The Asia-Pacific region has made some impressive gains in cutting poverty and hunger in recent decades, a new report by the Asian Development Bank and the United Nations says, but much more remains to be done.
The study says that countries in Asia and the Pacific are on track in key areas of improving quality of life - including cutting poverty and hunger in half. Shyam Bajpai, a development at the Asian Development Bank, says the past 13 years have produced enormous strides.
"We have the poor brought down from 920 million in Asia-Pacific in 1990 to about 620 million in 2003," said Bajpai. "That is a remarkable achievement and Asia-Pacific has probably done the best poverty reduction performance anywhere."
The report, called Millennium Development Goals: Progress in Asia and the Pacific 2006, was done in conjunction with the U.N. Development Program and the U.N. Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific. It assesses progress on the global campaign to cut poverty significantly by 2015.
Despite the gains in Asia, the report brings out other figures that are not so encouraging. China, India, Indonesia, Pakistan and Bangladesh account for two-thirds of the people in the world who live on less than a dollar a day and rural residents who lack access to sanitation. They also have two-thirds of the world's underweight children and tuberculosis cases.
There are also great disparities within countries. For instance in China, developing Asia's largest economy, the report says child and infant mortality rates in the coastal regions are close to those in developed countries. But in the poorer western provinces the rate is three to five times higher.
Shiladitya Chatterjee, head of the ADB poverty unit, says income growth in parts of Asia is impressive, but large segments of society remain neglected.
"Growth is not everything. Growth ... needs to be more inclusive in nature. And what we are getting worried about is that parts of Asia, certain countries of Asia, are not seeing that inclusive nature percolating down in terms of growth," said Chagerjee. "And growth is not being accompanied, as we pointed out, often in terms of the provision of basic services for the poor."
The report says too many countries score low on progress in education and health, and commit only a small proportion of their economies to these sectors. It says more remains to be done in these areas if governments in the region are serious about delivering their promises to the poor and achieving sustainable development.