New World Bank Atlas Examines Progress Toward SDGs
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Photo Credit: < ahref="">Dean Calma / IAEA

The World Bank recently released its 2017 Atlas of Sustainable Development Goals, which tracks progress on global and country-level progress toward the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) set forth by the UNDP in 2015. The atlas breaks down each of the 17 SDGs and uses maps and other data visualizations to illustrate trends, global-level and country-level analysis, and comparisons between countries.

The atlas also includes new data that is being published in the World Bank’s World Development Indicators for the first time, such as data on access to clean cooking fuels. It also addresses methodological and measurement issues that provide challenges for analysis, such as how to more effectively measure access to clean water and electricity and how to more precisely define the terms “urban” and “rural”.

Regarding the goal of ending poverty in all its forms by 2030, the data shows that the percent of people around the world living in extreme poverty (less than USD 1.90 per day in 2011 PPP) fell from 35 percent in 1990 to 11 percent in 2013. The most significant progress during this period was seen in East Asia and the Pacific, where extreme poverty fell from 60 percent to just 4 percent. Africa south of the Sahara, however, continues to face significant challenges when it comes to poverty. While the overall extreme poverty rate in the region fell from 54 percent in 1990, that rate remained high in 2013 at 41 percent. At the same time, the region’s population has continued to grow throughout the study period, leading to a higher total number of people living in extreme poverty in 2013 than in 1990 (389 million in 2013 versus 276 million in 1990).

The data also shows that social safety nets, while effective in increasing resilience and helping alleviate poverty in some areas, often do not reach the poorest populations, particularly in low-income countries. For example, in Burkina Faso and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, fewer than 1 in 10 people in the poorest quintile of the population receive any social assistance (such as cash or in-kind transfers). Those numbers are even lower for poor people receiving social insurance coverage such as pensions or unemployment insurance - fewer than 1 in 20 people in the poorest quintiles of low-income countries receive such insurance.

Another major SDG target is reaching zero hunger and malnutrition by 2030, and progress has been made in this regard, according to the atlas. Over the past 25 years, global undernourishment fell from 19 percent to 11 percent; during the same period, child stunting fell from 40 percent to 23 percent. However, the global population continues to grow, with much of this growth centered in low-income regions like Africa south of the Sahara and South Asia. Continued population growth will place more pressure on the world’s food sources, with global food demand expected to rise by at least 20 percent over the next 15 years.

Addressing these increases in food demand will require enhanced agricultural productivity. Currently, cereal yields in East Asia and the Pacific are the highest in the world at 4.9 tons per ha; Latin America and the Caribbean is a close second, at 4.1 tons per ha. The Middle East and North Africa and Africa south of the Sahara have the lowest cereal yields in the world, at 2.3 tons per ha and 1.5 tons per ha, respectively.

Another SDG focuses on ensuring and managing clean water supplies and sanitation for all by 2030. As mentioned before, the atlas discusses challenges in measuring access to clean water and sanitation. Traditionally, countries have reported their populations’ access to these resources as either “improved” or “unimproved”; however, as the atlas highlights, this is a rather simplified way of looking at water and sanitation. Thus, the SDG related to clean water and sanitation lays out a broader, more refined framework through which to examine whether people’s access to clean water and sanitation facilities is truly safe, equitable, and universal.

Using this new framework, it appears that fewer people have true access to safe, clean water than was supposed under the “improved” vs “unimproved” framework. For example, in both Haiti and Niger, around 66 percent of the population has access to an improved water source; however, under 10 percent have access to an improved water source on premises (i.e. in their house). Looking at six countries (Pakistan, West Bank & Gaza, Nigeria, Niger, Democratic Republic of Congo, and Haiti), the atlas finds that under the stricter framework, 60 percent of urban dwellers and 75 percent of rural dwellers who were previously classified as having access to clean water would now be considered without access.

Similarly, the atlas finds that including handwashing in the definition of sanitation also changes the view of whether or not the goal of sanitation for all is being met. Looking at data from 54 countries, the atlas finds that proper handwashing facilities were not available for between 4 percent (in Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina) and 99 percent (in Liberia and Ethiopia) of the population. Incorporating handwashing facilities into countries’ measurements of their sanitation infrastructure can thus give a better understanding of the sanitation challenges facing different populations, and help policymakers and development practitioners better target interventions and service provision.

Finally, climate change, and the weather-related shocks it can bring, poses another challenge to food security. As seen in several countries across Africa and the Middle East recently, weather shocks like drought are one of several important factors that can seriously diminish food production and lead to food insecurity and even famine. Changes in annual precipitation (which will increase in some regions and decrease in others, depending on the climate change scenario used) will pose a further challenge for agricultural production, with farmers needing to adjust their production techniques to better suit new rainfall patterns or expand into land previously unused for agriculture. All of this will have a humanitarian and an economic impact. According to the atlas, without action to combat climate change and its impacts, as many as 100 million more people could fall into extreme poverty by 2030. Increased incidence of natural disasters like floods and droughts will likely hit low- and middle-income countries the hardest, both in terms of the number of people affected and in terms of the relative loss of GDP; the atlas reports that Small Island Developing States are particularly vulnerable to weather shocks.

Addressing the challenges of climate change brings its own economic demands as well. Following the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change in 2015, 189 countries have submitted plans for dealing with and mitigating climate change and its impacts. Of those, 110 countries have stated that they will need financial support to successfully implement these plans.

By: Sara Gustafson