LAST year, the Finance Ministry projected that gross domestic project growth would bounce back to more than seven per cent, which was too optimistic.

As a trading nation inter twined with the global value chains, our economic growth is very much linked to externalities.

These externalities include global demand, trade tensions and trade wars through the use of non-tariff measures, as well as energy prices.

A V-shaped recovery will be difficult to achieve this year. Given such an uncertain future, the localisation of Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) projects, led by the All Party Parliamentary Group Malaysia on Sustainable Development Goals (APPG -SDG) framework, is a great starting point to help communities affected from the bottom up.

This is the first time that the government has put aside funding for the localisation of the SDGs in communities.

It is refreshing that in the 12th Malaysia Plan and the 2021 Budget, the government allocated a significant sum to localise SDG goals at the community level through the APPG-SDG. This project includes taking an active role in engaging local stakeholders, mapping out and prioritising local issues, and finding solutions and project executions based on the 17 SDGs, established in 2015, which included no poverty, zero hunger, quality education, clean water and sanitation, decent work and economy, and climate action.

In its first year of execution, the allocation — RM5 million — for different constituencies in Malaysia to tackle unemployment, income inequality, access to education and the environment is more than twice the size of the allocation to the group last year.

More than 30 pilot solution and capacity projects are to be executed in 10 constituencies, including in Sabah and Sarawak, from last year to this year.

The projects are in Bentong, Tanjung Piai, Jeli, Papar, Pensiangan, Bandar Kuching, Batang Sadong, Selayang, Pendang and Petaling Jaya and cover river clean-up drives, island waste management, biodiversity protection, organic farming and slum incubators.

This year, the projects will be extended to other constituencies. It is hoped that the 17 SDG goals can be pursued together from the bottom up, paving the way for Malaysia to become a high-income nation by 2025.

The issues that were highlighted in most areas were magnified by the impact of Covid-19. Firstly, the issue of livelihood, felt by the Orang Asli and Malay communities in Kelantan, but with different degrees of intensity.

With the ecosystem under threat, they found that their gatherings of gaharu (agar wood), honey and bamboo have diminished considerably.

Secondly, the issue of access to clean water. Some kampung do not have water pipes in their homes and share a common source of water — air bukit, which was developed many years ago.

Nevertheless, development s in nearby areas ended up polluting these water sources, so the locals had to buy mineral water, which was pricey. Thirdly, the issue of poor Internet connectivity.

This problem has impacted households, schoolchildren and businesses negatively, especially when Covid-19 has pushed everyone online. Businesses which are not virtually present will lose out.

Fourthly, the supply chain and online marketing training.

Women in Kampung Jerimbong, Kelantan, for example are entrepreneurial, but with a weak supply chain, they’re unable to reach out to customers in different states. Lastly, the issues of employment and attracting new industries.

With more industrial activities being developed, a strengthened supply chain can be created along with jobs. The solution projects selected — such as growing mushrooms, batik-making, fish-rearing and ecotourism micro-projects — touch on different goals highlighted by the SDGs including job security, narrowing of inequality, women empowerment and poverty eradication.

What makes these projects so powerful is that they empower local communities to take control of their lives with the funding from the government.

I hope more people can be empowered in the medium to long term and that the projects will continue to be sustainable for generations.

This article was first appeared in New Straits Times on 1 March 2021.

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