The beginning of a new decade also marks the fifth year since the member countries of the UN committed themselves to the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). With just another decade left to achieve these ambitious yet essential targets, the evaluation of the achievements of the past five years and the opinions on the realistic chances of actually accomplishing this global mission are quite pessimistic.

The Sustainable Development Report Dashboard, an online tool developed by German foundation Bertelsmann Stiftung that ranks 162 countries by their accomplishments of the SDGs, unveils a remarkable north-south gap. While developed countries, particularly Scandinavian, dominate the top of the rankings, the Middle East and Africa (MEA) region fills the lower half of the list, with Algeria performing the best with a score of 71.1% of its SDG targets achieved. Sub-Saharan countries are found in the lower third of the list, with Central African Republic being at the bottom with a score of only 39.1%.

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In its latest report, the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation warns that most SDGs linked to hunger, food security and nutrition will be missed. The same trends are reported in education, healthcare and access to water and sanitation in Africa, which demands more private and public investment in these areas to change this devastating trend.

Undoubtedly, many reasons for this failure can be identified within the inner structures of the countries of the MEA region. Low prioritisation of SDGs within governmental planning, a lack of sustainability awareness and knowledge, a dearth of suitable long-term strategies, corruption and political conflicts are just a few reasons.

Equally, most poor countries are also left alone to deal with the great challenges of meeting their SDG targets. Promised financial commitments from the developed countries are not materialising, and financing SDG projects is both difficult and expensive. Consequently, close to 40% of sub-Saharan African countries are at a risk of a major debt crisis, crippling their ability to invest in SDG goals.  

As the world fails to understand that achieving SDGs is a global task that can only be achieved by the solidarity and active support of wealthy countries of the north towards poor countries in the south, the only positive aspects we can count on is that there is a young generation that seems to be much more advanced, brave, outspoken, creative and sometimes aggressive in its attitude towards sustainable development. And these voices and demands will reach the MEA region soon.

Mazdak Rafaty is managing partner of Ludwar International Consultancy and SME adviser to the joint Emirati-German Chamber of Commerce. E-mail: m.rafaty@lic-consulting.com