bottle, plate, and cutlery. As a result, the participant was able to roughly calculate her reduced carbon footprint.

Later in the course, participants were introduced to several analytical thinking tools, including stakeholder mapping, issue trees, and DPSIR (driving forces, pressures, states, impacts, responses) models. The 15 participants ultimately applied these tools to three main projects, all designed to be implemented within the Sunway community. Many of the participants were Sunway University administrators, professors, students, and Sunway Corporation officers, allowing the perspectives of a variety of stakeholders in the three projects.

The three final projects focused on efficiency and accessibility to public transportation (SDG 11, Sustainable Cities and Communities), food and plastic waste (SDG 12, Responsible Consumption and Production), and the energy-efficient design of buildings (SDG 7, Affordable and Clean Energy). To improve local transport efficiency in Sunway, one group proposed changes to the city’s bus routes. In addition, to enhance the safety and increase accessibility for pedestrians, the group also indicated where to build new sidewalks and zebra crossings. Another group proposed changes to the Sunway cafeteria and food vendor policy to reduce both food waste and plasticware consumption. Drawing inspiration from a new building under development in Sunway, the third group drafted a design proposal on how to enhance the building’s energy efficiency.

As a result of the course, participants were able to gain a greater understanding of the concept of sustainable development, planetary boundaries, and how to transpose this knowledge into a local context.  As the first edition of the Blended Learning Program, the experience offered an opportunity for facilitators to establish a proven methodology for future iterations. With its unique application of adaptable education tools and materials, the course proved to be a valuable learning experience for both participants and facilitators, as well as an interesting model to study and replicate in knowledge institutions worldwide.

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By Jessica Espey

On 26 January, SDSN and the Global Development Incubator (GDI) convened a high-level side event at the Winter Meeting of the US Conference of Mayors (USCM), in partnership with the City of New Orleans and Mayor Dyer of Orlando. The event focused on the relevance and power of the SDG framework for cities across America, with specific examples provided by the Mayors of Orlando, San Jose, and Baltimore, as well as Louisville and St. Petersburg.

Professor Jeffrey Sachs opened the event with a keynote presentation on the state of sustainable development in the United States. He highlighted the state of US healthcare, with life expectancy having worsened in 2016, the fact that the US is 35th out of 35 high income countries on obesity, and has the world’s worst opioid crisis. In the absence of federal leadership to tackle these social and environmental crises, local government leaders must step up and fight to promote sustainable development across America.

In the ensuing moderated discussion, Mayor Liccardo of San Jose highlighted the value of setting goals, akin to the SDGs, as they can inspire you to plan ahead and to convene stakeholders. In San Jose the SDGs have been a brilliant platform through which to foster new partnerships, such as with local universities San Jose State and Stanford University. It has also encouraged regional dialogue. These activities are prompting the city to be more ambitious, for example moving to a city-wide community choice energy program which is expected to boost renewable energy use by 40%.

Mayor Pugh of Baltimore also emphasized the value of SDG-oriented partnerships with local universities. The University of Baltimore played an important role in briefing her on the current state of sustainability in the city when she assumed office, and continues to help the city collect data and monitor clear targets. She emphasized the value of goals for setting clear targets and discussed Baltimore’s CitiStats Smart Program, which is helping local government take a more quantitative and evidence-based approach to program implementation.

Mayor Dyer of Orlando highlighted the important position of Mayors for inspiring local change, exclaiming “residents won’t be inspired if you aren’t.” The Mayor emphasized the importance of local residents taking action within their homes and local communities, for example subscribing to the cities home composting program and recycling more, which is being supported by the city’s move to single-stream recycling. Orlando is aiming to be a zero waste city and to have reduced greenhouse gases (GHGs) by 90% by 2050.

