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‘Fulfilling the SDG on Zero Hunger: A Progress Report on BIMSTEC Nations’

Published: 7th Nov, 2020

In 2019, BIMSTEC reiterated SDG goals, noting that “agricultural cooperation among BIMSTEC Member States can contribute to food and nutritional security, farmers


In 2019, BIMSTEC reiterated SDG goals, noting that “agricultural cooperation among BIMSTEC Member States can contribute to food and nutritional security, farmers’ prosperity, job creation, poverty alleviation and enhanced agricultural trade and investment.

Here is the assessment of the progress (or lack of it) that the BIMSTEC states have achieved in reducing poverty, and promoting food security and nutrition outcomes.


  • In 2015, all United Nations member states adopted the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which are especially relevant for South Asian countries whose development challenges are daunting.
  • The countries of BIMSTEC, or the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation, are working to translate the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) into action plans to ensure access to adequate and nutritious food.
  • They are transforming their food systems based on their priorities and capacities to fulfill, in particular, the 2030 SDG Goal 2 that aims to “end hunger, achieve food security, and promote sustainable agriculture.” 
  • There are crucial gaps, however, and the BIMSTEC states need transformative action to overcome them.


Poverty, Food Security and Nutrition

  • Across the world, those who live in poverty suffer from food insecurity, and lack of education, healthcare, and other essential needs.
  • The World Bank estimates that 40 to 60 million people will fall into extreme poverty in 2020, with incomes under US$1.90 per day.
  • The global poverty rate could rise to nine percent in 2020, or a 0.4-percent increase from 2019.
  • This is the result of various factors including the burgeoning global population and resulting scarcity of resources, as well as the fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation

  • The Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) is a subregional forum established in 1997.
  • The member states include:
    • five from South Asia (India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan and Sri Lanka)
    • two from Southeast Asia (Myanmar and Thailand)
  • The 4th BIMSTEC summit in 2018 identified 14 pillars of cooperation, including agriculture, public health, poverty alleviation, and climate change.
    • It also called for intensifying cooperation towards attaining food and nutrition security in the region.
  • All of the BIMSTEC countries are categorised as either low- or middle-income.
  • The majority of the poor in these countries live in rural areas, lack formal education, and are often employed in the agricultural sector.
    • Large populations in these countries continue to lack adequate access to education, healthcare, electricity, sanitation, and clean drinking water, and have low levels of nutrition and overall health.
    • Indeed, by 2018 data, more than half of all stunted children under the age of five live in Asia.
    • South Asian countries, overall, account for 36 percent of those living in extreme poverty in the world and suffer from various other deprivations and development gaps.
    • Twelve percent of the Asian region’s population, or 490 million people, are undernourished, most of them from South Asia.
  • Given that South Asia is home to these large populations of the global poor, achieving the global SDGs becomes an impossible task without progress in the region.

Which regions have the highest poverty rate?

  • The poverty rate in the region, however, is still considerably higher (based on 2013 figures) than those of East Asia, the Pacific, Eastern Europe, Central Asia, the Middle East, and North America.
  • Asia, a facet of poverty that has become magnified in recent years is its being highly urban.
  • In most of developing Asia, such as in India, Bangladesh, and other BIMSTEC member countries, urbanisation has been accompanied by the growth of slums, worsening living conditions, increasing food insecurity, and severe pollution risks.
  • According to the UN-Habitat, Asia has 60 percent of the world’s slum population, excluding the many more who live in slum-like conditions that are not officially categorised as such.
  • The BIMSTEC region remains among the poorest in the world. World Bank data on Poverty Headcount Ratio records a high of 25.2 in Nepal, followed by 24.8 and 24.3 in Myanmar and Bangladesh, respectively.
  • India is at 21.9, Thailand, 9.9; Bhutan, 8.2; and Sri Lanka, 4.1. Per capita GDP is low and other socioeconomic indicators of poverty remain high.


  • Stunting: Stunting rates to be highest in India at 38 percent, followed by Bangladesh and Nepal (36 percent) and Bhutan and Myanmar at 34 and 29 percent, respectively. 
  • Wasting: Another indicator of malnutrition, wasting, is highest in India, and has not improved for the past decades.
  • Overweight: Overweight in under-five children is also a cause of concern. Bhutan and Thailand, at eight percent of under-five children, have the highest incidence in the region. 
  • Anaemia: There is a high prevalence of anaemia in women (15-49 years) in most of the BIMSTEC countries. India tops the list at 51 percent, followed by Myanmar (46 percent) and Bangladesh (40 percent).

Assessing the health outcomes

  • Child Health: Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Thailand have all improved in their rankings of under-five mortality rates since 1990.
    • The greatest progress has been seen in Bangladesh, Bhutan, and Nepal.
    • Both India and Myanmar have gone from fourth and fifth rank, respectively, amongst BIMSTEC members in 1990, to being second and first in 2015.
  • Maternal Health:Across all seven BIMSTEC countries, there has been a steady decline in the maternal mortality rate.
    • Nepal saw the greatest decline in maternal mortality from 553 per 100,000 live births in 2000 to 186/100,000 live births in 2017.  
    • Overall, the gradual decline in maternal mortality across the BIMSTEC member states in the past two decades, indicates the level of growth and development in their healthcare delivery.
  • Water, Sanitation, Hygiene:In terms of sanitation, some BIMSTEC countries have made more significant progress than others.
    • India and Nepal have increased the percentage of people using at least basic sanitation services by 43 percent and 46 percent, respectively.
    • Bangladesh, Bhutan, Sri Lanka and Thailand have also made steady improvements in the proportion of their populations accessing basic sanitation services.
    • Myanmar, however, has seen a regression. Myanmar’s health system is financed largely by the government.

