#Goal 1 – No Poverty
Poorer households and countries have higher fertility rates and consequently more population burden. This is related to the dominance of manual labour over technology. Thus more the number of hands in a family, more the income from low paying jobs. This leads to lower education and health outcomes, apart from lesser access to resources. Sustainable employment generation, Social security schemes and Universal Basic Income tend to be the best solutions for addressing multidimensional poverty.
#Goal 2 – Zero Hunger
Obesity and unbalanced diet are also aspects of malnourishment. Incidence of both hunger and obesity are increasing across the globe, especially among children. Despite being food sufficient and even among the top producers of crops like rice, wheat, sugarcane, etc. for past 2-3 decades, India continues to have the highest burden of malnutrition and hunger in the world. Combined with unsustainable agriculture practices like growing water intensive crops via artificial irrigation and tube wells in drier areas, excessive chemical fertilizer and pesticide use, food wastage (about 40%), etc radical transformation is required. Decentralized grain storage, food fortification, balanced diet, drip irrigation, growing crops adapted to local conditions are some of the remedial measures.
#Goal 3 – Good Health and Well-Being
A healthy workforce contributes efficiently to the economy. Mental health is an emerging area which had been neglected till recently and it requires due attention. Sanitation and education levels correlate with family health and fertility rate. Many diseases, especially in lower and middle-income countries are caused by open defecation, consumption of contaminated food and water, unhygienic cooking practices, etc. If the children are healthy and have a longer life expectancy, the fertility rate gradually decreases thus easing the population burden. So investment in preventive healthcare, R&D in indigenous medicines, regular exercise and institutional delivery provide the way forward.
#Goal 4 – Quality Education
Education and learning are the most potent tools for empowerment and social upliftment. But 14 years of school education is not suitable for low income and rural households. Integration of more relevant vocational education that equips students with life skills is needed. Quality of education, counselling support for students and teachers, poor infrastructure, teacher absenteeism are also major areas of concern in the majority of schools. The education policies and curriculum should be designed as per local conditions, with a focus on teaching in mother language during initial years. Active involvement of stakeholders like students, teachers, parents, administrators will improve the learning outcomes.
#Goal 5 – Gender Equality
Despite occupying the highest offices in various countries including India, women around the world continue to face hurdles and violence daily. With the intersection of poverty, religion and caste system, Indian women are the victim of discrimination from womb to tomb. Entrenched patriarchal notions, unfounded stereotypes, lack of representation at different decision making levels are major causes of stigma for people across the gender spectrum. Active involvement in development processes of women and LGBTQIA+ community will help to address the gender blind aspects of the state. Empowerment via Universal Basic Income, female-centric government scheme and comprehensive awareness will ensure a gender just society.
#Goal 6 – Clean Water and Sanitation
Many densely populated cities across the globe have been facing acute water shortage. People in far-flung areas who have no or access only to polluted water need to be provided with adequate and clean water. In well off metropolitan areas, water needs to be charged as per the income and consumption of the household. About 70% of global freshwater demand comes from agriculture and livestock rearing. Thus food wastage needs to be avoided at all costs. Innovative techniques like hydroponics that use less water need to be upscaled. Water pollution across oceans, rivers, streams, lakes, groundwater, etc is a critical problem that should be addressed. Locally feasible and eco-friendly sanitation facilities will uplift the dignity of people and significantly reduce the disease burden.
#Goal 7 – Affordable and Clean Energy
Consumption of fuels like coal, diesel and petroleum while providing comfort for human users, cause many problems for all the life forms on our planet. Every stage of extraction, refining and burning of fossil fuels results in pollution. It’s not practically feasible for developing nations like India to switch instantly to renewable sources like solar and wind energy. This is because of the huge demand for energy and electricity that will increase many folds in the next 2 decades. India also has among the highest losses in transmission and distribution of electricity in the world, which negatively impacts the companies and environment. Solutions lie in rapid upscaling of locally apt renewable energy sources like solar, wind, hydel, tidal and bioenergy. This will need major upskilling & reskilling, apart from policy and industry support. Thus employment generation will be a positive outcome as well.