Three key takeaways emerged from the discussion;

  1. The need to make these good news stories better known – SDSN will seek to compile these stories and is working with partners like GDI and the USCM to disseminate them and encourage peer learning.
  2. The need to create platforms for inspiring and committing Mayors across America to showcase their work and galvanize change, sharing truthful but hopeful messages that overturn the sense of American exceptionalism. Participants suggested tabling a resolution to make an SDG Committee within the USCM and to do more public events, such as something at the UN General Assembly in September.
  3. The need to formalize local university partnerships and to lean on local academics’ and their expertise to support city planning.

For more information on the event or on SDSN’s US Sustainable Cities Initiative please write to info@unsdsn.org with title “US Sustainable Cities.”

A video recording of the event is available here:

https://www.sdgcompacts.org/news/2018/1/26/orlando-san-jose-and-baltimore-mayors-discuss-sdgs-at-us-conference-of-mayors

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The Local Data Action Solutions Initiative (LDA-SI), launched by the Sustainable Development Solutions Network in the summer of 2017, considers data to be a means by which to encourage action on SDG implementation and to engage diverse local communities. A focus on data is particularly helpful to ensure local activities align with national and international efforts and reporting. LDA-SI will provide a library of tried and tested local data approaches, will promote global lessons and emerging best practices, and act as a convenor and networker for organizations and individuals looking for technical knowledge and peer collaborators. LDA-SI is designed to serve local SDG implementers, including governments, universities and civil society partners.

LDA-SI focuses in on a primary objective: promoting sound, replicable technical methods for sub-national SDG monitoring that facilitate local action in support of the “leave no one behind” principle (LNOB).  Durable, long-term progress toward the SDGs cannot be achieved if strategies, policies and investments do not consider the needs and aspirations of all stakeholders.  For this reason, Agenda 2030 articulates a universal commitment to leave no one behind in the pursuit of global targets.  Now, in implementation, highly granular data and monitoring systems are integral to inclusive, evidence-based decision-making and action.  Efforts to localize SDG data, for example in SDSN’s US SDGs Cities Index and USA Sustainable Cities Initiative, has revealed a need and a demand for real, practical lessons to be shared so that implementers can apply these to their own sub-national SDG endeavors.  For this reason, to achieve its stated objective, LDA-SI aims to harness knowledge from actual local experiences, and will use this to generate technical guidance and inform a learning exchange.

LDA-SI, and its effort to build a resource library, is focused on four primary topics of inquiry:

  • National-local data integration: What are methods for aligning national SDG indicators with existing sub-national monitoring methods and systems?
  • Additional local indicators to drive action: Are there additional sub-national data indicators / indicator sets that can be used to promote SDG action and achievement?
  • Data platforms: How can data platforms and/or dashboards provide more granular (e.g., block level or geo-tagged MSA level) data on SDG or SDG-aligned indicators?
  • Third party data: How can third party data (from NGOs, citizen groups, academia, private sector) be used to fill gaps in local ‘official’ data (e.g., citizen generated data, telecom data)?

LDA-SI Micro Grants: The Opportunity, Objectives and Outputs

During 2018, LDA-SI will provide a limited number of micro grants as part of its objective to promote sound, replicable technical methods for sub-national SDG monitoring that facilitate local action in support of the “leave no one behind” principle (LNOB).  Micro grants in the range of $2,000-$10,000 will be given to organizations that have built (or are building) innovative sub-national SDG data solutions.  These examples will each provide a replicable or adaptable model that can be applied in SDG initiatives in other locations.

Micro grants will support select organizations in their development and implementation of data solutions.  The funds can be used by grantees to finance the purchase of datasets and data software, for convening learning events and workshops, or for covering staff time.  The grantees will represent a range of methodological examples and contexts from around the world.

