Implementing Urban SDG in Afghanistan: The Challenges Faced and the Way Forward

Conference Report

By Ahmad Bilal Khalil[ii] 21 June 2020


In September 2015, 193 UN member states adopted the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as part of a new sustainable development agenda beyond 2015. SDGs were built on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and its main purpose was to eradicate poverty. The MDGs were half a success because it doesn’t achieve what it had targeted. Same was the story in Afghanistan, based on the Afghan government’s 10 year report on MDGs; it only achieved targets for 9 indicators out of 75 indicators (among them some localized indicators).

In addition, geographically MDGs focused solely on developing countries and thematically on poverty and wellbeing of the poor. It neglected the environment, economic growth, developed countries and the thematic areas of urbanization. Now SDGs is paying attention towards these neglected thematic areas and hence have a larger pool of goals and targets compared to MDGs. It has 17 Goals, 169 indicators and 234 indicators (compared to 8 MDGs Goals, 21 targets and 60 indicators) aiming for the betterment of socio wellbeing, protecting the planet, and economic growth.

All the member states, including Afghanistan, have promised to achieve these goals and targets by 2030. Hence, with SDGs the notions of ‘development’ and ‘security’ have become much broaden (earlier it was only in UNDP’s Human Development Index). Now development isn’t anything been measured by GDP growth rate or GNI but is now development at economy, social, health and politico sense. Security is also the same; it isn’t anything militarily but is widening to make sure health, environment and social securities among others.

Goal 11, one of the 17 SDGs, is also called as Urban SDG. This goal is about the sustainable, inclusive, safe and resilient urbanization. It has 10 targets and 15 indicators about informal settlements, access to public transportation, urbanization, protecting cultural heritage sites, reducing the hazards of natural disasters, improving the environment and public space. However, there are various other SDG goals and targets that are directly or indirectly influenced by SDG 11 as well.

The Process of Implementing SDGs

Based on the Afghan government’s recent reports, the implementation process of SDGs started on Jan 2019 by the Afghan Ministry of Economy (in earlier reports, SDGs implementation was supposed to be taking place from 2018). According to Afghan Ministry of Economy, there were three phases for the preparation of the SDGs in Afghanistan:

(1) the Nationalization of the SDGs targets and Indicators,

(2) the alignment of SDGs targets with the national strategic documents such as Afghanistan National Peace and Development Framework (ANPDF) and its different National Priority Programs,

(3) and the implementation of the SDGs in Afghanistan.

In the first phase, the nationalization of the SDGs was conducted with a comprehensive consultation process on the targets and indicators of global SDGs based on the country’s context and circumstances. As a result, in the end, Afghanistan adopted 16 of the 17 SDG Goals, 112 of the 169 targets and 178 of the 232 indicators. Furthermore, these 16 goals were divided into eight budgetary sectors namely security, governance, infrastructure and natural resources, agriculture and rural development, education, health, social protection, economy and private sector development to ease the process of financing from nation’s annual budgets.

While in the second phase, the SDGs targets were aligned with the national strategic documents such as the Afghanistan National Peace and Development Framework (ANPDF), a five-year strategic plan for achieving self-reliance presented at Brussels Conference on Afghanistan in 2016, and different National Priority Programs (NPPs) that stemmed from the Afghanistan National Development Strategy (ANDS) (prior to ANPDF) in 2009. This has already been done by different government budget entities.

The third phase is the implementation stage of SDGs in Afghanistan. According to the Ministry of Economy, this has already been started since Jan 2019, and it will go until 2030.

How SDGs are implemented so far?

Many countries have already crafted special strategies and policies for the implementation of SDGs in their respective countries. However, Afghanistan has not yet produced any special or particular policy concerning how SDGs will be implemented in Afghanistan. Instead, it has aligned SDGs targets with different NPPs and ANPDF, and the government will implement these SDGs through these programs until 2020. However, in the post-2020, the Afghan government will make a unique and separate policy for the implementation of SDGs for the period 2020-2030. Therefore, SDGs are implemented in Afghanistan through ANPDF and NPPs until 2020.

The Rapid Integrated Assessment (RIP) of UNDP is now used by many organizations and countries to facilitate mainstreaming of SDGs into national and local plans. Based on Afghan government’s estimates, the Afghanistan National Peace and Development Framework (ANPDF) and the existing six National Priority Programs (NPPs) such as Urban NPP, Infrastructure NPP, Human Capital NPP, Citizen Charter, and Women Empowerment NPP will covers 86% and 80% of the global SDGs targets respectively.

