Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) covers over 72,000 square kilometers, amongst the world’s highest mountain range, in the north of Pakistan and borders China, Afghanistan, and India. Situated at the confluence of the Karakoram, Hindu Kush and Himalayan mountains, Gilgit-Baltistan is home to five of the "eight-thousanders" and has more than fifty peaks above 7,000 meters. These stunning, towering mountains bring with them harsh, unforgiving climatic conditions. These unique geographical features of the region have a powerful influence on the socio-economic development process of GB. Out of the total 72,496 square kilometers, only 2 percent of GB’s land is cultivable.
The population is spread thinly across the region with only 20 persons per square km. Low population density coupled with harsh geographic and climatic conditions makes service delivery not only challenging but also expensive for the government. This translates into low returns to private investments which is why the presence of private sector, in service delivery, is negligible. Access to nearest major urban centers outside of GB is also restricted because of long distances and poor road infrastructure.
Meanwhile, GB has a huge potential of hydro-power generation. However, as the region is not connected to the national grid, it makes it challenging for private companies to venture in the area. If the GB government, with the support of the federal government, is able to establish a regional grid and connect it with the national grid, it will not only enhance the domestic capacity of revenue generation but also attract the private sector. This will lead to both employment opportunities and spur economic growth in the region.
The tourism sector, despite its huge potential, is still underdeveloped in GB. Gilgit-Baltistan is a major attraction for both domestic and inbound tourists because of its stunning landscape with majestic mountains. Three of the world's longest glaciers outside the polar regions are also a part Gilgit-Baltistan. However, it can only reap its full potential if the government can develop tourist points through better road infrastructure and by establishing other supporting structure.
Local revenue generation capacity is limited in GB, which is entirely dependent on the federal government to meet its development as well as current expenditures. During the last fiscal year, the GB government was able to generate a domestic revenue of approximately 1 billion PKR whereas the total budget of GB, including ADP, PSDP and recurrent, was more than 62 billion PKR during the same year.
The major proportion of the development budget is being spent on renovation of the existing infrastructure due to the harsh climatic conditions and consequent natural disasters. Excessive deforestation in the region aggravate these challenges. People of Gilgit-Baltistan rely on forest cutting for cooking as there are no alternate arrangements. Not only that, forest cutting is a mean to generate revenue to meet their financial needs. The resultant deforestation has led to flooding. A cycle of poverty is generated when the worst hit regions happen to be the ones with clusters of people with the poorest of economic conditions.
Implementation of SDGs while addressing these challenges require coordinated efforts from the federal and GB government with both financial and technical support of the development partner organizations. In line with this, the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), in collaboration with the federal and Gilgit-Baltistan governments, is supporting localization of Agenda 2030 to address the development challenges in GB. Under the Mainstreaming, Acceleration and Policy Support (MAPS) project, efforts are being made to create an enabling policy environment to achieve Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in Gilgit-Baltistan by 2030.
The MAPS project is supporting the government of GB to incorporate SDGs into its development programs, polices and plans. For the first time, the development and current budget along with donor financing was mapped with SDGs for the financial year 2018-19 in Gilgit-Baltistan. The purpose of this activity was to highlight the priorities of the government in financial allocations against SDGs and to shed light on low funded SDGs which needs due consideration in future planning. The departments are now making efforts to incorporate SDG targets in their budgetary planning.
The ADP 2019-20 of Gilgit-Baltistan was also mapped with relevant SDGs to facilitate line departments and other stakeholders in budgetary planning. SDG codes were included in the printed document of ADP 2019-20 for the first time. This enables policy makers to track the allocations, releases and expenditure on each SDG. In addition, it will help in raising awareness among the relevant departments about SDGs. The government of GB is making efforts to align its budgetary allocations with SDGs. Comparison between the ADP 2018-19 and 2019-20 show that the government of GB has enhanced the allocations for social sector from 3.2 to 5.9 billion PKR, an increment of 18 percent approximately. For the first time, the GB government has reduced the share of physical infrastructure to divert more resources towards the social sector. Given the limited fiscal capacity in the current financial year, sustainability of environment and ecosystem could not receive due consideration in budgetary allocations.
Budgetary allocations of the agriculture sector which target the SDG 2, were enhanced significantly which will contribute towards reducing hunger while addressing issues of malnutrition and stunting in GB. Similarly, allocations for social sector targeting SDG 3, 4 and 6 regarding service-delivery in health, education, water and sanitation have been increased for better social service delivery. Similarly, for the first time, an institutional setup for women development is being established at both the regional and District level to improve women’s access to social and economic empowerment services at their doorsteps.
Overall, alignment of SDGs with budgetary process helps policy makers to review current trends in budgetary processes and is instrumental in order for line departments to develop informed plan of actions to achieve the relevant SDG targets. Further, it also provides evidence for re-alignment of interventions towards prioritized goals to address the gaps.
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Ayesha Babar, Communications Analyst UNDP
Najma has over 15 years of experience in development sector particularly on public policy, planning and management. Prior to UNDP, she has worked in various capacities with Planning & Development, Women Development and Economic Transformation Initiative-GB where she was responsible for planning, implementation and oversight of social and economic sector development programs.