At the conclusion of their grant, each grantee will be required to submit two short outputs for general learning, which will be posted on the SDSN website and circulated through its newsletter and social media accounts:

  • A guidance brief: LDA-SI will release a series of knowledge briefs that will answer the general question: “What sub-national SDG data monitoring methods facilitate action that supports LNOB?” Each of the grantees will be required to produce a brief to share their own data solutions and to help others to adapt those for their own purposes (click here and scroll to bottom of page to see previously prepared briefs as an example).  Each individual brief in this grantees’ series will provide: (i) a description of the sub-national SDG data solution the grantee has developed (e.g., data collection and analysis, indicator selection and data management platform design), (ii) a step-by-step guide on that method so that others can adapt or replicate it, (iii) a critique of the strengths and weaknesses of the method, and (iv) a summary of how that method informs local action and promotes the LNOB principle. The briefs will be written for audiences of diverse technical backgrounds so that they can be used and their guidance adapted to different contexts.
  • Web blog: Each of the grantees will prepare a blog to accompany their guidance brief. Keeping the focus on local action, each blog will summarize how the methodology in the brief is relevant and adaptable to existing stakeholder monitoring systems and processes, and how it is being/will be used by local governments.

Proposal Requirements and Timeline

Grant applicants should complete the short online proposal application form found here.

A first round of micro grant proposals will be reviewed beginning on February 19, 2018.  Submissions should be made before this date to be considered in this round.  Any additional future opportunities for grants and partnerships will be announced as they become available.  Micro grants must be disbursed and final drafts of guidance briefs and blog posts must be submitted to SDSN by October 31, 2018.

Questions or technical issues with the online application? Please contact the team at this email: lda-si@unsdsn.org.

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The Italian National Strategy for Sustainable Development (NSDS) has been formally approved by CIPE (Inter-ministerial Committee for Economic Planning) on 22 December, 2017. The NSDS is an update of the former Environmental Action Strategy for Sustainable Development in Italy from 2002 to 2010, and a first step towards a holistic policy framework, widened to include social and economic dimensions in line with the 2030 Agenda.

Following the framework of the 2030 Agenda, the NSDS is organized into five core areas: People, Planet, Prosperity, Peace and Partnership. It is supported by a set of sustainability vectors to serve as crosscutting, transversal areas of action essential to guiding, managing, and monitoring the integration of sustainability into national policies, plans, and projects. A formal Plan of Action will be developed and will include numerical and quantitative targets for the year 2030, as well as monitoring and review mechanisms and analytical models capable of measuring the impacts of policies on the NSDS objectives.

To support this work, the Fondazione Eni Enrico Mattei (FEEM), lead of SDSN Italia, will host the 1st Global Conference on “Reporting for Results-based REDD+ Actions” on January 30-31, 2018 in Milan.

The Reporting for Results-based REDD+ project is a three-year project to build capacity for measuring reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and the enhancement of carbon stocks in agriculture, forest and other land use in 21 tropical and subtropical forested countries. The Reporting for Results-based REDD+ project is a joint initiative of the Coalition for Rainforest Nations (CfRN) and the Climate and Development Knowledge Network (CDKN), which is managed by an alliance of organizations led by PricewaterhouseCoopers. REDD+ stands for reduced emissions from deforestation and forest degradation and also includes conservation, sustainable management of forests, and enhancement of forest carbon stocks. It refers to a mechanism developed by countries under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) to create financial value for the carbon stored in forests, by offering incentives for developing countries to reduce emissions from forested lands. This provides developing countries with the opportunity to receive results-based payments for actions to conserve and restore forest lands.

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SDSN, with Pratham Education Foundation and the Indian Institute of Human Settlements (IIHS), co-hosted a public lecture, followed by a Q&A session in New Delhi on 9 January by Leadership Council member, Prof. Hirokazu Yoshikawa on Investing in Early Childhood Care: A Foundation for A Sustainable Future.

Addressing a packed audience of early childhood practitioners, teachers, parents, and students, Prof. Yoshikawa’s initial presentation discussed the neurological, psychological, and socio-economic evidence available to support the urgent need of investing in the early years. He stressed on the need for ‘process quality’ rather than ‘structural quality’ when scaling early childhood education (ECE) and provided numerous examples of where successful ECE programs have been implemented across Asia, Latin America, and Sub-Saharan Africa.

