SOUTHEAST Asia has regressed on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) like promoting peaceful and inclusive societies and reducing inequality, a United Nations (UN) agency said.

In its Asia and the Pacific SDG Progress Report 2020 published Wednesday, the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific’s (ESCAP) said that the region remains “on track” in two SDGS: quality education and infrastructure development.

The SDGs are a set of 17 objectives set for all countries to achieve by 2030. Quality education is Goal 4 and industry, innovation and infrastructure are Goal 9.

ESCAP noted that “it is also making good progress on several other goals, such as zero hunger (Goal 2) and good health and well-being (Goal 3).”

“The South-East Asia subregion has achieved vast progress in fighting extreme poverty as measured by the share of the population living on an income below the international poverty line,” it said.

It said the subregion has a “mixed picture” on health care as some countries posted substantially higher mortality rates than others, while improving on some indicators like malaria. It said tuberculosis is far from being eliminated.

“Neglected tropical diseases still constitute a burden on the development of the subregion with 31.3% of the population, or over 200 million people, requiring interventions in the form of mass treatment (large scale preventive drug treatment) or individual treatment,” it said.

Meanwhile, the region lapsed in reducing inequality (Goal 10), the only subregion that recorded a decline in that goal, and regressed substantially in promoting peace, justice and strong institutions (Goal 16). These negative trends should be reversed, ESCAP said.

For other goals, Southeast Asia posted minimal progress. ESCAP publishes reports annually on the status of all regions in achieving all 17 SDGs by 2030.

While the subregion posted higher growth in gross domestic product (GDP) per capita than the world’s average, UNESCAP flagged its low investment in research and development at 0.7% of 2016 GDP as a “cause of concern in terms of upgrade of technological capabilities of the subregion in support of further economic development of the subregion.”

The report flagged Southeast Asia’s declining share of renewable energy as well as the falling share of forest area, in which four countries recorded negative net change — Cambodia, Indonesia, Myanmar and Timor-Leste.

“The subregion is lagging behind the region overall in terms of Internet connectivity with a still relatively low proportion of the population (4.4% in 2018) having access to fixed broadband with speed greater than 10 Mbit/s (megabit per second) against a regional average of 12.2%,” it added.

ESCAP said the Asia and the Pacific region should focus on sustainable use of natural resources and accelerate efforts to fight climate change in order to mitigate the adverse effects when resources are depleted and compromised.

“Our analysis finds that the Asia-Pacific region has struggled the most with two Goals: advancing responsible consumption and production, and climate action. In fact, the region is not even moving in the right direction,” UN Undersecretary-General and Executive Secretary of ESCAP Armida Salsiah Alisjahbana was quoted as saying in a statement.

“These findings sound the alarm for the region to urgently foster sustainable use of natural resources, improve the management of chemicals and wastes, increase its resilience against natural disasters, and adapt to the adverse impacts of climate change through integrated policies,” Ms. Alisjahbana added.

The report tracked progress by measuring SDG indicators in the Asia-Pacific through the performances of each subregion — North and Central-Asia, Southeast Asia, the Pacific, South and Southwest Asia and East and Northeast Asia.

ESCAP said all subregions should “sustain the pace of progress on the gains they had in lifting people out of poverty, reducing maternal, neonatal and child mortality and ensuring access to basic services for electricity, drinking water and sanitation.”

“In every subregion, several targets remain challenging including the rule of law and inequality, greenhouse gas emissions, renewable energy, domestic material consumption and material footprint. All subregions need to take urgent actions in accelerating progress to achieve these SDG targets by 2030,” it said. — Beatrice M. Laforga