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Report: Asia Must Prepare for Aging Populations

Leaders across Asia must prepare now to cope with aging populations and rapid urbanization. That observation comes from the Asia Development Bank, which released a report this week on population trends and how they affect regional economies.

The Asia Development Bank says increasing numbers of people across the region are moving from the countryside into cities. According to an ADB report released Tuesday, Asia's cities grew at an annual rate of two-point-nine percent in the 1990's, compared with 1.1 percent growth in rural areas. Eleven of the world's largest cities with populations of over 10 million will be in Asia by 2015. That means Asian cities need to expand schools, hospitals and utility systems to avoid being swamped by new residents.

In Indonesia, 60 percent of the population will live in cities by the year 2025 but that does not necessarily pose a problem. Charles Andrews is an urban management specialist at the ADB in Indonesia's capital Jakarta. "Urbanization is a good thing, it's an essential thing, it's an unavoidable thing. Any policies which try to revert urbanization, they're going to fail and they're going to be expensive."

Mr. Andrews says city governments should take a "holistic" approach to development - rather than concentrating on just one problem. "In the past, governments have dealt with these issues on a sectoral basis. Health? OK, we'll do a health project. Education? OK, we'll do an education project."

But Mr. Andrews says a city can and should be managed much more like a business. "The business is not split up into health, education and street kids and this sort of thing it's a whole sort of thriving business, which is the city," he says. "And citywide solutions and integrated solutions are very important."

The ADB report also shows that the population in the Asia-Pacific region is getting older while the population in South Asia is getting larger - fast.

China, Hong Kong, Taiwan and South Korea have the lowest rate of population growth, and senior citizens are the fastest growing age group in those places.

In South Asia, the trend is different. Populations in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, the Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka are growing rapidly. Some nations could double their populations by the year 2050. That means some nations could face job shortages, while others face labor shortages. The ADB wants regional governments to liberalize labor markets to handle the problem.