Dr. Rukmini Banerji, Chief Executive Officer at Pratham,  later joined Prof. Yoshikawa on stage to briefly highlight the Indian experience of early childhood care and programs. The session then proceeded onto a dialogue between the two ECE experts, who exchanged the different experiences and challenges they have faced when bringing their research to the field. The discussion concluded on a positive note as the insights and lessons shared aligned in strong support of furthering the work and research of Prof. Yoshikawa and other experts in his field.

This event, was the second in an on-going series of public lectures in New Delhi that aims to bring visiting SDSN Leadership Council members and partners together, and have them engage directly in a meaningful dialogue with local stakeholders, on various issues in sustainable development. The first lecture was in November 2017 by Klaus Leisinger on Global Values, Corporate Responsibility and Sustainable Development.

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The Local Data Action Solutions Initiative (LDA-SI), launched by the Sustainable Development Solutions Network in the summer of 2017, considers data to be a means by which to encourage action on SDG implementation and to engage diverse local communities. A focus on data is particularly helpful to ensure local activities align with national and international efforts and reporting. LDA-SI will provide a library of tried and tested local data approaches, will promote global lessons and emerging best practices, and act as a convenor and networker for organizations and individuals looking for technical knowledge and peer collaborators. LDA-SI is designed to serve local SDG implementers, including governments, universities and civil society partners.

LDA-SI focuses in on a primary objective: promoting sound, replicable technical methods for sub-national SDG monitoring that facilitate local action in support of the “leave no one behind” principle (LNOB).  Durable, long-term progress toward the SDGs cannot be achieved if strategies, policies and investments do not consider the needs and aspirations of all stakeholders.  For this reason, Agenda 2030 articulates a universal commitment to leave no one behind in the pursuit of global targets.  Now, in implementation, highly granular data and monitoring systems are integral to inclusive, evidence-based decision-making and action.  Efforts to localize SDG data, for example in SDSN’s US SDGs Cities Index and USA Sustainable Cities Initiative, has revealed a need and a demand for real, practical lessons to be shared so that implementers can apply these to their own sub-national SDG endeavors.  For this reason, to achieve its stated objective, LDA-SI aims to harness knowledge from actual local experiences, and will use this to generate technical guidance and inform a learning exchange.

LDA-SI, and its effort to build a resource library, is focused on four primary topics of inquiry:

  • National-local data integration: What are methods for aligning national SDG indicators with existing sub-national monitoring methods and systems?
  • Additional local indicators to drive action: Are there additional sub-national data indicators / indicator sets that can be used to promote SDG action and achievement?
  • Data platforms: How can data platforms and/or dashboards provide more granular (e.g., block level or geo-tagged MSA level) data on SDG or SDG-aligned indicators?
  • Third party data: How can third party data (from NGOs, citizen groups, academia, private sector) be used to fill gaps in local ‘official’ data (e.g., citizen generated data, telecom data)?

LDA-SI Micro Grants: The Opportunity, Objectives and Outputs

During 2018, LDA-SI will provide a limited number of micro grants as part of its objective to promote sound, replicable technical methods for sub-national SDG monitoring that facilitate local action in support of the “leave no one behind” principle (LNOB).  Micro grants in the range of $2,000-$10,000 will be given to organizations that have built (or are building) innovative sub-national SDG data solutions.  These examples will each provide a replicable or adaptable model that can be applied in SDG initiatives in other locations.

Micro grants will support select organizations in their development and implementation of data solutions.  The funds can be used by grantees to finance the purchase of datasets and data software, for convening learning events and workshops, or for covering staff time.  The grantees will represent a range of methodological examples and contexts from around the world.

