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Building back better from COVID-19 while advancing
the full implementation of the 2030 Agenda in the Arab region

About the Annual SDG Review

The Annual SDG Review series is meant to inform and trigger discussions at the Arab Forum for Sustainable Development. Issued yearly ahead of the Forum, it provides:

  • a statistical check-in on where the Arab region stands in terms of realizing the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs); and
  • a reading of the Forum’s theme in relation to the 2030 Agenda as a whole.
The 2022 edition is the first in the series.
Feedback is welcome to escwa-2030agenda@un.org.

Almost two years into the COVID-19 pandemic, Arab countries are recovering, albeit at different paces.

Despite diminishing fiscal space and other constraints, they have deployed stimulus packages of varying sizes and adopted policy response measures to safeguard livelihoods and revitalize economies.

Innovative approaches have emerged in the region that deserve to be institutionalized and scaled up going forward.

Yet, on the eve of the pandemic, the Arab countries were not on track to achieve the SDGs, which made them ill-prepared to face the crisis.

Explore the data on the Arab region’s progress on achieving the SDGs.

33 SDG targets out of 169 are on track.

Better how? Better for whom?

Building back better from the COVID-19 crisis is in fact about changing the existing structures and conditions that led to the crisis and amplified its impacts. It is about aligning closer with the SDGs and the spirit of the 2030 Agenda. It is also about keeping sight of the megatrends and leveraging regional cooperation and integration.

This Annual SDG Review focuses on three regional priorities.

The social protection chapter shows that better means inclusive of all, especially of those who are the most left behind. The expansion of social safety nets in response to the crisis offers a chance to construct stronger, shock-responsive social protection systems that provide whole-of-life coverage and resilience against future crises.
Read more.

The green economic recovery chapter shows that better means greener. Investments to lift Arab economies out of recession are opportunities to decarbonize, diversify, create decent jobs and enhance resilience.
Read more.

The digital transformation chapter shows that better means transforming the way things are done. The digitalization of business, government services, education and health in response to the crisis was fast, offering great potential in terms of inclusion, economic diversification and resilience.
Read more.

Key takeaway messages

Social protection

What Arab countries did:

The crisis pushed governments to find ways to reach many who had previously been excluded from social safety nets, and highlighted the need for – as well as the feasibility of – universal, shock-responsive, whole-of-life coverage that leaves no one behind.

What Arab countries can do:

Arab governments can enhance social protection systems by rationalizing programmes through broad coordination efforts, investing in administrative improvements such as integrated beneficiary registries, and focusing on the financial sustainability of safety nets.

Regional cooperation:

Regional action can help Arab countries overcome long-term challenges related to the coverage of migrants, financing and reforming social protection systems.

Green economic recovery

What Arab countries did:

There is little information on the environmental implications of the stimulus packages introduced by Arab governments to reinvigorate the economy. Anecdotal evidence suggests that they are likely to be negative or mixed (neutral at best).

What Arab countries can do:

Economic planning must maintain pre-pandemic momentum, seek to increase the share of green projects and embark on the systemic change needed to support a true green recovery.

Regional cooperation:

Arab countries further regional cooperation on transboundary environmental problems through formulating or strengthening regional normative frameworks, and identifying and implementing strategic initiatives on shared environmental priorities to build regional resilience.

Digital transformation

What Arab countries did:

The region witnessed a positive surge in the acceptance and practice of digital ways of doing business, learning, seeking medical help and accessing various government services, offering prospects for improving the resilience of Arab societies.

What Arab countries can do:

To capture the full value of digital transformation and prevent the deepening or creation of new divides, Arab countries need to address pre-existing inequalities, including gender inequalities.

Regional cooperation:

Arab countries could establish a regional alliance to foster the collaborative development of digital public goods.

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