#Goal 8 – Decent Work and Economic Growth
Despite the economic boom brought about by large corporations and startups in the past few decades, the benefits haven’t reached all the groups equally. Some, but not all, groups left behind by the growth express are women, LGBTQIA+, low skilled labour, differently abled. Even in 21st century India, modern slavery exists in various forms like child labour, human trafficking, bonded labour because of intergenerational debt, etc. This problem will become more complex with climate change induced migration, higher unemployment rate in youth than adults and declining participation of women in workforce. Thus, sustainable and inclusive growth is the need of the hour. Atmanirbhar Bharat should be based on ZED manufacturing i.e. Zero Effect on Environment and Zero Defect of products. Informal sector and MSME’s should be provided adequate support to cater to local and foreign demand. This requires more comprehensive and tailored policies along with sufficient social security net and will ensure the entire populace is part of the growth story.
#Goal 9 – Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure
India hosts 18% of the world population on 2.5% of land available globally, thus indicating the severe population burden on scarce resources. It is expected that by 2030, 40% of the Indian population will live in cities and are likely to contribute about 75% of the GDP compared to the current contribution of 66% of GDP. This skewed model of development has led to the concentration of infrastructure and investments in urban areas. They gasp for open spaces, clean air and water while villages gasp for basic infrastructure and development even in the 21st century. Regional imbalances have led to unemployment, pollution, left-wing extremism, rural-to-urban migration etc. All these problems require integrated, holistic and innovative solutions that address multiple aspects like sustainability, sufficiency, quality, skilling, etc. The key lies in local innovation and entrepreneurial drive for solving societal issues. Such localized units requiring low capital should complement the large factories. India remains the only nation to succeed on its first Mars Mission. Similarly, with an adequate synergy between academia, government, industry and masses a lot of ‘firsts’ can be achieved to bring about a widespread transformation across India.
#Goal 10 – Reduced Inequalities
Inequality has existed in almost all societies over the centuries. Lately, the multi-dimensional aspects of inequality have also become significant as it includes social, human and political capital and not just economic capital. Inequality has severe effects in developing nations like India which do not have enormous resources to effectively provide social security to all. Scheduled Tribes, Scheduled Castes, Other Backward Classes, Religious Minorities, Women and LGBTQIA+ are the major groups that face discrimination and inequality in various forms. Even after availing benefits under reservation and earning a stable income, these groups continue to face discrimination. Thus, policies should evolve as per the contemporary needs and incorporate behavioural change. Schemes like Ayushmaan Bharat, PM-KISAN, Jan Dhan Yojana, etc need to be made more holistic via synergy with Universal Basic Income.
#Goal 11 – Sustainable Cities and Communities
Cities are the engine of growth. They host high-value service and knowledge sector activities that boost a countries’ GDP. But the problems faced by women, migrant workers, and slum dwellers are largely neglected. The waste and pollution generated by cities are unimaginable. Electricity consumption is very high due to a better standard of living. The concrete jungles are also prone to flooding, heat island effect, severe depletion of groundwater and mental health issues. Thus cities need to be made more inclusive, disaster-resilient and sustainable. No or low damage to the environment can be realized with people-centric, long term and holistic planning & construction. Proper sanitation and waste treatment will help to improve sustainability and health outcomes. Renewable energy-based electricity generation and public transportation with ample last mile connectivity will help to improve the situation further. Synergies with satellite cities need to be realized to reduce extreme population stress in core cities.
#Goal 12 – Responsible Consumption and Production
The Earth and its’ life forms bear overt and covert costs due to human greed. According to the Global Footprint Network, 5 Earths would be required if all the humans start living like Americans. Same comes down to 0.6 Earths if all live the Indian way. But that’s changing with more Indians climbing the economic ladder. The production and consumption patterns evolving since the industrial revolution and followed by the well off classes are not sustainable. The better standard of living that money gets you is responsible for most of the problems like global warming, pollution, biodiversity loss, etc. Large scale production and consumption of products require unimaginable amounts of water, raw material, transportation and energy. All this needs to change immediately if we want to save our planet. Products & processes need to be redesigned and circular economy needs to be ramped up. Pollution and resource extraction are to be minimized by imbibing sustainability in all the worldly aspects. Positive changes brought about by a few firms and groups in fields like renewable energy, green manufacturing, eco-friendly packaging, etc. should be upscaled rapidly.