At the conclusion of their grant, each grantee will be required to submit two short outputs for general learning, which will be posted on the SDSN website and circulated through its newsletter and social media accounts:

  • A guidance brief: LDA-SI will release a series of knowledge briefs that will answer the general question: “What sub-national SDG data monitoring methods facilitate action that supports LNOB?” Each of the grantees will be required to produce a brief to share their own data solutions and to help others to adapt those for their own purposes (click here and scroll to bottom of page to see previously prepared briefs as an example).  Each individual brief in this grantees’ series will provide: (i) a description of the sub-national SDG data solution the grantee has developed (e.g., data collection and analysis, indicator selection and data management platform design), (ii) a step-by-step guide on that method so that others can adapt or replicate it, (iii) a critique of the strengths and weaknesses of the method, and (iv) a summary of how that method informs local action and promotes the LNOB principle. The briefs will be written for audiences of diverse technical backgrounds so that they can be used and their guidance adapted to different contexts.
  • Web blog: Each of the grantees will prepare a blog to accompany their guidance brief. Keeping the focus on local action, each blog will summarize how the methodology in the brief is relevant and adaptable to existing stakeholder monitoring systems and processes, and how it is being/will be used by local governments.

Proposal Requirements and Timeline

Grant applicants should complete the short online proposal application form found here.

A first round of micro grant proposals will be reviewed beginning on February 19, 2018.  Submissions should be made before this date to be considered in this round.  Any additional future opportunities for grants and partnerships will be announced as they become available.  Micro grants must be disbursed and final drafts of guidance briefs and blog posts must be submitted to SDSN by October 31, 2018.

Questions or technical issues with the online application? Please contact the team at this email: lda-si@unsdsn.org.

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The Italian National Strategy for Sustainable Development (NSDS) has been formally approved by CIPE (Inter-ministerial Committee for Economic Planning) on 22 December, 2017. The NSDS is an update of the former Environmental Action Strategy for Sustainable Development in Italy from 2002 to 2010, and a first step towards a holistic policy framework, widened to include social and economic dimensions in line with the 2030 Agenda.

Following the framework of the 2030 Agenda, the NSDS is organized into five core areas: People, Planet, Prosperity, Peace and Partnership. It is supported by a set of sustainability vectors to serve as crosscutting, transversal areas of action essential to guiding, managing, and monitoring the integration of sustainability into national policies, plans, and projects. A formal Plan of Action will be developed and will include numerical and quantitative targets for the year 2030, as well as monitoring and review mechanisms and analytical models capable of measuring the impacts of policies on the NSDS objectives.

To support this work, the Fondazione Eni Enrico Mattei (FEEM), lead of SDSN Italia, will host the 1st Global Conference on “Reporting for Results-based REDD+ Actions” on January 30-31, 2018 in Milan.

The Reporting for Results-based REDD+ project is a three-year project to build capacity for measuring reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and the enhancement of carbon stocks in agriculture, forest and other land use in 21 tropical and subtropical forested countries. The Reporting for Results-based REDD+ project is a joint initiative of the Coalition for Rainforest Nations (CfRN) and the Climate and Development Knowledge Network (CDKN), which is managed by an alliance of organizations led by PricewaterhouseCoopers. REDD+ stands for reduced emissions from deforestation and forest degradation and also includes conservation, sustainable management of forests, and enhancement of forest carbon stocks. It refers to a mechanism developed by countries under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) to create financial value for the carbon stored in forests, by offering incentives for developing countries to reduce emissions from forested lands. This provides developing countries with the opportunity to receive results-based payments for actions to conserve and restore forest lands.

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In a globalized world, national actions have dramatic spillover effects that can affect not only border countries but nations across regions, hemispheres, and cultures. As technology and trade have unified the world over the last several decades, new trends like “Our country first” are having a regressive effect and are dividing our world, within and between national boundaries. In this spotlight blog, Dirk Messner, Political Scientist and Director from SDSN Member Institution the German Development Institute (Deutsches Institut für Entwicklungspolitik), comments on this trend and the inherent risks of further dividing our connected world. Dirk urges us not to let this short-sighted trend lead us to a future which will reflect Hardin’s Tragedy of the Commons faster than anyone foretold. Read the full article via the link below to learn what three beacon projects Dirk recommends to support a just and equitable future world.

