India is trailing behind in achieving more than 50% of indicators under the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) seven years before the 2030 deadline, according to a study published in the Lancetjournal on February 20.
There are 17 SGDs providing a blueprint for the safety and prosperity of people and the planet, which 192 United Nations member states committed to achieving by 2030. The study, which offers the first mid-line assessment of India’s progress for the 2030 Agenda, measured progress made across 9 goals by identifying 33 key indicators.
India has fallen behind on 19 of 33 indicators. Over 75% of Indian districts are off target for eight crucial indicators including poverty, anaemia, child marriage domestic violence, stunting and wasting of children, access to essential services, modern contraceptive use and tobacco consumption.
“Because of a worsening trend observed between 2016 and 2021, and assuming no course correction occurs, many districts will never meet the targets on the SDGs even well after 2030,” the study noted, adding that the off-target districts are concentrated in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Bihar and Odisha.
The study was led by researchers at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and led by a team of international researchers. They analysed data on adults and children collected from two iterations of the National Family Health Survey, conducted in 2016 and 2021, across 707 Indian districts. India is nearing a halfway point in the timeline to achieve SDGs, and the results point to an urgent need to increase the momentum on four SDG goals — No Poverty, Zero Hunger, Good Health and Well-Being and Gender Equality , the study authors said.
“As India rapidly moves forward as a leading economic player in the world economy, its full realisation will crucially depend on addressing some of the more basic health and social determinants of these critical health-related SDGs,” the study noted.
India is, however, faring well on 13 targets. These include bank accounts for women, birth registration, internet use, electricity access, full vaccination, birth registration, and lowering of child marriage among others.
In April 2022, the Union Health Ministry said it is confident India will achieve the target Sustainable Development Goals before the deadline of 2030, adding that India has registered a significant decline in maternal mortality rates. The optimism was reiterated during the Union Budget presentation this year when Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said India had made “significant progress” with SDGs.
In March 2022, India slipped three ranks from 117 to 120 on the SDG Index, according to the “State of Environment” report released by the Centre for Science and Environment — placing India behind all South Asian nations except for Pakistan.
The present study reaffirms the challenges in meeting indicators related to health and social indicators of health. Even if the observed rate of change between 2016 and 2030 continues, the measures will still fall short of achieving the 2030 goals. The progress “though in desirable direction, is insufficient to meet SDG targets by 2030”, the study added. However, if efforts continue, India may meet the target of improved water access by 2031, clean fuel for cooking by 2035, lowering teenage pregnancy age by 2039 and partner sexual violence by 2040.
11 off-target indicators, including access to basic services and partner violence (physical and sexual), may be met between 2041 and 2062.
India will not be able to meet the targets on anaemia. “Since the prevalence has increased (worsened) for 3 of these, Anaemia among Women, Pregnant, and Non-Pregnant Women between 2016 and 2021, and assuming this trend continues, India would never be able to meet the SDG targets related to Anaemia,” the study added. The fifth and latest round of the National Family Health Survey (2019-2021) revealed more Indians are anaemic than ever before, with at least 67% of children and 52.2% of women having anaemia.
The study authors noted there is an urgent need to develop a strategic roadmap to ensure success with regards to meeting the SDGs, “which should include an honest and transparent assessment of existing GOI programs that are directly or indirectly related to SDGs.”