DESPITE Asia’s rapid growth, many countries in the region may not achieve their Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by 2015, an Asian Development Bank (ADB) and National University of Singapore study revealed.
According to the study entitled “Ending Asian Deprivations,” vast sections of Asia’s population remain poor and suffer hunger and other forms of deprivation, which could threaten the sustainability of the region’s growth and its integration.
“Despite rapid progress in poverty reduction, however, recent poverty estimates indicate that more than 660 million people in Asia continue to live in extreme poverty. If the nearly poor were also taken into account, this number would swell to 1.5 billion, or nearly one in every two Asians,” it said.
The study noted that the countries may not attain MDGs in areas such as basic sanitation, underweight children, infant and maternal mortality, while growing income gaps and other forms of inequity are becoming increasingly acute.
“To think that about one in five Asians cannot afford even $1.25 per day provides a proper perspective about where Asia really is in terms of its development,” the study said, referring to the present international poverty line.
It noted that some countries have more severe rates of extreme poverty than the Asia and the Pacific average, exceeding one-quarter of the population.
These include Bangladesh, India and Nepal (South Asia), Cambodia, Laos and East Timor (Southeast Asia) and Papua New Guinea (Pacific).
“These countries, along with China, Indonesia, Pakistan, Philippines and Vietnam—with large populations in poverty (although with lower rates of poverty than the regional average)—account for almost all of the extreme poor in Asia and the Pacific,” it said.
The study compiled by 23 Asian development experts added that the number of people left behind despite the region’s boom shows that past development efforts have not been sufficient to end poverty and deprivation.
While gross domestic product growth on its own helps reduce income poverty, it plays a much smaller role in reducing other deprivations, like education and health outcome, the study said.
The spike in inequality will also impact future economic growth through slower poverty reduction and employment generation.
The study said new approaches may be considered to make growth more inclusive and to promote more effective state action in areas such as skills development, delivery of quality education, and incentives for entrepreneurs. These measures must be carried out in conjunction with institutional improvements and stepped-up partnerships with the private sector and civil society.
The study recommended that policymakers should double efforts to create conditions for more small and medium enterprises—a key jobs generator—to flourish, and to reduce the informal sector through actions like improved property rights and access to finance.