Original piece:

PUTTING A STOP TO “OUR COUNTRY FIRST”. PREVENTING THE WORST FROM HAPPENING IS NOT ENOUGH.

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Traditionally in Germany, every year the Federal Chancellor presents his or her end of year address on December 31 to summarize events past and present their outlook for the year ahead. This year, the Executive Director of SDSN Germany, Adolf Kloke-Lesch, has put together a fictitious New Year’s Eve address for the year 2029 highlighting the road towards the Sustainable Development Goals, to be accomplished in 2030.

Berlin, 31.12.2029.

Dear citizens,

On this, the threshold to the 2030s, I would like to take a look back to the year 2015. In that year, one of my predecessors joined with the Heads of State and Government of all of the countries on earth to draw up a plan of action “for people, planet and prosperity,” the aim of which was also to “strengthen universal peace in larger freedom ”: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. In the same year, it was also agreed to keep the increase in the earth’s temperature  below 2°. 2015 also saw what was then a unique influx of refugees.

For many of you, this may seem like a tale from a different era. However, young people ever more frequently ask me why our governments failed to act more decisively then, why we had to allow severe crises to develop. I am happy that we will be able to draw a more optimistic conclusion in September at the sustainability summit to be held at the new seat of the United Nations in Hong Kong.

The year 2019 saw the first review summit for the 2030 Agenda end in fiasco. Following its withdrawal from the climate treaty, the USA had also largely rejected the 2030 Agenda. The European Union was diplomatically paralysed following the shock of the European elections. At the same time, the countries of Africa were not prepared to save the summit with empty phrases. This setback also had effects in other areas. The implementation of the climate agreement and the system of global trade went into a tailspin.
Also in our own country, the magic of the beginning swiftly dissipated when implementing the 2030 Agenda. Elections in quick succession led to Germany’s National Sustainable Development Strategy failing to be refined further, with the energy transition coming to a halt at the lignite mines. The political parties exhausted themselves with electoral tactics and were incapable of seeing the 2030 Agenda as an engine for innovation. Instead, the pressure of problematic issues grew.

At the beginning of the 2020s, extreme weather conditions triggered extensive migration movement worldwide. Accompanied by a decline in global trade, the consequences of the digitalisation of the labour world made themselves felt. The Digital Luddites became a militant global movement. Inequality and tension increased.

However, desperation not only resulted in resignation and violence. More and more people took responsibility for redesigning their world. At home, in their villages and towns, in their companies and associations. This movement led to a significant improvement in living conditions in many parts of Africa in particular, the home of my parents. In Germany, agreements between retailers and consumers succeeded in halving the amount of food wasted. Not only did our food become healthier and more cost-efficient, it is now less of a burden on the soils and waters of other parts of the world. The integration of the second wave of refugees and the resultant reinvigoration of former industrial areas and rural regions is also primarily the success of you, the citizens.

However, in Europe this movement soon realised that achieving comparable success in areas such as transport or energy would require governments to be released from the grip of corporations, allowing a creative ecological and social market economy. In a short time this civil movement triggered a change in the landscape of the political parties, with focus placed on the unity, renewal and sustainable development of Europe. Broad, forward-looking coalitions emerged from numerous elections.

The climate also improved internationally, after an alliance of fair, green cities succeeded in having an independent female candidate elected to the presidency in the USA. The year before, her predecessor in office had completed the US withdrawal from the United Nations, after the success of a resolution – at the initiative of the newly-elected Chinese government – stipulating the responsibility to protect people and planet. Where governments fail, the reformed UN Security Council not only looks after endangered population groups, but also threatened tropical forests. A resolution to close the world’s remaining coal-fired power plants is in the pipeline.

