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Fewer Asians Live in Extreme Poverty, says ADB - 2004-08-26


An Asian Development Bank report says Asian nations have made progress in reducing poverty, but there are indications that income disparities have widened. Economists at the Asian Development Bank say the number of people in Asia living on less than a dollar a day fell in the 12-year period ending in 2002.

According to a bank report released Thursday, 688 million Asians lived in extreme poverty in 2002, compared with 921 million in 1990. Much of that decline was in China. However, the report says, 60 percent of the region's people still live on the edge of extreme poverty, earning less than two dollars a day.

Economists say high economic growth in the region has helped reduce poverty. But that growth, they say, widened the income gap between rich and poor, and this could hamper future efforts to cut poverty.

In South Asia, the bank says, the number of people earning less than a dollar a day in Pakistan, Nepal and Sri Lanka dropped over the 12-year period. But the number increased in India and Bangladesh.

India has seen some of the fastest economic growth in world. But between 1990 and 2002, the bank says, the number of extremely poor people rose by five million to 356 million.

Jayati Ghosh, an economist at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, says Indian farmers are among those severely affected. "Small cultivators found it was impossible for them to earn a living, and most of them are forced into debt," he says. "And now, many of them cannot repay their debts. And, that's why we are continuing to have a huge explosion of farmers' suicide."

Growing poverty in rural areas led voters to oust the Bharatiya Janata Party from power in May. Professor Ghosh says the new Congress government has to spend more to generate jobs and build infrastructure.

In Southeast Asia, Vietnam saw the biggest improvement, with the number of people living in extreme poverty falling nearly 70 percent over the 12 years.

Among Central Asian states, the bank says, Uzbekistan appears to be having the most difficult time fighting poverty. The study says the number of people earning less than a dollar a day surged 1,200 percent from 1990 to 2002.