MIL-OSI Asia-Pac: Tunisia’s VNR Experience Demonstrates Challenges Brought on by COVID-19

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Source: Small Island Developing States

As part of the 2021 session of the UN High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF), a series of side events known as VNR Labs provided a platform for informal discussion of the voluntary national review (VNR) process. A VNR Lab session on Tunisia focused on challenges for the government as it conducted its second VNR amid COVID-19 recovery efforts.

The virtual side event on 15 July 2021 highlighted how Tunisia worked to implement the SDGs as part of its response to COVID-19. While acknowledging negative effects of COVID-19 on the country’s SDG progress, speakers said Tunisia made substantial progress at the political level. They noted the government’s efforts to make water and electricity accessible to all, regularly hold transparent and democratic elections, and increase the school enrollment rate to reach just over 99% of children in the country.

On factors that hindered the country’s SDG progress, panelists cited the geopolitical and security context at the regional level, saying this had affected Tunisia’s economic and social goals. Instability in the Tunisia-Libya border areas, for example, constituted a high risk to achieving SDG 1 (no poverty) and SDG 8 (decent work and economic growth). SDG 1 is also threatened nation-wide; panelists noted the risk of a “15-year setback” in Tunisia’s fight against poverty.

The discussion also underscored the pandemic’s impacts on SDG 3 (good health and well-being), saying the decline in tourism has jeopardized Tunisia’s rank as a medical tourism destination, and the steep decline in medical activity has threatened the overarching heath care sector. Speakers also touched on the complexity of hospital waste and health care waste management as a COVID-19 impact deterring Tunisia’s progress on environmental protection. A presenter reported that the limited capacity for waste collection and treatment has been troublesome given the fact that an estimated five-to-six million single-use masks are discarded each day in Tunisia.

Finally, the discussion underscored that the new political regime in Tunisia has brought forward a new constitution solidifying fundamental rights and freedoms for citizens, and suggested that Tunisia’s democratic transition has accelerated SDG implementation.

The HLPF is an annual event that conducts follow-up and review of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the SDGs. Under the auspices of the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), the event took place from 6-15 July 2021. A total of 17 VNR labs convened during the 2021 HLPF.

Tunisia’s second VNR was presented during the HLPF’s ministerial segment on 14 July. According to the Earth Negotiations Bulletin, the presentation highlighted the participatory approach to the review process, which was achieved in part by developing a multi-stakeholder national committee dedicated to the implementation of the SDGs and a draft development vision aligned with the 2030 Agenda. The presentation drew attention to efforts to increase women’s participation in policymaking, to end violence against women, and achieve greater gender equality. The representative also listed child protection as a top priority, and discussed initiatives to establish social protections, free medical assistance, assistance for the disabled, skills training, and a national employment strategy. In response to a question about the effects of COVID-19, Tunisia responded that it has provided an opportunity to rebuild its emergency medical services, increase the number of intensive care beds from 200 to 1000, and provide free healthcare. The representative said COVID-19 is “not delaying Tunisia’s agenda but speeding it up.”

The main messages of Tunisia’s VNR report highlight the country’s commitment to the 2030 Agenda with a five-year development plan set for 2021-2025. As part of the five-year strategy, gender inequalities, poverty, and youth unemployment have been highlighted as priorities. [ENB coverage of the HLPF] [Publication: Rapport National Volontaire Sur La Mise en Ceuvre des Objectifis de Developpement Durable En Tunisie]

This article was authored by Rukiya Abdulle, MSc Candidate at the University of Toronto, & Generation 2030 and SDGs Student Associate, IISD.

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