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Being ambitious with SDGs, still time to get it right

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Training of community volunteersVSO: Training community health workers and volunteers in Africa

By Priya Nath, Global Policy and Advocacy Advisor (Post-2015)

Last week, the UN released a ‘zero draft’ document outlining how the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) will look. At the same time, thousands of people gathered in Brussels to discuss the big global development challenges as part of the annual European Development Days and this was a hot point of discussions by experts.

The Zero Draft gives us a sneak peak at what we can expect heads of state to sign off in September this year. It’s the product of two years of discussions pulled into one comprehensive global agenda to address poverty. For those of us in the development sector it was great to see that there is a high level of ambition in the draft SDGs but this ambition cannot be allowed to waiver over the next few months while the finer details are agreed in tough negotiations still to come in June and July. 

VSO is among groups that believe that the SDGs should be driven by people, not by governments or politics. The draft alludes to this, way down in paragraph 43, by stating that this is “an agenda by and for the people” but it would be better if these seven short but important words were closer to the top of the agenda.

People in this context include the millions of volunteers who help to support vulnerable members of their communities with things such as access information, undertaking everyday tasks or getting their voice heard.  The new agenda is a great opportunity to recognize and support these vital, yet often invisible individuals. To help support volunteers to continue to play this important role, they will need to be acknowledged in development plans and resourced so they can continue to help provide extend basic services to some of the most marginalised communities on the planet.

The other key area of ambition that needs to be retained is the aspiration to “achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls”. This is currently up front in the preamble where it is great to see that gender equality is being recognized as a basic human right, not just as an instrument to help achieve other things. But to achieve this goal, we’ll have to tackle the very ingrained power structures across all our societies which continues to put men at the head of almost every decision making table if not surround it completely.

What really matters now is how these words translate into action. The zero draft has yet to nail the ‘how’ question: How will governments be held account in a meaningful way? How will resources be directed?  How do we ensure that people themselves, especially those experiencing poverty and marginalization, have a say in assessing the progress of this agenda?

Member states are among the key players at the Intergovernmental Negotiations in New York later this month and the Financing for Development Conference in Addis Ababa in July. Both forums must produce implementation, accountability and measurement plans that match the ambition of these goals and targets. This relies on inclusive open dialogue with everyone sticking to the task until the end so that we get the best deal possible for people and planet.

Africa

Humanitarian aid: €24.5 million in Southern Africa and Indian Ocean region

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The EU has announced new funding of €24.5 million in humanitarian aid for the Southern Africa and Indian Ocean region. EU humanitarian aid to the region seeks to provide a response to the humanitarian consequences of the conflict in northern Mozambique, where €7.86m of EU funding will be directed. Furthermore, EU aid will support measures against the socio-economic crisis in Zimbabwe, to address food insecurity, and to support COVID-19 preparedness and response. In Madagascar, the EU will provide assistance to address the severe food and nutrition crisis. A further €6m will be dedicated to helping children across the whole region gain access to education. Another €8m will be provided to improve the region's disaster preparedness.

Crisis Management Commissioner Janez Lenarčič said: “The Southern Africa and Indian Ocean region is highly vulnerable to various natural hazards, including cyclones, droughts and epidemics. In some countries of the region, this is exacerbated by a challenging political and socio-economic environment, while the overall situation is aggravated further due to the coronavirus pandemic. EU assistance seeks to alleviate the humanitarian consequences on the most vulnerable populations, and improve disaster preparedness in the region.”

Background

The coronavirus pandemic exacerbated an already difficult situation in Southern Africa and the Indian Ocean region. The region faces natural hazards, including recurring droughts and cyclones, on top of economic and political challenges. Disasters represent a major source of risk for the most vulnerable populations and can undermine development gains. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, many poor households are having difficulty in meeting food and non-food needs because of lockdowns and other coronavirus-related restrictive measures.    

Since 2014, the EU has mobilized over €237 million in assistance to the region, paying particular attention to disaster preparedness. The EU provides aid in the form of emergency financial transfers to vulnerable people affected by disasters and is also helping address food and nutrition needs in affected areas. With the security situation deteriorating in northern Mozambique's Cabo Delgado province, the EU is supporting vulnerable displaced and affected people with shelter, food, protection and access to healthcare.

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EU humanitarian aid to Mozambique

EU humanitarian aid to Southern Africa and the Indian Ocean

EU humanitarian aid to Zimbabwe

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ECR Group endorses EU-Africa partnership

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The ECR Group in the European Parliament believes that strengthening the bonds and economic co-operation between the European Union and Africa is of the utmost importance and to the benefit of both sides. Helping Africa in their development could win the EU a gigantic, new trading partner and could reduce the migration pressure anticipated for the future. Last, but no less important, are international security concerns. In pursuit of global security, the EU should act to prevent Africa from becoming a forecourt of Russia or China.

In the debate ahead of today’s adoption of Parliament’s own initiative report on a new EU-Africa Strategy, ECR Foreign Affairs Coordinator Anna Fotyga, who had drafted the opinion of the Foreign Affairs Committee, pushed for moving beyond the donor-beneficiary relationship by highlighting the impact of the growing presence of China and Russia on the continent.

