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Achieving Sustainable Development Goals in Southeast Asian Countries

January 25, 2019

By Lucky Agung Pratama

Sustainable Development Goals – United Nations

The United Nations Development Program’s “Sustainable Development Goals” is a framework comprised of seventeen goals designed to safeguard and enhance societal well-being by ending poverty, protecting the environment, achieving gender equality, ensuring access to education, and other important objectives.  Although we hear little about this set of goals in the US, they have been agreed upon by a number of countries, including those making up ASEAN.  The goals were proposed in 2015, but were built on decades of work by countries and the United Nations.  An overarching hope is that implementing the Sustainable Development Goals will promote peace.  Countries worldwide vowed to make their best effort to achieve those goals by 2030.

Professor Holzhacker and UW scholars

The implementation of the goals requires different strategies from each country and scholars around the world have been hard at work in developing those strategies. This topic is one of Professor Ronald Holzhacker’s main interests. He is a Professor of Comparative Multilevel Governance and Regional Structure at the University of Groningen Faculty of Spatial Science and the Director of the Groningen Research Centre for Southeast Asia and ASEAN.

Professor Holzhacker visited the University of Washington last week to give a talk about how these goals can best be implemented in Southeast Asia. Holzhacker recently co-edited a volume on this topic, along with scholars from Gadjah Mada University in Jogjakarta, Indonesia. In the seminar, organized by UW’s Southeast Asia Center, he shared his insights with our scholars, including challenges that might be faced in implementing those goals.  Among those who were present at the event were a number of students from the department of Civil and Environmental Engineering and the School of Fisheries.

In Southeast Asian countries, there are multi-level challenges to successful implementation; it is not only a government’s responsibility to implement those goals. Holzhacker believes that the effort should involve stakeholders, civil society, and citizens. More than that, it is paramount that a country promotes the effort to all citizens.

As one example, Holzhacker referenced the adoption of clean energy in Indonesia. At first, adoption was limited to the Indonesian capital and surrounding areas. But it became more widespread as more cities, and their residents, embraced the importance of clean energy.

Holzhacker also mentioned the recent implementation of a national universal healthcare system in Indonesia, which he praised as a noble effort in achieving the goal of nationwide health and well-being. Theoretically, it is a great concept because it aims to provide affordable healthcare for the population. Outcomes were remarkable in successfully enrolling more than 75% of the population, meaning those who have insurance have access to affordable healthcare. However, the implementation isn’t without its flaws.  It encountered several problems, ranging from patient discrimination to continual deficits due to people not paying premiums. This issue underscores the importance of involvement of various elements of society as mentioned by Holzhacker. The government might make a policy that sounds good on paper, however it is up to the society to support the success of its implementation.