2023-01-29

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Sustainable Development Goals: India needs an urgent push to achieve the SDGs – Times of India

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Gautham Ravichander – Director, eGov Foundation.
Seven years after the launch of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s Goalkeepers Report 2022 stated that & “the world is on track to achieve almost none of the goals”. According to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the COVID-19 pandemic has wiped out six years of progress on the SDGs globally.
To set the world back on track, the UNDP has recommended a concerted global “SDG Push.” The UN believes there are four key areas to achieving this, which include governance, social protection, green economy, and digitisation. The UN is also advocating the use of Digital Public Goods (DPGs) and Digital Public Infrastructure (DPI) to help achieve the SDGs. If there ever was a good time to speak about Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in India, it is now.
India is already a global pioneer in the use of DPIs to drive transformation. We have all seen the impact of our homegrown DPIs, Aadhaar and UPI (combined with Jandhan and Mobiles) in driving financial inclusion and helping improve benefits targeting which have been crucial to India’s progress on SDG 1, namely No Poverty.
What India needs is a strong focus on achieving the SDGs in other sectors as well including Good Health and Wellbeing, Clean Water and Sanitation, Sustainable Cities and Communities, and Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions. It can build on its track record of using DPIs to drive transformation to accelerate real world progress towards other goals as well.
For example, India’s ability to manage the vaccination of close to a billion people during the COVID pandemic was enabled by the DPI Co-WIN. As we move forward the Ayushman Bharat Digital Mission is laying the groundwork for India to have a robust digital infrastructure for healthcare.
It is important for all stakeholders in healthcare to leverage this digital infrastructure to strengthen community health and expand India’s public health capabilities. Key target areas of universal health coverage, provision of access to quality healthcare services, as well as access to safe, effective, quality, and affordable essential medicines and vaccines are all components of SDG 3 which focuses on health. India can build on the experience of COWIN to improve trust in public health transactions through verifiable credentials. The QR code on your COVID vaccination certificate is backed by this technology.
In addition, India can focus on reducing diseases of poverty in a mission mode. The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that such diseases “account for 45% of the disease burden in the poorest countries” and stem from poor nutrition and sanitation, absence of health education, and indoor air pollution. DPI can help by enabling disease surveillance, and providing tools to enable and manage health campaigns as well as mass drug administration.
In order to mitigate and prevent such diseases of poverty, it is also important to go back up the chain and focus on ensuring clean water, effective sanitation and hygiene are widely available public goods and not luxuries to be enjoyed by the well off. It is critical to drive better coordination across the water and sanitation value chain to work towards a goal of zero untreated waste. India needs to restructure its approach to provide adequate and equitable sanitation and hygiene by minimizing waste generation through effective behavioural nudges, tracking the generation, collection and disposal of waste while generating wealth from waste by exploiting opportunities for circular economies throughout the waste cycle.
India has deepened it efforts in this sphere over the last decade, and DPIs can further accelerate these by strengthening the operational efficiency and performance management of sanitation systems, improve capacity planning and usage of physical infrastructure, enable easy compliance, and improve equity and access especially for marginalised communities. The state of Odisha is a front runner in these efforts with its holistic approach to inclusive urban sanitation. Based on its efforts, India can take inspiration to work towards a goal of zero deaths due to poor sanitation? by progressively reforming and upgrading current systems and practices. These efforts can help improve progress on SDG 6.
As we focus on improving health care and sanitation, it will become impossible to address these without strengthening local governance. This is especially critical as most public programs are delivered at the last mile by local government bodies. By creating the Urban Platform for Delivery of Online Governance (UPYOG) as a DPI for city governance, India has taken a decisive step to improve the quality of governance in its cities. Over time as more programs and initiatives leverage these digital public infrastructures, one can expect the quality of data available for policy making and performance management to improve. By harnessing these India can make substantive progress towards achieving SDG 11.
With all of these investments in its Digital Public Infrastructure, it is time for India to drive greater collaboration across civil society, governments and markets to reinforce its efforts to improve the quality of life for all its citizens. It is insufficient to merely build the digital public infrastructure. A raft of policy reforms, and programmatic initiatives are needed to realize the latent benefits with a keen focus on real world outcomes. By working closely with civil society and markets, the Government of India can align their efforts to have a multiplier effect over the actions it is already taking and mitigate any potential risks from the digital world. Done right this can help us progress on the SDGs and sustainably secure a more prosperous future for generations to come.
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Views expressed above are the author’s own.
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