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UN: Asia Has Done More Than Other Regions to Expand Freedom - 2002-07-24


The United Nations says Asia has done more to expand human freedom and development than any other region in the past decade. Many Asian countries made gains, but some analysts say more work needs to be done. The United Nations Development Program's annual report, released Wednesday, gives Asia sound marks in economic and political gains over the past decade, despite the financial crisis of the late 1990s.

Sakiko Fukuda-Parr, the report's chief author, thinks Asia made tremendous progress in spreading democracy in recent years. She adds that the region has been more progressive in expanding human freedom than elsewhere.

Asia, Ms. Fukuda-Parr writes, experienced fewer economic and political reversals than other regions.

The UNDP's Human Development Index, based on life expectancy, educational attainment and adjusted real income, shows China, Singapore, South Korea, Thailand, and Malaysia all rising up the scale.

The report notes that while the number of people living in extreme poverty was nearly halved in Asia over the past decade, it grew in other regions.

Norway led the index followed by Sweden and Canada. Japan ranked ninth in the rankings with Hong Kong at 23rd and Singapore ranked at 25th. Burma was listed 127th and Cambodia 130th.

Development economist and political scientist, Professor Walden Bello, based in Thailand, thinks Asia's advances in democracy are more limited than the UNDP report states. He says the benefits are not trickling down to all levels of the population.

Mr. Bello says the Asian region needs democratic systems that allow a significant avenue for redress within the system.

Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, in a statement included in the report, said that financial aid alone would not improve the lives of the poor. She says more must be done to end injustice and poor governance.

Aung San Suu Kyi, recently freed from house detention, notes people who feel they have no control over their lives "are liable to search for fulfillment along the path of violence."

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