Today, we can look to the new decade with confidence. If we maintain our course, a good life will be possible for everyone, in greater freedom and in harmony with the treasures and beauty of our earth. I would like to thank you for your efforts along this path and wish you health and happiness in 2030.

This text was originally published as Kloke-Lesch, Adolf: The Current Column of 22 December 2017, Bonn: German Development Institute / Deutsches Institut für Entwicklungspolitik (DIE). 

Find the German version of it here.

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By Melanie Uhde, Ph.D., currently enrolled in the Columbia University School of Professional Studies

In 2014, the UN General Assembly integrated the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) into the post-2015 development agenda, and in 2015, the SDGs were adopted by all countries. SDG 2 is to “end hunger, achieve food security and improve nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture” by 2030. Taking India as an example, despite success in some areas, if current trends continue, the zero-hunger target will be largely missed by 2030, indicating that current policies lack an effective community-based approach to end hunger.

In South Asia (here defined as India, Bangladesh, Nepal, and Pakistan) around 400 million people (out of a population of 1.7 billion) were trapped in extreme poverty in 2010 accompanied by persistent fear of hunger and possible famine. India in particular remains a country with significant undernourishment, a main focus of SDG 2. However, given the country’s remarkable economic growth over the last 20 years and the success of the agricultural revolution in the 1960s, many would have predicted otherwise. With the beginning of the so called Green Revolution, India’s wheat harvest tripled, from 10,000 to 30,000 kg per hectare, between 1961-2012, and initially crop yields per capita increased. This development promised a path out of poverty and hunger and yet, nearly 50 years later, India is home to the highest number of undernourished people worldwide and the largest number of stunted children.

The government of India, fully aware of the nation’s food insecurity, has put considerable effort into addressing these issues. Along with the Green Revolution came the implementation of national food programs to provide nutritious food especially to rural areas that are home to the poorest. In 1975 India, along with UNICEF and the World Bank, launched the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) program, which became the world’s largest village-level nutrition program. Through village Anganwadi Centers (AWCs), healthcare workers provide supplements and cooked meals, nutrition counselling for girls and women, home health visits, and child growth monitoring. Although seemingly well designed to target the needs of the most vulnerable, the implementation of the program has failed to deliver on multiple levels. According to a review conducted by the Earth Institute at Columbia University in 2011 and a study published in 2016 by Sahoo et al., the program had little or no impact on the nutritional status of the targeted population. The reasons are multi-faceted and touch upon the complex nature of food insecurity in India. The reports summarized the following:

  1. Only a few centers were open and 85% of the centers did not have designated buildings to provide food services.
  2. Essential equipment and assessment tools to monitor health outcomes and growth of children were missing or defective.
  3. Indoor air pollution due to cooking fire smoke was a serious threat to children’s health.
  4. Nutrition interventions were mostly focused on supplementary food, while no guidelines for managing acute malnutrition at the community level existed.
  5. ICDS did not account for the most vulnerable populations including girls, poorer households, and lower caste individuals.
  6. Food supply was of poor quality, and centralized distribution was vulnerable to corruption.

What went wrong?

The case of India demonstrates that economic growth, accompanied by increased food production, is not enough to end hunger. In order to achieve SDG 2, stakeholders must define a nation’s socioeconomic profile and integrate nutrition-related policies. In 2006, Mason et al. identified contextual factors including women’s status and education, social inclusion, community organization, literacy, level of health and administrative infrastructure, as well as political commitment that, if favorable in a country, can facilitate the success of community-based health and nutrition programs. Unfortunately for India, the authors concluded, the situation was detrimental in these dimensions particularly in relation to women’s status and social inclusion, resulting in limited success of the ICDS program.

