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UN: Asian Economic Growth Alone Won't Lift Millions Out of Poverty

  • Ron Corben

Children scramble to get a ticket for free meals offered by a feeding programme in a squatter area, in Baseco, Tondo, Metro Manila, Philippines, May 2012.

Children scramble to get a ticket for free meals offered by a feeding programme in a squatter area, in Baseco, Tondo, Metro Manila, Philippines, May 2012.

A new United Nations report says that although economic growth in Asia Pacific countries in recent years has reduced the severest forms of poverty, millions remain vulnerable to economic and environmental shocks.

The United Nations report, released Friday, challenges Asia Pacific governments to work harder in efforts to target poverty, improve education and improve government accountability.

The report comes less than two years ahead of the target date from the region's Millennium Development Goals [MDGs] that set benchmarks for progress in areas ranging from income distribution, health, education, food consumption and safe drinking water.

Alessandra Casazza, a policy adviser with the U.N. Development Program in the Asia Pacific, said that while fast economic growth has been a highlight of regional development, it has failed to generate sufficient employment to make substantial progress in reducing poverty. Insufficient funds are being allocated to areas such as social services and education.

"There are a number of issues which remain; at the back of this fast and accelerated economic growth people are still suffering from deprivation, very severe deprivation. The main challenges are that people don't have by and large access to basic services, such as water sanitation, and education, health services and energy," said Casazza.

The report says the issues facing the region serve as a "stark wakeup call" for meeting the 2015 Development Goals that represent economic and social progress across the region.

U.N. Economic and Social Commission for Asia Pacific [UNESCAP] officials say more inclusive growth is needed to address rising regional inequalities in income and access to services. Countries, they say, need to create more decent and productive jobs and expand social protections.

Shun-ichi Murata, deputy executive secretary for UNESCAP, said the number of people vulnerable to economic and other shocks has been increasing since 1990, with as many as 1.6 billion people living on less than $2 a day. These people remain vulnerable to falling into absolute poverty.

"The region still has large pockets of poverty and millions remaining vulnerable. And there are also a large number of people living just above the extreme poverty line, in near poverty who cannot manage a decent existence," said Murata. "The various issues like disasters and economic shocks, all these people are really vulnerable, around the threshold of $1.25 and $2 [daily] - that's what we're trying to send the message to the world. So we have a lot of remaining business or work to do."

Murata said concerns remain over corruption and governance, and a marked failure by wealthier industrialized nations to stand by pledges of increasing overseas development assistance.
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