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Economic Growth Has Done Little to Help Asia's Poor, says UN Official - 2004-05-29


A senior United Nations official has told a 15-nation conference in Cambodia that economic growth has done little to help the poor in Asia. He said countries represented at the two-day regional workshop were hoping to hash out policies to help developing countries reach the U.N.-set goal of halving poverty by the year 2015.

Hafiz Pasha, the U.N. assistant secretary general who serves as development program director for Asia and the Pacific, said most countries in Asia - where two-thirds of the world's poor live - are not reaching the so-called Millenium Development Goal of cutting poverty in half.

In his keynote address to a regional workshop on poverty reduction, Mr. Pasha said growth in most Asian countries had been accompanied by increasing inequality between rich and poor.

In an interview Saturday, he told VOA that economic policies of the 1990s focusing on trade and exports had produced little help for the poor.

"Certainly, given the relatively high rates of growth in the region one would have expected the poor would have been significantly better off - and that's the great disappointment," said Hafiz Pasha.

Earlier this month, the ruling coalition in India was unexpectedly voted out of office by poor voters, who had not realized the benefits of that country's economic growth of recent years.

Studies on the economics of poverty reduction in several of India's neighbors were released at the workshop Friday. Mr. Pasha said the most powerful finding was that employment growth brings more than its share of poverty reduction. A one percent growth in employment, for example, brings an average reduction in poverty of nearly two percent, he said.

"Really you need to focus on agriculture and rural development, which is where the poor live and work, focus on food production," he said. "And also, it is extremely important to ensure employment growth. And were these things to happen along with a reasonably high rate of growth, I think you would begin to see much greater progress toward prosperity and reduction of poverty."

Mr. Pasha said discussion in the workshop had focused on how such issues such as monetary policy, trade policy and financial sector reform can improve prospects for growth and, importantly, make the process work for the poor.

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