Besides, the ANPDF and NPPs are also covering the five Ps of the SDGs. These five Ps are Planet, Prosperity, Peace, Partnerships and Planet. According to the Rapid Integrated Assessment, the ANPDF and NPPs covers 2/3 of the three out of five Ps of SDGs (People, Prosperity and Peace), while it covers minimal targets of Partnerships and Planet

Urban SDG Implementation in Afghanistan

Although Afghanistan has not yet produced any special or particular policy concerning how SDG 11 will be implemented in Afghanistan. Instead, it has aligned SDG 11 targets with the Urban National Priority Programme, and the government will implement these A-SDGs through these programs until 2020. Interestingly, the UNPP was designed keeping in view the SDGs in general and Goal 11 of SDGs. While in the case of urban SDG (SDG 11), it will be mainly implemented through ANPDF and Urban National Priority Program (UNPP) in particular. However, in the post-2020, the Afghan government will make a unique and separate policy for the implementation of A-SDGs for the period 2020-2030.

According to governmental estimates, ANPDF and five NPPs will cover 40% and 80% of the targets of global SDG 11[iii], and the Urban National Priority Program (UNPP) covers 78% of the targets of global SDG 11[iv]. The UNPP is also addressing more than 30% of global SDG 5 targets and global SDG 8 targets, and more than 60% of global SDG 1 targets.[v]

The Challenges Faced While Implementing Urban A-SDG

Based on the performance of Afghan government to meet targets set for various MDGs indicators and the current Afghan economic-politico and security situations, fully achieving the targets set for SDGs seems bleak. The core challenges directly linked with SDGs and SDG 11 are:

  1. The Challenge of “Data”

to properly measure the baseline and monitor the indicators of SDGs, the Afghan government is faced with the challenge of “DATA”. Data in terms of its availability, collection, and calculation. For some of the indicators, methodologies are not yet developed by UN, for others that is developed and perceived that data is available; there is a lack of availability of data in Afghanistan. For instance, based on the UN methodology, for SDG 11there are 4 indicators in Tier 1, 5 indicators in Tier 2 and 6 indicators in Tier 3. (Tier 1 is that category for whom not only methodology is defined but data is also available; Tier 2 is a category for which methodology is defined but data is not available and Tier 3 is such category for which neighter methodlogy is finalized and nor for which data is available).

Unfortunately, in Afghanistan, data are absent for four indicators, there are incomplet data for 7 indicators, and data are available for six indicators. In addition, the problem with the Afghan data is that it is not disaggregated, the vulnerable (returnees, IDPs, etc), old peoples and youth are excluded from the data. For efficient and effective data monitoring of SDGs, data should be collected disaggregated. (See table 1 for details).

Data AvailabilitySDG 11 IndicatorsTier and StatusRemarks
Absent Data11.2.1Tier 2; No Data is available. Needs Spatial AnalysisUN-Habitat is assisting Ministry of Transport to nationalize this indicator and estimate its baseline
11.3.1Tier 2; Needs Spatial Analysis to determine the expansion of urban areasUN-Habitat is doing spatial analysis for only Kabul city.
11.a.1Tier 3;  Data is not available 
11.c.1Tier 3; Data is not available 
Incomplete Date11.3.2Tier 3; Some Data is availableCitizen Charter National Priority Program’s CDCs can be used for this indicator, but the data is available for only four cities
11.4.1Tier 3; little data is availableOnly government data can be obtained from the national budget. The data from International Organizations and NGOs are not available
11.5.2Tier 1; Data is available but with problemsThe data is not measured in monetary values as proposed in the UN methodology
11.6.2Tier 1; Data is available but for very few cities 
11.7.1Tier 3; Some data is availableUN-Habitat Afghanistan has estimated this but needs improvement with the coordination and cooperation of line ministries
Completed Data11.1.1Tier 1; Data is availableBut it is not disaggregated
11.5.1Tier 2; Data is available 
11.6.1Tier 2; Data is available 
11.7.2Tier 3; Data is availableThe aggregated data is very little and is also not disaggregated as well
11.b.1Tier 1; Data is available 
11.b.2Tier 2; Data is available 

Tier 1: Indicator is conceptually clear, has an internationally established methodology and standards are available, and data are regularly produced by countries for at least 50 per cent of countries and of the population in every region where the indicator is relevant.

Tier 2: Indicator is conceptually clear, has an internationally established methodology and standards are available, but data are not regularly produced by countries.

Tier 3: No internationally established methodology or standards are yet available for the indicator, but methodology/standards are being (or will be) developed or tested.

  • Capacity

As yet, the technical affairs related to SDGs have been done mostly by the foreign consultants. There is a need to enhance local capacity in Afghanistan to properly localize the indicators of SDGs, collect and calculate the data based on the UN methodology, including estimating and predicting how to achieve the targets by 2030.

