ADB should ramp up efforts to mitigate COVID-19 impact on SDGs: independent evaluation

The Asian Development Bank (ADB), in partnership with other development organizations, must give high priority to efforts to assess and address the implications of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) crisis on the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), according to the 2021 Annual Evaluation Review (AER) conducted by ADB’s Independent Evaluation Department (IED).

The report says ADB must help countries address gaps in financing and data availability which have widened due to the pandemic. The AER provides an independent, high-level perspective on the performance and results of ADB.

The review covered the period 2018–2020 and focused on ADB’s institutional approach for supporting the achievement of the SDGs. Since the review period coincided with the COVID-19 pandemic, it also included an overview of ADB’s response to the crisis.

According to the report, ADB’s partnership and collaboration with United Nations agencies and other multilateral development banks has helped to promote knowledge and innovation for the achievement of SDG targets. However, developing Asia and the Pacific was already lagging in SDG financing and data availability on progress towards SDG achievement prior to the pandemic and the crisis is exacerbating these shortfalls.

“A much greater effort is needed to mobilize public and private financing for achieving the SDGs,” said IED Director General Marvin Taylor-Dormond. “ADB is well positioned to help countries rebuild their frameworks for SDG achievement, but these efforts, in addition to financial mobilization, will need to be accelerated to offset the devastating impact of the COVID19 pandemic and help countries resume their long-term development goals.”

The evaluation notes that ADB’s approach and tools for monitoring SDG support have been adequately articulated and organized at the institutional level, but they now need to be better or more deeply reflected at country and project levels. ADB has already initiated work in generating both public financing, by supporting domestic resource mobilization, and private financing, by tapping into capital markets through thematic bonds for sustainable development and supporting innovative SDG projects. ADB’s sector and thematic groups of in-house development experts are also well positioned to help strengthen ADB members’ ownership of the SDGs.

“2020 posed one of the greatest challenges ADB members have ever faced—the public health and economic crisis triggered by the global COVID-19 pandemic. ADB mobilized resources swiftly to deliver assistance for social protection, health, and macroeconomic stability to minimize loss of life, protect the poor and vulnerable, and mitigate economic hardship,” said IED Director Joanne Asquith. “Nevertheless, recovery from the pandemic could be protracted especially if national vaccine programs are not accelerated soon, and this will have a detrimental impact on long-term development goals”.

The evaluation found that the proportion of ADB’s public sector projects assessed successful declined marginally to 70% in the review period from 72% in 2017–2019, although the longer-term trend continues to be positive. ADB’s project performance improved in the Pacific and Southeast Asia but fell in other regions, mainly due to project ownership issues, ambitious and complex designs, inadequate implementation capacity, and delays and cost overruns. The percentage of successful private sector projects, while increasing slightly to 53% in the review period from 51% in 2017–2019, has maintained a declining trend since 2014–2016.

The review’s recommendations are aimed at improving the connection between ADB’s sector work and its seven thematic strategic corporate-level operational priorities which include, among others, addressing remaining poverty and reducing inequality in the region, addressing climate change, and accelerating gender equality. On the SDGs, the recommendations are aimed at ramping up partnerships with other development organizations, strengthening the link between institutional strategic intentions and actual operational practices, and deepening institutional engagement on the achievement of the SDGs at the country and local levels.

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