Asia Leads World with Sharp Drop in Poverty

ISLAMABAD: The sharpest reductions in poverty worldwide continue to be recorded in Eastern and South-Eastern Asia, where the Millennium Development Goals target of halving extreme poverty has already been met, while most of Southern Asia is in danger of missing the target, says a United Nations progress report released on Thursday.

The percentage of people living on less than $1.25 a day in Eastern Asia dropped from 60 per cent in 1990 to just 16 per cent in 2005, and from 39 to 19 percent in South-Eastern Asia. Poverty rates in China are expected to fall to around 5 percent by 2015.

While India is expected to reduce its poverty rate from 51 per cent in 1990 to 24 percent in 2015 – slashing its number of extremely poor by 188 million – progress in the rest of Southern Asia was slow and not sufficient to cut poverty in half by the 2015 target date, the “Millennium Development Goals Report 2010” finds.

Southern Asia also has a large percentage of people in so-called vulnerable employment, characterised by inadequate earnings, substandard working conditions and a lack of formal work arrangements and benefits. With 77 percent of people employed as either own-account or unpaid family workers, Southern Asia has the second-largest rate of vulnerable employment among all regions, next to sub-Saharan Africa.

Slow progress against hunger: In Eastern Asia, after a striking drop in the prevalence of hunger in the 1990s, the rate of malnourishment has stalled at 10 percent between 2000 and 2007. South-Eastern Asia, which was already close to the target for cutting the hunger rate in half against 1990 levels, made additional progress – but not as rapid as its rate of poverty reduction. In Southern Asia, the prevalence of hunger actually increased between 2000-2002 and 2005-2007, from 20 to 21 percent.

Southern Asia has the highest rate of child malnutrition in the world, according to the report, with 46 percent of children younger than five years underweight in 2008, down a negligible 5 percentage points from 51 percent in 1990. Malnutrition in children is often linked to both a lack of quality food and inadequate water and sanitation services, which lead to frequent diarrheal diseases. In Southern Asia, feeding practices are poor, and nearly two-thirds of the population lacks access to improved sanitation, such as toilets or latrines, with almost half practicing open defecation – the highest rate among all regions.

In Eastern Asia, child malnutrition was reduced to 7 percent of children in 2008 – well below half of its 1990 level – and South-Eastern Asia is on track to meet the Millennium Development Goals target by 2015.

A different picture emerges for child mortality, where, despite some progress in all three sub-regions, Asia is not on track to meet the target by 2015. Most progress was made in Southern Asia, where the number of child deaths per 1,000 live births dropped from 121 in 1990 to 74 in 2008.

Uneven progress: Southern Asia also made strong progress on access to primary education, according to the report. The sub-region reached 90 percent enrolment in 2008, up from 79 percent in 1999, and is on track to meet the target of universal primary education by 2015. In Eastern and South-Eastern Asia, however, although school enrolment has always been relatively high, there was little progress since 1999 and, if trends continue, the two sub-regions will not meet the target by 2015.

With regard to gender equality, progess has also been uneven. According to the report, girls in Southern Asia have been catching up in primary education, but still lag behind boys in secondary and tertiary education, with 87 and 76 girls per 100 boys enrolled, respectively, in 2008. In Eastern and South-Eastern Asia, the gender gap has been closed at all three levels, with as many girls as boys enrolled in school.

In Southern Asia, gender inequality in education is mirrored by inequality in the labour market, the report notes. Only 20 percent of those employed outside agriculture are women. And only 9 percent of senior or managerial positions are held by women – the lowest percentage among all regions. Progress was made in political participation, with the proportion of parliamentary seats held by women reaching 18 per cent in 2010, up from only 7 per cent in 2000 in Southern Asia.

At a September UN summit, world leaders will seek agreement on an action agenda to build on successes and close the gaps in achieving all the MDGs by the target year of 2015.

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