Anna Fotyga said: “We must remain strategically engaged, conducting dialogue with the people of Africa.

“The European Parliament rightly calls on the EU to develop a strategic and long-term response to the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative. The EU's involvement in Africa is much more valuable and constructive than any actions of our rivals – China and Russia, who mostly try to increase their spheres of influence.”

ECR Shadow Rapporteur Beata Kempa said: “Europe today shows that it is a real ally of Africa. I believe this is the right time to attempt to evaluate our engagement in this region, and to discuss the directions and possibilities for change.

“The European Union should help Africa to develop socially, to improve digitally, to foster investment, economic growth and sustainable development, as well as to redistribute its wealth more fairly.

“It is time to invest in Africa’s youth, its human capital, to allow young Africans to pursue their dreams where they were born.”

Kempa also stressed that the largest challenge is Africa’s health sector, that is in need of support. According to Kempa, this challenge should be tackled in cooperation with international institutions. In this context, she referred to the COVAX vaccine distribution program.

The Report has been adopted with 460 votes in favour, 64 against and 163 abstentions.

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Towards a renewed partnership between Africa and the EU

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Africa and the EU must establish a new partnership as equals, focusing on people's needs and adjusting to the needs of a post-COVID world. African and European societies face common issues and shared challenges, such as the coronavirus pandemic and climate change, creating the need for closer and more equitable collaboration.

On 25 March, MEPs will vote on Parliament’s proposals for a new EU-Africa strategy laying the foundation for a partnership that reflects the interests of both sides and gives African countries the means to achieve sustainable development.

Read more on EU-Africa relations.

Human development at the heart of future strategy

Africa is home to the youngest population in the world, with about one million Africans entering the job market every month. However, more than 390 million people are living below the poverty line, while less than 10% of 18-24 year olds are enrolled in some form of post secondary education or training.

Investing in people is therefore seen as a key pillar of the upcoming EU-Africa strategy, announced by the European Commission in March, with priority given to the fight against inequality, young people and the empowerment of women.

Chrysoula Zacharopoulou (Renew Europe, France), who wrote the Parliament's proposals, emphasises the need to ensure access to quality education and provide young people, especially women and girls, with the necessary skills to access the job market.

Decent working conditions are seen as key to providing prospects to the rapidly growing population. This goes hand in hand with inclusive social protection systems, measures against child and forced labour and a transition from the informal to the formal economy. The informal sector makes up nearly 86% of all employment in Africa.

The new strategy should also improve health care and strengthen national health systems, making them more resilient to future crises. MEPs want to step up EU-Africa collaboration on health research and innovation to boost local production of equipment and medicine.

Reducing Africa’s dependence on imports

The EU-Africa relationship “must move beyond the donor-recipient relationship”, according to the Parliament report, emphasising the importance of supporting Africa’s domestic production through sustainable investment.

It also proposes boosting intra-African trade through the continental free trade area, investment in transport infrastructure and better access to global markets.

Public-private partnerships and funding small and medium enterprises are considered essential, as these smaller firms represent 95% of businesses in Africa and the private sector is expected to be decisive in the post-Covid recovery.

All agreements should be compatible with human rights, labour and environmental standards and in line with UN Sustainable Development Goals, said the report.

The report also calls on international lenders, such as the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, to do more to relieve the debt burdens of African countries, which have been exacerbated by the pandemic.

Partners for a green and digital transition

Africa bears the least responsibility for climate change, but it is bearing the brunt of its impact: in 2019, nearly 16.6 million Africans were affected by extreme weather events, 195% more than in 2018.

The report urges a transition to a clean and circular economy through investment in sustainable transport, green infrastructure and renewable energy. It also stresses the need to protect Africa’s unique biodiversity and indigenous communities, as well as ensuring fair and sustainable exploitation of raw materials, which account for 49% of EU imports from Africa.

A partnership on sustainable agriculture should be at the centre of EU-Africa relations, say MEPs, in order to develop environment-friendly farming practices, strengthen the resilience of farmers and address food system failures, aggravated by the closure of borders due to the Covid crisis.

The digital transformation will play a key role in the modernisation of the farm sector, but also education, employment, health and people's participation in political decision-making.

A migration policy based on solidarity and shared responsibility

Since 2015, the EU and African countries have developed a joint approach to managing migration flows, which has led to a reduction in irregular migration and improved cooperation on the fight against migrant smuggling. Yet significant challenges remain. Sub-Saharan Africa hosts more than a quarter of the world’s refugees and Mediterranean crossings continue to cause loss of life and fuel criminal networks.

MEPs stress that the new EU-Africa partnership must put the dignity of refugees and migrants at its heart, addressing migration as a shared responsibility between European countries of destination and the African countries of origin. They also emphasise the need to tackle the root causes of displacement, guarantee fair asylum procedures and establish a migration policy that would create opportunities for skilled and unskilled workers.

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