Panel discussion on SDGs held to mark UN celebration in EritreaNov 12, 2015
This year, the United Nations turned 70, a significant milestone that was commemorated on November 12th 2015 in Asmara, Eritrea. To mark the event, a panel discussion on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) under the theme “Transition from Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) to SDGs; what does it mean for Eritrea?” was held. The event was attended by Government ministers, Ambassadors representing foreign missions in Eritrea, members of international community, staff and students from the College of Business and Economics Halhale and UN staff among others.
The event was opened by the UN Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative, Ms. Christine N. Umutoni. While delivering her speech, Ms. Umutoni said that the SDGs will form the basis of a new development agenda, that spells out how countries can work together to promote and achieve dignity, equality, justice, shared prosperity and well-being for all, while at the same time protecting the environment. “The SDGs are expected to put people and the planet on a sustainable path by 2030” she said. The 17 goals provide the roadmap for world development in the next 15 years.
The SDGs discussion was introduced and moderated by the UN/UNDP Economics Advisor, Dr. Luka Okumu. He traced back the MDGs – SDGs transition journey from June 2012 when UN Member states convened in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil at the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD), commonly known as ‘Rio+20’. They agreed to establish an inter-governmental open working group to design the post 2015 agenda to succeed the MDGs. The conference was followed by worldwide consultations. African countries held consultations and discussions and came up with a common position that was submitted to the working group. UN led global conversations saw the participation of nearly 3.5 million people who expressed their views through ‘The future we want’ a global platform dedicated to the post 2015 agenda. Ultimately all the consultations and preparations culminated to the SDGs that were adopted in September 25th 2015 in New York.
One of the panel members was Prof. Abraham Kidane, Economic Advisor in the Ministry of National Development. In his key note address, Prof. Kidane noted that Eritrea’s development plans and programs are firmly rooted in the calls for gender equality and empowerment of women; sustainable development; eradication of poverty and hunger; shared prosperity; inclusive and participatory work ethics; public and private partnerships; protection of the environment; and enhancement of democracy and justice, among others. He also emphasized on the Government’s commitment to achieve the SDGs. “To maintain momentum, the government has identified focal persons within public agencies and established committees to regularly review and monitor progress” he added.
A youth panel member, Ms. Deborah Tedros, a 4th year Business and Economics student at Halhale College started her presentation by challenging the audience to think about their aspirations in life. She highlighted that the SDGs appropriately emphasize transformative change and pledge to ‘not leave anyone behind’. “When we start talking about SDGs, my expectation is to bring change in all aspects. Though Eritrea has achieved some MDGs and working towards ensuring food security, infrastructure development, capacity building and social services, we still have gaps in ensuring quality education. Education is a key component in ensuring reduction in economic, social and environmental vulnerabilities, building more resilient systems and raising awareness on achieving the SDGs.” She said.
A panel discussant, Dr. Giorgis Teckle, an Assistant Professor at the College of Business and Economics Halhale, discussed about Eritrean perspective of SDGs. Dr. Teckle gave an overview of the SDGs from an Eritrean perspective and underscored that the SDGs are in line with the development strategies and priorities of the country as indicated on the Strategic Partnership Cooperation Framework (SPCF) as well as in other sectoral strategic plans. He noted that Eritrea had many hurdles to overcome so as to achieve eradication of extreme poverty by 2030. “With poverty eradication as the highest priority for the new sustainable development agenda, the first goal ‘End poverty in all its form everywhere’ aims to go further than the MDGs by looking into the root causes of poverty. Thus there is need to revisit and develop policies and strategies to ensure a sustainable future that benefits everyone and leaves no one behind.” He said. On the goal ‘Ending hunger and achieving food security’, Dr. Teckle said that the transformation of the agricultural sector from the dominant rain-fed to modern farming techniques such as irrigation is currently underway.
Dr. Teckle also highlighted that the issue of financing the SDGs could not be ignored. As observed, the SDGs would cost three times as much as the MDGs and would require doubling public spending. He proposed that investment and domestic resource mobilization be encouraged. Following the presentations the audience was invited to contribute.
Audience participation was kicked off by Mr. Louis Mazel, Charge d’Affairs at the Embassy of the United States of America who highlighted the concern that the post 2015 development agenda had 17 goals. Against the backdrop that the MDGs are only eight and have not been fully achieved, “wouldn’t the 17 goals and several targets and indicators be a burden, especially to many developing countries?” he asked. Another participant, H.E Mr. Iqbal Jhazbhay, Ambassador of the South African Embassy in Eritrea observed that none of the discussants had talked about the composition of the United Nations Security Council (UNSG). He noted that, since its establishment in 1946, the UNSG has not undergone significant reforms. He argued that in the spirit of achieving SDGs, it would be appropriate to have reforms at the UNSG to accommodate the growing needs of the world population. His counterpart, H.E. Mr. Yasser Ali Mahmoud Hashem, the Ambassador of the Embassy of the Arab Republic of Egypt, commended youth participation on the panel discussion and acknowledged that the youth were the right ambassadors of the post 2015 agenda. Dr. Mansoor Mirza, a Policy Specialist at the UN in Eritrea, inquired about the actions the Government of Eritrea has put in place to implement the SDGs and whether there are any criteria for prioritizing the SDGs.
Concluding the panel discussion, Dr. Okumu responded on the 17 SDGs, highlighting that the SDGs are interlinked and apply universally to all countries. They aim to address economic and social progress while ensuring the protection of the non-living component of the ecosystem. Ms. Umutoni noted the observation made on the UNSG and said the issue is for the Member states to take up. In closing the celebrations, Ms. Umutoni thanked the panellists and participants for the lively discussion. “Emerging from the discussions, we all agree that the achievement of SDGs in 15 years’ time will result in a world of dignity, equality, justice, shared prosperity, and well-being for all, while at the same time protecting the environment.” She said.