THE Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), set up in 2015 by the United Nations and adopted by all member states, have provided truly worthwhile aims for Malaysia to aspire to by 2030.

However, it must be remembered that the SDGs were created at the international level. As a result, a significant conundrum in making SDGs a success is how to localise and make them relevant to people who need them the most. 

A very key and admirable principle behind the SDGs is “leaving no one behind”, which encapsulates its inclusiveness. But if the goals are not contextualised and if there is failure to understand the unique set of problems that each Malaysian town or village faces, then “leaving no one behind” will end up becoming a mere slogan.

When talking about inequalities that persist in Malaysia, a lot of times the discussion focuses too heavily on the dichotomy of the urban-rural divide. This ignores the great divide within urban areas themselves, which Covid-19 has only exacerbated.

In the cities, the past year has seen many of those in the Bottom 40 per cent group lose their means of income as a lot of jobs cannot be carried out from the confines of home. Some argue that the pandemic has showed that the country’s safety nets are not adequate.

Besides that, the urban poor face the obstacle of both unaffordable and low quality housing. People’s Housing Project flats continue to experience issues with cleanliness, drainage and wiring, leaving many flats dilapidated. Add to that the worry of waste management that continues to plague urban Malaysia.

Sadly, less than 30 per cent of the country’s waste is separated and recycled, with the rest going to landfills, resulting in the release of toxins to surrounding areas.

Rural Malaysia, on the other hand, experiences their own set of hurdles. For example, infrastructure shortcomings continue to greatly affect the livelihood of a significant number of people. In many areas, roads and bridges are poor, which impacts all age groups as farmers and fishermen face high transport costs to bring their produce to market while young children experience difficulties getting to school. 

Covid-19 has also made clear the urgency to develop digital connectivity in rural areas. Lacklustre Internet connections have prevented many students in villages from being able to attend classes online and this has also contributed to the slow spread of information regarding the pandemic.

One other issue that is also unique and pertinent to many rural areas is the question of Orang Asli customary rights to land. The control of state governments over the land has, in many instances, negatively impacted the Orang Asli due to relocation schemes and the clearance of ecosystems.

Thus, there needs to be a better legal framework surrounding land rights to protect the livelihoods of rural communities.

The above are just a few of the significant problems encountered throughout the country in attaining the SDGs. To overcome this, two very important principles have to be adopted. Firstly, solutions need to be bottom-up as opposed to top-down.

The communities themselves understand their problems the best and should be allowed to provide solutions. Diktats from higher authorities imposed on every locality will not always be helpful in supporting the poorest communities.

Secondly, solutions must also empower communities. Under the All-Parliamentary Party Group, many projects have been carried out, such as micro-entrepreneurship training for the B40 and providing opportunities in the eco-tourism sector. These projects help provide many with the skills and abilities to be able to help themselves.

2030 is less than a decade away. There is certainly much progress that Malaysia has made in recent years that the country should be proud of, but if the principle of “leaving no one behind” is to become a reality, SDGs have to start being more relevant for everyone. If not, it will be Malaysia that ends up being left behind.

This article was first appeared in New Straits Times on 13 April 2021.

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