Sustainable Development Goal progress, performance and challenges in Sub-Saharan Africa

Sustainable Development Goal progress, performance and challenges in Sub-Saharan Africa

African governments need to remain committed to addressing numerous challenges in trying to improve their SDG performance in the years ahead.

The recently released United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Sustainable Development Report 2022 and 2022 Africa Sustainable Development Report again highlight Africa’s lack of progress in reaching its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in 2030.

The latest SDG progress and performance should be seen against the backdrop of the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, the impact of the Ukraine-Russia war on the global economy, and the climate change effects in various parts of the world.

The SDG progress data and analysis indicate that Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) is, apart from Oceania, still the most underdeveloped region in the world. This is evident in the 2022 SDG Index Score, as illustrated in the graph below. The SDG Index Score measures the progress towards achieving all 17 SDGs. A score of 100 indicates that all the SDGs have been achieved.

SSA has an index score of 53.6, showing that the region has so far achieved only 53.6% of its 2030 SDG targets, still leaving a gap of 46.4%. This SDG progress score is marginally lower than the 2020 score of 53.8% and marginally higher than the 2019 score of 52.9%.

The SSA SDG performance contrasts with those in Eastern Europe and Central Asia with a score of 71.6%, Latin America and the Caribbean which achieved 69.5%, and East and South Asia with 65.9%. This last developing region made the most progress since the adoption of the SDGs in its SDG performance.

A closer look at SSA’s performance in the individual 17 SDGs reveals that the region still faces major challenges in all but SDGs 12 and 13. In all the remaining SDGs no progress was made since the previous 2021 Sustainable Development Report. This implies that the major development indicators on poverty, inequality, health, education, access to water, sanitation and clean energy, and access to jobs have all either stagnated or deteriorated.

Sub-Saharan Africa has so far achieved only 53.6% of its 2030 SDG targets, still leaving a gap of 46.4%

Furthermore, significant challenges remain in SDG 17, representing Partnerships for the Goals, while challenges remain in SDG 13, representing Climate Action. Even though climate challenges and especially extreme weather conditions remain, noteworthy progress has been made, with 67% of African countries on track to achieve this goal. The two island states – Mauritius and Seychelles – are classified as stagnating. Although moderate progress has been made in South Africa, Botswana and Equatorial Guinea towards mitigating climate change, they are still classified as experiencing significant challenges.

The only green shoot in the region’s SDG performance is on SDG 12, representing Responsible Consumption and Production. On this particular SDG the region is not only on the path to achieve its goal, but has improved since the previous measurement. SDG 12 represents improvements to ensure elements such as responsible use of resources and energy efficiency.

SSA’s achievements in this goal could predominantly be ascribed to enhanced responsible consumption due to locally sourced production. The fuel subsidies also remain low due mainly to fiscal constraints. Countries where challenges remain include Sudan, South Sudan, Mauritania, Mali, Chad and the Central African Republic, due mostly to conflict and drought.

In total, SSA’s SDG performance remains particularly challenging and may contribute to the further divergence of this region from the rest of the world.

Poverty is central in Sustainable Development Goal performance and will remain high if reduction isn’t accelerated

Within a globalised world, each region or country could have positive or negative spillover effects on other regions’ abilities to achieve their SDG targets. While the international actions of advanced economies will in most respects have fewer negative spillover effects, the actions and demands of the developing regions could potentially be a hindrance to the SDG achievements in advanced economies or regions.

The UNDP’s international spillover scores range between 0 and 100, where a score closer to 1 means a country causes more positive and fewer negative spillover effects on other countries’ ability to reach their SDG goals. The opposite applies for scores closer to 100. The 2022 International Spillover Scores for the various developing regions show that SSA has, after Oceania, the highest international spillover score of 98.3. This indicates that the region has notable negative international spillover effects on other countries, implying they may counteract efforts in other countries to reach their goals.

These spillovers may be in the form of environmental effects (e.g. cross-border water and air pollution), economic and financial flows (e.g. tax havens and corruption), or peacekeeping and security effects (e.g. organised international crime). It also implies that SSA will in future be more dependent on official development assistance and other external financial flows and support to facilitate the reaching of its SDG goals.

Within the context of slower world economic growth and continued world geopolitical tensions and uncertainties, former World Bank president David Malpass believes ‘the crisis facing development is intensifying.’

The major threat to SSA’s development is the expected increase in poverty numbers across the continent. The data indicates that COVID pushed an additional 23.6 million people in Africa into extreme poverty. The projection is that in the absence of drastic interventions to accelerate progress, approximately 492 million people in Africa will in 2030 still be classified as extremely poor.

Sub-Saharan Africa continues to underperform on goals on peace, security and governance

The World Bank Group’s Africa’s Pulse of April and October 2022, respectively, said the impact of the pandemic and the global geopolitical distortions still had negative spillover effects on the twin goals of ending poverty and boosting shared prosperity. Rising debt levels, limited monetary and fiscal space, rising inflation, the impact of school losses during COVID, pandemic-induced job and income losses, food inflation and insecurity, and climate challenges made most SSA countries increasingly vulnerable.

GDP per capita growth since the implementation of the SDGs in 2015 is still too low to put SSA on a poverty reduction path. The expected recovery after 2020 also falls too short to facilitate a substantial reduction in the post-pandemic poverty. Improvement in the goals related to poverty reduction will depend on the sustainable improvement in per capita income from 2024 onwards.

On the positive side, the opening of the Chinese economy and the expected continued increase in demand for commodities may benefit resource-rich countries. The African Continental Free Trade Area could also provide unique opportunities to accelerate the implementation of the SDGs through improved cross-border trade in goods and services. Eliminating trade barriers and improving transport infrastructure could potentially stimulate economic growth and employment creation and alleviate poverty.

However, numerous challenges remain on various fronts. Poverty is central in SDG performance and will remain high if reduction isn’t accelerated. Standards of living will remain low and income inequality won’t improve if per capita growth lags behind population growth (2.6%) and real growth in income.

SSA continues to underperform on goals on peace, security and governance. And the progress to address environmental concerns on climate action has been slow. Persistent drought, particularly in East Africa, coupled with floods in other parts of the continent are major concerns. More external funding would be required to help African countries on the road to greener economies.

And progress on partnership may remain challenging, especially owing to the inability of countries to service their debt.

With the 2030 Agenda only seven years away, most African countries are facing an upward battle to reach their SDG targets. The World Bank believes African countries need to strengthen their economic resilience and shock responsiveness.

Seeing that African governments have made great strides to include the SDGs into national development plans, they need to remain committed to addressing the numerous challenges in trying to improve their SDG performance in the years ahead.

Image: UN Multimedia