What is the progress on SDGs?

  • Most recent available data suggest that the South Asian region, comprising the majority of BIMSTEC members, is far from being on-track in accomplishing the SDGs.
  • Indeed, the fulfillment of these goals has little correlation with both levels of per capita income and degree of development, as seen in the case of India.
    • As the largest and most diversified economy in the region, it unfortunately has recorded poorer performance compared to its fellow BIMSTEC members.
  • Bhutan and Nepal, for example—both with lower levels of development than India—have achieved significantly greater progress towards the SDGs.
  • The only SDG which all BIMSTEC states appear to be on-track to achieving is the goal of eliminating poverty, the metric for which is living below a minuscule $1.90 per day.
  • In all other goals, all BIMSTEC countries have recorded moderate progress that is inadequate for meeting the goals by 2030.
  • With the current rate of progress in the region, overall, 14 out of the 17 SDGs will be missed by the BIMSTEC countries by 2030.
  • The COVID-19 pandemic has only enhanced the risks of falling short. According to the Sustainable Development Goals Report 2020, the 15-year effort of people across the globe attempting to achieve the 17 SDGs was already off-track by the end of 2019.
  • Among the BIMSTEC countries, Thailand is the best performer with a score of 74.5; the poorest is India at 61.9.

Why South Asia is important for SDG?                    

  • The 17 SDGs and the 169 specific targets are particularly relevant for South Asia—after all, the region is home to a huge 36 percent of the world’s impoverished, and nearly half of all undernourished children.
  • With South Asian countries, including member states of BIMSTEC, holding such a weight on their shoulders, global progress on the SDGs cannot be achieved without success in the region.
  • It is a difficult task, given that South Asia, and particularly India, failed to meet the predecessor Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

Government Policies on Nutrition:

  • Nepal: In 2018, Nepal enacted the Multi-Sector Nutrition Plan-II, with the aim of improving maternal, adolescent, and child nutrition by scaling up essential nutrition interventions to improve nutritional status of under-five children, lower incidence of low birth weight, and reduce energy-deficiency in women. 
  • Bhutan: Bhutan articulates its development plans every five years. Currently on their 12th five-year plan, Bhutan aims to achieve 16 “national key result areas” that are based on regional and international commitments, including the UN SDGs. 
    • Bhutan’s food and nutrition security policy, enacted in 2014, acknowledges the need for a multisectoral approach to ensuring nutrition security.
  • Bangladesh: Bangladesh enacted its National Nutrition Policy in 2015 with the goal of preventing and controlling malnutrition, and improving nutritional status especially of the women and children.
  • Sri Lanka: As a country in economic transition, Sri Lanka is also undergoing a nutrition transition and faces a triple burden: overnutrition, undernutrition, and micronutrient deficiencies.
    • Since the UN adopted the 2030 SDGs, Sri Lanka has seen progress in their food insecurity issues through the Thriposha Program that was introduced long ago, in 1970.
  • Thailand: Since adopting the SDGs, Thailand has integrated a framework for food security in its policies with a National Food Safety and Nutrition plan.
  • India: India’s national nutrition strategy is critical if the country is to achieve the SDGs.
    • High levels of maternal and child undernutrition have continued in India despite efforts from the government and legislators’ policy, plan and programme commitments.
    • The National Nutrition Strategy, first adopted in 1993, has been committed to ensuring that every child, adolescent girl, and woman achieves optimum nutritional status. 
    • In addition to the improvements seen in India’s overall nutritional status as a result of the national strategy, the Poshan Abhiyanprogramme (National Nutrition Mission) has also been an effort in the right direction.
      • The policy aims to set up an information and communications monitoring system in which the nutritional status of populations across the country could be tracked more efficiently.
    • Myanmar: Myanmar is on-course to meet global targets for under-five underweight and exclusive breastfeeding for infants, but is still off-track in the other nutritional indicators. 
      • The National Plan of Action for Food and Nutrition (NPAFN) was adopted by Myanmar with the goal of ensuring adequate access to food that is safe and well-balanced.

What needs to be done?

  • Comprehensive efforts to ensure food availability: There is a need for sustainable and resilient food systems to achieve the goal of zero hunger.  This can be achieved by comprehensive efforts to ensure food is available to all.
  • Innovative strategy: There is a need for a renewed focus and innovative strategies to build capabilities both at the individual and community level.
  • Using experiences and models: Countries can learn from each other’s successes and scalable models to ensure food systems that deliver improved nutrition and sustainable and resilient communities.
  • More focus on investment: Investment in nutrition, along with a multi-sectoral approach that includes both nutrition-sensitive interventions (healthcare, water, sanitation) and nutrition-specific ones that empower women—will help end all forms of malnutrition in the long run.


The BIMSTEC countries are not on-track to achieve the SDG of Zero Hunger by 2030. There is hardly any doubt that achieving the SDGs will be a far-fetched goal without ending hunger and malnutrition. An integrated approach is required in response to the diverse and interconnected causes of hunger and malnutrition.

Verifying, please be patient.

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