A lively mix of young people, government representatives and development stakeholders gathered at the North and Central Asian Multi-Stakeholder Forum on Implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) this week to share aspirations for shaping a more sustainable future, while confronting post-crisis recovery and growing development challenges.
Opening the Forum, United Nations Under-Secretary-General and Executive Secretary of the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) Ms. Armida Salsiah Alisjahbana underscored the interconnected and cumulative impacts of the COVID-19 crisis on many social and economic sectors. North and Central Asia is likely to face the most severe contractions with ESCAP forecasting over 7 percent contraction in GDP growth in 2020. The outbreak has further widened existing social inequalities especially among vulnerable groups.
“Together, governments and all stakeholders need to work in formulating policies across social, economic and environment sectors to safeguards the delivery of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development,” said Ms. Alisjahbana.
Presenting the keynote address, H.E. Mr. Rashid Alimov, former Secretary-General of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization said, “It is important to derive the right lessons from the current crisis and mobilise the potential for cooperation in the areas of health and education, food and biosafety.”
In commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the United Nations, the Forum featured a High-Level Dialogue between Eminent Persons and Youth on shaping a common future in the final decade to reach the SDGs. Youth comprise 28,5 per cent of the population in North and Central Asia and are a key stakeholder group driving the endeavor to build back better.
“The crisis circumstances surrounding the coronavirus pandemic have led to significant changes in education and science, but we see them as opportunities for development. During the pandemic, we gave priority to vulnerable children. Schoolchildren with special needs, from low-income, large families should not be affected by distance learning. Now is the time to fine-tune education policies and create inclusive opportunities for closer and more organic inclusion of the most vulnerable in the educational environment. Parents need support, as do students and teachers. The Ministry and the authorities must try to provide all conditions. No one should be left behind,” said H.E. Mr. Askhat Aimagambetov, Minister of Education and Science, Kazakhstan.
“COVID-19 has tremendously affected all people in North and Central Asia, but we have to differentiate the impact on men and women separately and tailor necessary policies. I assume that boys and girls from rural regions should be one who receive the most attention when designing interventions,” shared youth representative Ms. Asel Kubanychbekova, Founder of the Women’s Entrepreneurship Development Fund, Kyrgyzstan.
The COVID-19 crisis has also highlighted the vulnerabilities of business as usual and offers opportunities to reshape and build a more sustainable, inclusive and resilient North and Central Asia. In that vein, Forum participants discussed good practices for response, recovery and policy considerations embedded into long-term development planning. They emphasized the essential role of regional cooperation and partnerships in kickstarting the regional economy while instilling necessary safety measures. Delegates agreed to enhance connectivity, digitalization and secure investments while putting people and planet first.
Held annually by ESCAP, the Subregional SDG Forum enables an inclusive dialogue among multiple stakeholder groups and provides unique subregional perspectives on current development challenges. This year, several organizations also shared results of new primary analyses of COVID-19 pandemic impacts on the subregion’s development efforts. Inputs from the Forum will feed into the main messages of the 2021 Asia-Pacific Forum on Sustainable Development as well as assist member States with Voluntary National Review (VNR) reporting and SDG implementation.