TO address the challenges and opportunities of COVID-19 pandemic in Pakistan, UCLG ASPAC LEAD for SDGs Programme, in collaboration with UCLG ASPAC members and with the financial support of Delegation of the European Union to Pakistan, has been organising a series of webinars. The overall objective of the webinar series is to facilitate governments and other stakeholders to highlight and understand real issues associated with community’s empowerment, local development, SDGs implementation and service delivery.

On 13 May 2020, LEAD for SDGs Programme held a webinar on “Local Governments’ Efforts in Responding to COVID-19.” Participants from local governments representatives and officials, CSOs, media and local council associations participated and discussed the response to COVID-19 and highlighted the need for coordinated efforts at local level to mitigate the impact, particularly on the socio-economic situation of the communities.

On 9 June 2020, LEAD for SDGs Programme organised its 3rd webinar on “Impact of COVID-19 Pandemic on SDGs Implementation in Pakistan” to reflect on the long- and short-term implications of COVID-19 on SDGs. The webinar provided a platform to generate dialogue on negative implications as well as the practices, experiences and systems that contribute to economic support and social protection of vulnerable people amid the COVID-19 crises, as a path forward to achieve some specific goals and targets in Pakistan.

Dr. Bernadia Irawati Tjandradewi, UCLG ASPAC Secretary General, shared that SDGs core objective “Leaving No One Behind” is more relevant in today’s COVID-19 pandemic situation, as it is impacting all SDGs targets, globally and especially in the Asian and Pacific countries. SDGs and COVID-19 are interconnected and it is important to discuss how COVID-19 will change the future of the SDGs. The pandemic has brought both challenges and opportunities to the implementation of SDGs, so it is important for the countries to strengthen their policies and strategies in all areas to support SDGs progress and development.

In his discussion of the Government of Pakistan’s approach and overall response on SDGs, Mr. Riaz Fatyana, the Convener, National Parliamentary Taskforce on SDGs of Pakistan and the Member National Assembly of Pakistan shared background of the COVID-19 pandemic in Pakistan. Realising the immediate economic, food and livelihood needs, especially for the people living below the poverty line, the government has supported them with food ration, supplies and cash transfer through Ehsaas Programme. He mentioned that PKR. 12,000 were disbursed to around 12 million families across the country and appreciated the support of international development partners and aid agencies including the European Union.

Assistant Chief – SDGs Mr. Muhammad Saleh, of the Ministry of Planning, Development and Special Initiatives, presented key facts and figures of COVID-19 impact on economic, social and environmental sectors of Pakistan, portraying an overall picture of SDGs progress and its current status. He shared that more than 55 percent of the country exports were observed in decline, tax revenue collections reduced by 13.4 percent only in April 2020 compared with the April 2019. The economic activities remained lower due to closure of service, industry and trade sector for nearly 3 consecutive months which also reduced the overall productivity of the country that resulted in the loss of income and revenue collections. According to a 2015-16 survey about 24.3 percent of the population was under the poverty line and now it is feared that 40 to 45 percent of the total population are now living under the poverty line and need immediate economic and social support.

Provincial Representative of UNDP shared the overall situation of COVID-19 pandemic impact in Balochistan Province, which is worse affected than other provinces. To address the health and economic challenges, the Government of Balochistan has diverted most of its finances towards the COVID-19 health emergency response as the health infrastructure of the province was already quite frail and insufficient. Social Policy Analyst of Balochistan SDGs Support Unit shared brief statistical assessment and projections of COVID-19 economic and social impact in Balochistan that unemployment rate is expected to mount from 4.2 to 48.7 percent and the poverty rate of the province Balochistan is feared to rise up from 42.3 to 82.20 percent.

Sharing the economic and social impact of COVID-19 in Sindh province, Economic Policy Analyst of Sindh SDGs Support Unit shared that 23 percent increase in unemployment will turn 4.4 million people jobless and 4.7 to 9.7 percent increase is projected in the people living below the poverty line in the Sindh province as a result of climate change and COVID-19 pandemic.

In the open discussion session, Mr. Fida Hussain Dashti, Ex-Chairman, District Council, Turbat/Kech of Balochistan Province highlighted the economic impact of the pandemic as increase in unemployment resulting in increased poverty in Balochistan and requested the provincial and federal governments to provide livelihood support to the people living in far-furlong and rural areas. He also highlighted the undue delays in the local government’s election process in the Balochistan. As local government system could be the best and appropriate platform to respond to the emergencies like pandemic COVID-19 and supportive in recovery plans, without the local governments’ support neither the emergency recovery plans, nor the local development plans can be achieved.

