Leaving no one behind – Samoa at the High Level Political Forum

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Samoa knows that 'leave no one behind' is more than a slogan, that it is about real people, and real countries, that cannot be hidden behind global or national averages

It took me 24 hours to get from Bangkok to Samoa. Being based in South-East Asia, you think you are close, but no.

That is the reality for the Pacific Islands. Even travelling between the islands can take days, as some flights only go once a week, some do not have regular flights at all and the Pacific Ocean is bigger than you can imagine – bigger than all the continents combined apparently.

The distance is not stopping the Samoans, though. Family remittances account for, on average, 7% of household income, giving an indication as to the many Samoans abroad. On the plane I sat next to a Samoan rugby player who is contracted in France but made a three-day trip back to join his national team to play for the Pacific Nations Cup.

But this lifestyle is not for all. In fact, while poverty declined overall, there are stark differences between districts and urban poverty is increasing. Overall, inequality has worsened. The median age of Samoa’s population is 20.1 years, but 19.1 % of its youth is unemployed. Only 34% of children are not considered to be poor or vulnerable.

The concept of “leaving no one behind” that underlies the new global 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is therefore not a new one for the government of Samoa. Together with the United Nations, they have already been working on identifying the most vulnerable and marginalized people and trying to understand what it is they need as individuals and as groups to improve their lives.

Addressing the needs of these people is part of the unfinished business of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which preceded the 2030 Agenda. The MDGs, however, have also been criticized for masking differences between people by putting all the attention on the achievement of global and national targets.

As such, “leaving no one behind” is the development catchphrase of the moment. Not surprisingly, it is also the theme of the UN High Level Political Forum taking place in New York. This Forum is to be the main global gathering where progress by Member States against the 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is assessed every year.

While this seems a very important function, the Forum is dependent on the interest and ambition of the UN Member States. Reporting of countries is voluntary, against an Agenda which is also voluntary. Many papers have been written already on how to make the Forum more than a talk shop without any teeth. Many eyes are on it, in this first year since the adoption of the Agenda last September.

A lot, if not all, will depend on peer pressure.

Which makes the fact that Samoa is voluntarily reporting to the Forum this year even more important. Out of a total of 52 Small Island Developing States in the world, it is the only one to do so. You can imagine the challenges these islands face: they have little money, small populations, are vulnerable to natural disasters and external shock, and are often remote and hard to reach. In general, they are often themselves in danger of “being left behind”.  

Despite all that, Samoa has volunteered to report. And it has something to report! It has already compared its national Strategy for Development with the SDGs in order to inform the next strategy to come in effect in July. It has set-up a cross-government task force to spearhead action on the SDGs. It has started to assess the available data and data needs to monitor real progress against them.

Most importantly, it knows the reality of “being left behind”. It knows that it is more than a slogan, that it is about real people, and real countries, that cannot be hidden under global or national averages.

This is more than some countries a hundred times its size can say and I hope they will listen to Samoa at the Forum. If anything, Samoa got one little extra amplifier now; despite the distance, it has brought me close.

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