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Asia Stands at Crucial Point, According to Development Bank 

  • Anjana Pasricha

The Asian Development Bank has warned that high oil prices could weaken Asia's growth. It also says that the region's high-flying economies face critical challenges from unemployment and mass poverty, and has called for more inclusive growth in the region. VOA's Anjana Pasricha reports from India's high-technology city of Hyderabad, where the Asian Development Bank has opened its four-day annual conference.

Asian Development Bank President Haruhiko Kuroda says that record high oil prices will hurt Asia's developing nations, which are oil importers. He hoped producer nations would bring down prices to more sustainable levels from the current $70 or more a barrel.

Kuroda says that runaway oil prices are just one of the challenges Asia faces. He says the region stands at a crucial point - dynamic growth has improved the lives of many poor people, but millions still live in the shadow of poverty.

On the first day of the ADB's annual conference, Kuroda said that Asian countries need to reduce the widening gap between the rich and poor, create millions for jobs for its unemployed and address the challenge of a rapidly degrading environment. He warned the task is not easy.

"First, broad-based growth can only be achieved if people have access to basic services such as clean water, sanitation, education, training and so on, and if the poor are provided with the opportunities to get good and decent jobs," he said. "Second, we must ensure that growth does not come at the expense of environment. Because of rapid growth in our member countries the environment is seriously damaged."

The ADB, a non-profit development lender based in Manila, is holding its annual four-day meeting in Hyderabad this week. In addition to discussing the dangers of high oil prices, the delegates are expected to discuss ways to correct global trade and payment imbalances and regional economic integration. Its 65 members include most nations from East Asia, Central Asia and South Asia, as well as major donor countries such as Germany and the United States.

An Asian Development Bank report has warned that the current seven- to eight-percent growth being witnessed in several Asian countries could fall by half in a few years if they do not create more jobs.

According to a conservative estimate, the report says at least half a billion people out of a work force of one point seven billion are unemployed or underemployed.

The issue is especially critical for India and China - the two most rapidly growing economies in the region, and also the most populated countries.

The ADB says it will provide $1 billion in new loans for clean energy development in the coming years. It is asking its Asian member nations to improve energy efficiency and develop cleaner and sustainable energy.

As the bank spoke of the need for more equitable development, several non-governmental organizations protested on the streets of Hyderabad. They demanded that the ADB stay off "our health, our water, our forests and our livelihood."

They accuse the lender of intensifying poverty through policies that degrade the environment and prop up the private sector. The groups plan to hold more rallies in the coming days.