#Goal 13 – Climate Action
Our planet has been going through cycles of warming and cooling for millions of years. But climate change since the 1950s is primarily due to human activity. Large scale agriculture, production, consumption, deforestation, transportation, etc. contribute to global warming and pollution. This affects weather and ecological processes, growth cycles of organisms and induces migration among humans and other species. Disasters like earthquakes, tsunami affect way fewer people than climate change-induced calamities like flood, drought, cyclones, extreme weather events. Similarly, people will migrate as the sea levels rise along the coastal areas and their homes get submerged. They will also shift because of fluctuating agricultural yield, productivity, etc. since agriculture is heavily dependent on climate. To address these interlinked issues, afforestation is critical. Existing forests should not be cut down. Tribals, villagers and indigenous communities should be supported to maintain the sensitive ecosystems. Industry and urban areas need to minimize their emissions by redesigning relevant processes. All the stakeholders need to work in tandem to confine the increase in temperature to 1.5 degree Celsius compared to pre-industrial levels.
#Goal 14 – Life Below Water
Water, the life-giving element have been polluted and exploited to alarming levels. Studies indicate that oceans have absorbed more than 90% of the heat gained by the planet between 1971 and 2010. This has destructive effects on underwater processes and ecosystems that are very sensitive to temperature like corals. Problems like large scale over-fishing, plastic pollution and oil spill worsen the situation beyond repair. An emerging problem of micro-plastics entering the human food chain because of consumption of marine organisms is being researched further. The blame lies squarely on industries and countries indulging in large scale production and improper dumping of waste in oceans. The underlying greed of humans is taking a toll on all the life forms. This can change by collective action at all the levels and across nations. Processes need to be re-engineered, and sustainability should be made mandatory while using marine resources. Strict penalties in case of deviance along with awareness generation for eco-friendly practices provide the way forward.
#Goal 15 – Life On Land
Mother nature has given birth to all the life forms that have walked on the face of this planet for millions of years. However, the greed of human, the most intelligent species, has wreaked havoc on Earth and its’ offsprings. Deforestation for timber requirement, agriculture and land development has caused widespread damage. The land has been severely degraded and its’ productivity for growing crops has been declining continuously. Many species have gone extinct or are critically endangered because of habitat destruction, hunting and distortions in food webs. This is exacerbated by improper waste dumping, pervasive pollution and climate change. Sustainability holds the key for a future where humans and animals can live together peacefully. Forests should not be cut down, come what may. The tribals and indigenous communities should be supported and their knowledge should be utilized for conservation efforts. Only when the current processes of unmindful consumption and production are transformed, can we realize a safe and stable future for all.
#Goal 16 – Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions
Migrants and refugees are children of chaos. They end up in unstable situations mostly because of systemic governance failures, violence and lately, climate change. Different communities across the world face violence and discrimination in varying degrees. This has been worsening with the increased burden on limited resources and dynamic socio-economic factors. Rise of biased media houses and social media has added fuel to the fire with the peddling of fake news and hate against different groups. The instances of bypassing of state and mediation institutions increase manifold during such changes. This necessitates the need for inclusive and accessible institutions where the vulnerable can seek effective justice. These institutions should be sensitive to the needs of victims while ensuring justice in a time-bound manner. Sustainable peace and development are to be ensured simultaneously if we wish to realize a better world.
#Goal 17 – Partnerships for the Goals
Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam is a Sanskrit phrase which means “the world is one family”. This sense of belongingness and responsibility forms the foundational value to realize sustainable living. Inclusive institutions and holistic development can be realized with effective participation and collaboration of diverse stakeholders. On the face of it, the goals of different groups appear to be divergent, case in point being an industrial plant being set up on the fringes of a forest. It’s the vulnerable and marginalized who suffer the most because of lopsided development. And ironically, the same displaced and neglected indigenous communities are the most effective protectors of the sensitive flora and fauna that the global organizations aim to conserve. Effective partnerships between stakeholders like local communities, government, industry, academia, etc. are thus necessary to realize convergent goals.
Comics on UN Sustainable Development Goals by Team ulaunch. Illustrations by Swati Satam.
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