Looking at India’s socioeconomic profile today, it becomes clear that gender inequality and social exclusion are still major challenges, with implications that cut across many of the SDGs. In 2017, the percentage of women contributing to the total labor force was as low as 27% (in the US it is 56%), as women are at worst not allowed to seek work or at best face significant societal pressure to maintain the household and raise children, often without sufficient access to nutrition, healthcare, and education. To provide for their daughter’s future, child marriage is often seen as a way out, as the new husband will then have to provide for the often very young girl, while the daughter’s family sometimes receives a bride’s price or dowry. In India about 47% of young girls were married by the age of 18 in 2014, inheriting the same life as their mothers. Women and girls are the most vulnerable population and are yet to be fully integrated in and addressed by community-based nutrition programs, slowing down any significant progress to ending hunger. Families coming from the Dalits caste, known as the untouchables, face a particularly devastating fate. Although illegal under Article 15 of India’s constitution, social exclusion and stigmatization based on caste remains pervasive and plays a crucial role in the high prevalence of undernutrition in rural India. Issues around discrimination and separation of Dalits often affect AWCs, which can end up caught in inter-caste discrimination. In Gujarat’s Patan district in western India, members of the higher castes such as Brahmins demanded a separate center to avoid mingling with the Dalits, literally and figuratively eating up all the resources of the program.

Another factor is India’s population growth and density; with more than 440 people per square kilometer (2016), India is the most densely populated country in the world. In comparison, the US has 35 people per square kilometer. While crop yields tripled between 1960 and 2012, India’s population tripled as well, from roughly 400 million to 1.2 billion in the same time period, counteracting production gains and leaving millions in need. Increasing population in rural areas in particular creates a challenge for Anganwadi workers where, according to a review on nutrition programs by Mason et al., one worker can be responsible for more than 200 children. This ratio is far from the suggested ratio of 1 worker for 10-20 children and reflects an inefficient attempt to cope with the dense population. And although compensated, Anganwadi workers are mostly overworked and de-incentivized, resulting in few operational centers.

Lessons Learned?

Increased political commitment and targeted efforts to address socioeconomic issues can change India’s trajectory and move the country toward a future with zero hunger. In addition to food access, socioeconomic policies that tackle the problem of food insecurity as a whole are needed, including:

  1. Decrease the workload of Anganwadi workers and increase the quality of services. The work load of Anganwadi workers needs to be systematically reduced to no more than 50 children per worker, an estimate suggested by Mason et al. In addition, the quality of services is essential to the success of the program. Anganwadi workers need to be trained and supervised by qualified supervisors, e.g. nurses from healthcare facilities, with regular feedback and continued training. The focus should be the maintenance and proper use of equipment and tools to monitor the health status of affected individuals efficiently, identify signs of acute malnutrition in a timely manner, and initiate the transfer to larger hospitals if necessary. This effort is only possible if more helpers are being recruited and trained, and perhaps if advancing equipment with modern tools like ICT technology is provided. Further, integrating women from villages as volunteers could provide additional support to healthcare workers in their daily tasks and build both employment for young women as well as empowerment. In addition, the food supply, currently overseen and managed by the government, is vulnerable to corruption and therefore unreliable. De-centralization of the food supply and transfer into the hands of village groups can enable an environment where there is more accountability.
  2. Integrated programs between ICDS and education institutions. Integrated programs that include nutritional and secular education can support particularly young girls and their families. The aim of this combined effort is to ensure that girls don’t leave school prematurely to get married due to a lack of food access in their own family. Studies have proven that girls who stay longer in school get married later and have fewer children, creating a positive feedback cycle between higher education and escape from poverty. Another purpose of integrated programs is to challenge stigmatization and discrimination embedded in the caste system. Health programs together with community schools need to abandon the concept of identification through caste and convey the values of responsibility and equality.

Conclusion

To nurture the prospect of a better future for India’s population by ending hunger and poverty, various stakeholders from the public and the private sector need to come together. The design of an inter-disciplinary and complex approach is of utmost importance to build the foundation for India’s new and (ever)green revolution that can ensure prosperous life for all its 1.2 billion citizens.

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