Egypt: Meeting the targets of the UN sustainable development goals

Niveen Wahish , Saturday 28 Jul 2018

A recent paper highlights the areas Egypt needs to focus on to keep on track with the UN Sustainable Development Goals

Photo: Ahram

Though 2030, the deadline for implementing the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), may seem far off, it is not so far given the tasks in hand.

The SDGs encompass 17 goals and 169 targets covering the economic, social and environmental dimensions of development. What individual countries must do is translate their agenda into feasible and realistic development plans.

In an attempt to provide initial guidance on which SDGs focus on and to identify potential resources available to finance their attainment, a recent policy working paper called “Sustainable Development Goal Diagnostics: The Case of the Arab Republic of Egypt” was recently issued by the World Bank.

In the paper Egypt’s performance is compared to that of countries with gross national incomes (GNI) per capita similar to Egypt’s. GNI per capita reflects the average income of a country’s citizens.

According to the study, Egypt is performing better than expected on nine of the 15 SDGs. One of these SDGs is an end to poverty, according to the study where Egypt is performing well relative to its peers with respect to the percentage of the population living below the international poverty line (in 2011 $1.9 per day in purchasing-power parity dollars (PPP)).

“The slightly decreasing trend in poverty between 1999 and 2015 is interesting given Egypt’s tumultuous period,” the study said, noting that such progress may be attributed to the food-subsidy system. “Despite Egypt’s many spells of instability, policy-makers have persistently prioritised food subsidies and the availability of affordable staples in an effort to achieve social equity.”

Nonetheless, the study notes that national poverty rates increased from 16.7 per cent in 1999/2000 to 27.8 per cent in 2015. It said that though statistics showed that extreme poverty had been eradicated, “it is of increasing importance to prioritise the needs of those living below the national poverty line.”

Another area where Egypt has been performing well is education. According to the study, Egypt is performing well with respect to quantitative measures; however, it is underperforming in the provision of quality of education.

The study attests to the results of the World Economic Forum’s 2015-2016 Global Competitiveness Report, which gave Egypt a score of 2.1 out of 7 for the quality of its primary education, ranking 139th out of 140 countries on this indicator.

Among the areas where Egypt is performing worse than its peer countries is achieving zero hunger. Over the period 1998-2014, the proportion of wasting children in Egypt dramatically increased, according to the study.

Wasting or low weight for height is usually the result of malnutrition. “As a lower-middle income country, Egypt’s high proportion of malnourished children is unusual as this is more typical of lower-income countries,” the study said, adding that this could be because Egypt’s food production has not kept pace with rapid population growth.

Although Egypt has done well in decreasing the under-five mortality rate and the infant-mortality rate, the overall mortality rate due to cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes or chronic respiratory problems is significantly higher, “suggesting that poor nutrition is a long-standing problem in Egypt across all age cohorts.”

Decent work and economic growth is another area that needs attention. According to the study, the proportion of youth not in education, employment, or training is at a rate not commensurate with expectations for Egypt.

“The speed of job creation is not sufficient to absorb the large cohort of individuals aged 15-24 entering the labour market,” the study said. However, it added that recent measures by the government to address this gap, such as the provision of specialised financial products, could improve youth entrepreneurship, a vital factor for alleviating unemployment and improving living standards in the future.

On SDG 9, industry, innovation and infrastructure, the report noted that Egypt is seeking to expand its industrial base, with a concerted focus on developing the Suez Canal area into a hub for globally-linked manufacturing and high-tech services.

However, it stressed that the government should make sure that the benefits are not concentrated in certain areas.

“The fact that domestic regional disparities in service delivery and standards of living remain considerable, especially between Upper and Lower Egypt, suggests that vigilance is necessary to target inputs related to SDG 9 to the country’s less-advantaged areas,” it said.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 26 July 2018 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly under the headline: Targeting the SDGs 

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