Mr. Himayat Ullah Mayar, Ex-Chairman of Swabi District of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province shared that they were not able to meet the MDGs and achievement of SDGs is also in danger due to the deteriorating situation of the economy and health crisis after the COVID-19 pandemic. He added that COVID-19 has brought some challenges as well as some opportunities. “We should focus on possible innovative approaches and out of the box solutions to accelerate our progress on implementation of SDGs to achieve them at local levels.” One of the important sectors of concentration is to increase our capacities in planning, development and monitoring. He highlighted the most significant issue is the non-existence of the local government system throughout the country. He quoted the example of Balochistan, where it is now more than 15 months since the local government elections are delayed and similar is the case of Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Provinces which are waiting for new elections from last 12 and 9 months, respectively and the local governments in the Sindh Province will also be eliminated after completing their tenure by August 2020.

At the end of the webinar, Mr. Riaz Fatyana,  Convener Pakistan National Parliamentary Taskforce on SDGs, summed up the discussion with key notes and highlights of some of the social and economic Goals of SDGs. He highlighted that COVID-19 has mostly affected urban areas rather than rural areas in Pakistan. He shared that significant rise is observed in the unemployment, poverty, food and grocery supplies across the country.

He shared that for Goal 1, No Poverty – Pakistan pre-pandemic estimates of poverty was 24 percent which increased to 31 percent in rural areas and 13 percent in urban areas.

Goal 2, Zero hunger – Food security risk has increased due to lockdown for daily wagers and destitute people. When the whole country was locked down, the government of Pakistan took a bold step and facilitated 12 million families with financial support of 12000 PKR per month through a transparent system in addition to Falah and Zakat programmes, that supported almost half of the population in difficult time.

Goal 3, Health and Wellbeing – The health sector has been exposed that it was not strong and up to the mark in past and the government finally requested citizens to quarantine at their homes and they will get social support there. There is a need to upgrade all DHQ’s and other medical labs to increase capacity of coronavirus tests. One missing part of health sector is the psychological support that is needed in COVID pandemic. People are scared and the immunity cannot get strong if they are afraid and with no psychological support. There is no national policy for mental health in Pakistan. There is no mental health law in federal or in provinces, except in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the Punjab province.

Goal 4, Education – 25 million poor children were out of school before the pandemic but now all children are out of school because of closure for uncertain period. With increase of poverty in the country, there is fear that poor children will not get back to schools and in that case there is apprehension for increase in child labour. Civil society should come forward with the concept of street or home schooling while using technology.

Goal 5, Gender Equality – During lockdown people were forced to stay home, all education institutes, business and offices remained closed and women were overburdened of work at home. Couples and family’s reunion during lockdown were impacted positively but some increase of gender-based violence was also reported.

The Convener also admitted that according to local government Article 140-A, it is mandatory for government to hold elections of local government, but it is postponed due to COVID-19 situation. If there would be local government setup in the country, response to COVID would be more effective. He said that the country failed in MDGs accomplishment and now SDGs implementation will be halted due to pandemic COVID-19 response and recovery for a certain period and it is a request to the global leaders and United Nations to extend the period of SDGs from 2030 to 2035.

At the end, Mr. Rajan Sultan Pirzada, President Association for Development of Local Governance (ADLG) presented his gratitude to Mr. Fatyana, LEAD programme, the speakers and participants from civil society for their active participation, sharing their views and recommendations at the forum. He stated that “if we are committed for implementation of international agenda, we should take it as a nation instead of dividing ourselves in different political parties and should ensure transparency across all level of the governance should prevail.”

The webinar was jointly hosted by the National Parliamentary Taskforce on SDGs, UCLG ASPAC and its members ADLG, the Local Association of Sindh (LCAS) and the Local Council Association of Balochistan (LCAB) and was attended by more than 50 participants including an international and five national experts, who presented insights on the situation. Stakeholders representing various sectors including the members of Parliamentary Taskforces on SDGs, members of national and provincial assemblies and local governments institutes (associations, elected and officials), officials from the Ministry and Departments of Planning and Development, federal and provincial SDGs Support Units, UN agencies, media, corporate sector and civil society organisations participated in the webinar.