Asia richer, but still world’s poorest

Asia has slashed the number of people living in extreme poverty, but leads the world in malnourishment and is struggling to meet ambitious development goals set at the United Nations, a UN report has said.

“One of the region’s greatest MDG successes has been a reduction in the number of people living on less than 1.25 dollars a day from 1.5 billion to 947 million between 1990 and 2005,” the UN report on Asia’s progress in the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) said.

“However, the region remains home to two-thirds of the world’s poor and hungry, with one in six malnourished, and it has been slow to reduce child mortality and to improve maternal health.”

The report was issued at a three-day summit attended by more than 140 heads of state or government at UN headquarters in New York five years before the MDG deadline of 2015.

Noeleen Heyzer, executive secretary of the UN’s Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific, said the region had “indeed made impressive progress.”

“The region is on track to meeting the target of halving the number of people living in poverty,” she said.

But the failure to reduce hunger, child mortality and poverty among women created “a mixed and worrying picture.”

Asia-Pacific faces a “race against time,” she said.

Eight Millennium Development Goals were launched at a UN summit in 2000, including halving the number of people in extreme poverty, cutting by two thirds the number of children dying before five years of age, and spreading the availability of Internet facilities.

The mixed report on Asia reflected the disparity in a region that ranges from the surging economies of China and India to tiny and fragile Pacific island nations, and features both futuristic new airports and shanty towns.

“It’s almost a paradox. You have the region which has shown a lot of ability to have growth, and yet you have this rising issue of hunger,” said Ajay Chhibber, UN development chief for the Asia-Pacific.

He named lack of opportunities for women as a major cause of widespread poverty and a woefully inadequate system of state social security, which he said was “lagging behind Latin America, lagging behind eastern Europe.”

Far from the middle class boom in the Asian tiger economies, Asia-Pacific also includes seven million people suffering from tuberculosis, 469 million people without safe drinking water, and 32 million children not in primary school, according to the report.

In all those categories, large improvements have been made since 1990.

However, the global economic downturn since 2008 is threatening further progress and could add another layer to the numbers of the dispossessed, the report said.

For example, by 2015 another 35 million people in the region could face extreme poverty and another 70 million people may be without clean water.

“All of these estimates assume that historical trends roughly continue. But history is not destiny. All countries in the region still have the opportunity to accelerate progress to 2015,” the report said.

Ways of breaking that trend, the report said, include stimulating regional trade, reducing gender equality gaps, improving infrastructure and enlarging social safety nets.

According to the report, with five years to go everything is to play for in a region including the world’s biggest countries and some of the smallest.

“The final MDG story is yet to be told. All countries still have five years to choose the most promising paths — and tilt the balance decisively on the side of success.”
Source: AFP

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