July 2nd, 2007 05:19 EST
Asia sees drop in poverty but rising inequality
Rapid economic growth has spurred progress in the eradication of extreme poverty and hunger in Asia, where the proportion of people living on a dollar a day has been cut by half, but inequality is also growing in parts of the region, says a United Nations report released today in Bangkok.
The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) Report 2007 comes at the midpoint of a 15-year effort to reach those key development objectives that world leaders set at a 2000 UN summit.
Eastern Asia, where the proportion of people living in extreme poverty fell from 33 per cent in 1990 to 9.9 per cent in 2004, saw the greatest gain, according to the report. In South-Eastern Asia, where extreme poverty was already down to 20.8 per cent in 1990, the percentage had dropped to 6.8 per cent by 2004.
The report said the figures put the region comfortably on track " to achieve the first MDG, which calls for halving extreme poverty and hunger by 2015.
But Asia`s unprecedented poverty reduction was uneven, said the report, which noted that in Southern Asia, nearly one third of the population is still living on the equivalent of a dollar a day. Inequality is also rising within countries, such as in Eastern Asia, where the lowest fifth on the economic ladder is consuming less: from 7.3 per cent in 1990 to 4.5 per cent in 2004.
At the same time, the statistics show that Asia`s path to the MDGs may be blocked by challenges in other areas such as health, environmental sustainability and gender equality. The report blames factors like deforestation, unplanned urbanization, and the fast rate of HIV/AIDS infections in some parts of the region.
Progress in improving child nutrition is still unacceptably slow " compared to other regions, the report notes, warning that if current trends continue Asia will fall short of reaching the MDG target of halving the proportion of underweight children, in large measure because of slow progress in Southern and South-Eastern Asia.
The annual statistical survey of global and regional progress toward the Goals represents the most comprehensive assessment of the MDGs, using the latest data gathered by a large number of international organizations both within and outside the UN, the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) said in a news release.