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Sultan Hajiyev, UNDP Country Director in Libya.

The 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) aim at resolving the social, economic and environment problems troubling the world. The value and importance of the SDGs for the UNDP is self-evident for those familiar with who we are and what we do. Everything we do should contribute to the SDGs. With this underlined, reaching the SDGs in crises requires realistic understanding of what ‘possible’ is.

The SDGs remain ‘terra incognita’ to many people we work with, and work for – particularly in complex emergencies. Any attempt to promote the SDGs ‘one size fits all’ will backfire. That may be not just a figure of speech. You push it too far, and in return to your appeals and recommendations on the SDGs you will hear RPGs. If you struggle to feed your child and do not know what your family will eat tomorrow, generic invitations to support ‘zero hunger’ and ‘no poverty’ will not just fall on deaf ears, they anger people. Promoting ‘sustainable cities and communities’ in a town levelled by aerial bombardment will likely cause fury.

Many Libyans are painfully aware of some of the above challenges. So, are the SDGs less relevant for Libya? Should we revise or perhaps drop the SDGs, or wait for better times to come? No, no and no again. In fact, it is the other way around – progress on the SDGs is among the top preconditions for resolving many of problems Libya is facing these days.

It is not a question of whether we promote the SDGs or not, but how we position and present them. Crises warrant the strongest possible practical flavour of working on the SDGs: better education, better healthcare, better quality of water, better business opportunities, better judicial system. The strength and power of the SDG is that they embody very specific practical content dear to each and every person, including those who do not really know what sustainability is, what development is and whose goal is to get something to eat before they go to bed. We need to customize messaging.

While the SDGs are in a way both our point of departure, and our destination, we must remain pragmatic. There is an expression about ‘losing the forest for the trees’ but do not forget that the forest consists of trees. The SDGs are not some extra-terrestrial substance from the outer world. They are what Libyan people need daily, what can improve their lives, what they live – with many unfortunately living the bitter absence of the values the SDGs promote. Our best way to advance the SDGs, and of ensuring progress towards the 2030 Goals, is through making sure there is genuine ownership and understanding of what is really behind these three letters.

One of the preconditions for success of the SDGs Agenda is partnership. It is so much more complex to ensure it in fragmented, and frequently antagonized societies with weakened Government institutions and private sector, and disillusioned and disempowered citizens, many of them alienated. Under certain circumstances, the SDGs should be disguised as a Trojan horse with the huge difference of being aimed at building and constructing, not capturing and demolishing.

For our Government partners, one of many reasons for embracing the SDGs is the strongest possible message of self-confidence they send by considering this issue among their top priorities. It takes political courage, and a lot of healthy optimism, to talk about the 17 in a country with many burning needs. It is their opportunity to make a bold statement of belief in their people – and also in themselves. I am therefore really pleased to see strong interest and commitment of a number of our Libyan counterparts to take the SDGs agenda forward. There is a long road ahead to 2030. It consists of many steps, by many partners and players. To those who are already walking – well done, and keep going. We are with you. Libya is yet to start the journey, so – safe trip, and if looking for a reliable travel companion who knows why you travel, shares the goal and wants to see you reaching your destination - UNDP is ready.    

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