India behind on progress toward UN Sustainable Development Goals

March 2, 2023—India is not on target to reach more than half of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)—a broad set of global goals set in 2015 by UN member states—by the organization’s 2030 deadline, according to a study led by Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

The study was published in The Lancet Regional Health–Southeast Asia on February 20, 2023. First author was S.V. Subramanian, professor of population health and geography at Harvard Chan School and principal investigator at Harvard University’s Geographic Insights Lab; other co-authors affiliated with the lab included Rockli Kim, co-principal investigator, and Akhil Kumar, research intern.

The researchers used data from India’s 2016 and 2021 National Family Health Survey to assess progress toward nine out of 17 SDGs by looking at 33 indicators related to health and social determinants of health. Assessing how the indicators changed from 2016 to 2021, the researchers classified 707 districts across India—as well as the nation as a whole—as either achieved, on target, or off target to meeting the SDGs by 2030.

Nationally, India is off target for 19 of the 33 SDG indicators, the study found. And for critical indicators—including access to basic services, wasting and overweight children, anemia, child marriage, partner violence, tobacco use, and modern contraceptive use— more than 75% of districts were off target. There’s been no progress made on anemia, for example, and progress toward other goals is slow. The researchers estimated that India is only a year away from meeting the target for improved water access but that other targets, such as those regarding access to basic services and partner violence, could take until 2062 to reach.

Based on the findings, the study authors recommended that a strategic roadmap be developed toward four particular SDGs: No Poverty, Zero Hunger, Good Health and Wellbeing, and Gender Equality.

“Meeting [the SDGs] would require prioritizing and targeting specific areas within India,” the researchers wrote. “India’s emergence and sustenance as a leading economic power depends on meeting some of the more basic health and social determinants of health-related SDGs in an immediate and equitable manner.”

Read an article in The Hindu: India likely to miss deadline for 50% of SDG indicators: Lancet study

Read the study: Progress on Sustainable Development Goal indicators in 707 districts of India: a quantitative mid-line assessment using the National Family Health Surveys, 2016 and 2021