Sustainable Development Goals: Another wasteful venture for Kenya?

The world recently approved the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). As a development professional focused on water and sanitation across Kenya, I’m mostly concerned with SDG 6; access to safe water for all by 2030.

And while this is an admirable goal, along with the rest of the SDGs, I don’t believe the SDGs are a helpful model for Kenya or the rest of the world. Instead of prescribing a broad set of 17 goals for the world, we should instead be guided by a country’s own development priorities. Only then will we be able to come close to making sustainable progress.

A child drinking water a tap. SDG 6 advocates for access to safe water for all by 2030. (PHOTO: COURTESY)
The SDGs are vague and unrealistic prescriptions, especially for developing nations; their ambitions are manifest in scale as well as scope.

If you compare them with national frameworks like the Kenya Vision 2030, our national document highlights the key development pillars that are required to make Kenya a sustainable middle economy by the end of the period.

These are mainly economic, social and political. Meanwhile, the SDGs target in the next 15 years to eradicate universal challenges and provide a holistic vision of human flourishing encrypted in 17 goals and 169 targets, from ending poverty in all its forms everywhere, ensuring availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all, to making cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable; without specific commitments for action.

The secret lies in developing a concrete development vision with fewer priorities and specific targets that offers opportunity for global action, with precision that can be measured.

That simplicity of envisioning actions helps in galvanizing the citizens around it, just like South Korea and Malaysia did with much success.

Kenya’s priorities for water are to reduce the water inequalities and improve access.

Therefore, the Vision has set out to rehabilitate 600 hydrometric stations; enforcing regulations for water resource monitoring; Encouraging formation of water resource users associations by communities to assist in self-regulation and mapping of underground water aquifers.

It has also put forward concrete strategies for water supply and expansion in the major and medium towns and expansion of rural water supply.

The vision is exploring public private sector collaboration in development and management of water supply, to accelerate investments and innovations in the sector.

This is part of our bigger vision of helping us grow our economy sustainably and it’s where we believe our investment is best spent.

As part of modelling the national vision, on the role of private public collaboration in the last quarter, the organisation I work with rolled out a one safe drop initiative in the dry and remote southern rift region in Kajiado County, Kenya.

An initiative exploring optimisation of the safe water value chain for the last mile-Africaqua inkua- meaning “the promise” for Africa and targeting 3,000 households, supported by, Ekocentre-Cocacola, and Spring.

This initiative aims to strengthen the role of local water vendors as an interface of community safe water delivery framework and draws the strength of teenage girls under 19 in the implementation, and thus supporting them to mould sustainable households.

Our agenda is to galvanize the last mile population in taking tangible actions towards alleviating the perennial water shortage. We need tangible results that help make a sustainable difference in people’s livelihoods, especially the last mile.

The utopian vision outlined by the SDGs will make poor nations compete for financial resources in sectors that are not a priority for them, and will distract from their existing plans.

We need to assess the value for money in establishing parallel institutions and frameworks at national levels.

To date, the Kenya Vision 2030 has established a vision 2030 Delivery Board and a Secretariat. These two institutions are enough and capable to steer the nations on the path of our vision.

Some people may argue that following country priorities is not an ideal path to transformation, that many countries have the wrong priorities.

I would argue not only is that incredibly condescending; it’s also counterproductive. That’s because, aligning with a country’s own priorities is the only way to coalesce the social capital that is immediate and for long-term belief in systems.

It offers an opportunity for a more sustainable social transformation and ensures that investments made in that country are going to last.

As we ponder the realities of achieving a better world for all, I for sure admit we need to do more, with less.

We need nations to remain focused on their most pressing needs. In fact, we need to listen to alternative voices, the development experts, on what they have learnt, where they have failed or succeeded, and we could pick valuable “bits of wood” that will light a fire for our future.

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Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)vision 2010