  • Financial Problem

The Afghan government hasn’t properly estimated how much money it needs to achieve the targets of SDGs by 2030. But a few countries had done this financial estimation. For instance, Bangladesh has estimated that it needs $ 928 billion to achieve the targets of SDGs by 2030.[vi] Afghanistan on the other hand which compared to Bangladesh is weaker in infrastructure, economy, governance, industry and services, and political and security sectors will need much more influx of funds. However, there is one guess estimation by the Afghan Ministry of Economy for achieve the 16 goals of SDGs by 2020, and it proposes 1,137 projects with a total worth of $4.5 Billion.  On the other hand, the existing budget for A-SDG 11 is estimated to be over $ 457.6 Million (Official estimation in Afs is 34,604,130,030). However, the additional proposed budget to achieve the targets of A-SDG 11 for 2020 is estimated to be over $ 160.6 Million (Official estimation in Afs is 12,142,479,021) (some of A-SDG 11 targets haven’t been estimated). But, these Afghan calculations lack a scientific approach to properly estimate and calculate the required financial resources to achieve the targets of SDG 11.

Currently, the Afghan government is in the process of drafting a financing strategy to achieve the targets of SDGs in Afghanistan. As yet, it is not published.

  • UNPP Covering Few Urban SDGs targets

Based on UN-Habitat Analysis, more than two-thirds of UNPP activities are aligned with SDG 11 targets that are addressing the SDG 11.1, SDG 11.2, and SDG 11.3 targets. While the other targets related to the preservation of cultural and heritage sites, public safety, safe and harassed free public spaces, air pollution, and resilience to disasters risk are not given much attention.

The Way Forward

  • The Coordination and Cooperation between Urban Sectors

Based on the nationalization of Sustainable Development Goals and Targets, only one government entity is not responsible for the targets and indicators of urban SDG (or Goal 11). Instead, many government ministries and entities are made responsible for the targets and indicators of urban SDG that are relevant to them. In addition, the affairs related to urban sectors are scattered between different urban sectors. So for a better, efficient and effective implementation of urban A-SDG in Afghanistan in particular and urban projects in general a separate unit should be established under Ministry of Urban Development and Land for not only data collection, data calculation, monitoring, and data sharing, but for the cooperation and coordination between the entities of the urban sector as well. 

  • A Comprehensive and Separate Strategy for Urban A-SDG Implementation

As indicated earlier, the Afghan urban sector needs a comprehensive and separate strategy for urban SDG implementation. This should be developed by a Working Group established under the Unit discussed above. It should be composed of representatives of government partners engaged in the urban sector, civil societies, Community Development Councils/Gozar Assemblies, and International Organizations, including the youth and women representatives.

  • The Need for a “Data Revolution”

An urban data revolution is needed if we are to achieve and monitor the targets of SDGs in Afghanistan. The indicators of urban A-SDG can be included in the different surveys of the urban sector or Afghan Living Conditions Survey. It can be a part of State of Afghan Cities 2.0 which would be having more SDG touch.

  • Increasing local capacity in data and estimation

The International Organizations should enhance local capacity in data collection based on the criteria of SDGs, data calculation based on SDG calculation methodologies, assist in monitoring the progress of the targets and indicators, and technically assist and enhance capacity in not only in data estimation/prediction but also financial estimations.

  • Properly Monitoring and Implementing the UNPP

The UNPP is developed in the light of New Urban Agenda and Sustainable Development Goals in general and Urban SDG in particular. In addition, based on UN-Habitat analysis, there are 156 activities in UNPP’s three pillars, out of which 123 are aligned with the targets of SDG 11. We recommend a chair/ post should be established in the unit previously mentioned to monitor the implementation of the progress of UNPP in Afghanistan. Because, hence, it is critical for achieving the targets of SDG 11.


[ii] Ahmad Bilal Khalil is a Kabul based Afghan Researcher who worked as Urban Researcher with UN-Habitat from 2017 to 2019. This article is based upon his experience with the Urban Sector in Afghanistan. The author can be reached at [email protected]

[iii] According to the Ministry of Economy (MoE) presentation at South Asia Forum on the Sustainable Development Goals 4-5 October 2018 held in New Delhi, India. See the presentation online: 

[iv] UN-Habitat Analysis

[v] UNDP, Afghanistan Mission Assessment Report: A Rapid Review of SDGs and Future Directions for Mainstreaming, acceleration and policy support, July 2018

[vi] Mahadi Al Hasnat, Bangladesh requires additional $928.48 billion for SDGs implementation, Dhaka Tribune, 9th Nov 2017, see it online:<>