Asia Must Preserve MDG Gains, Include Poor in Future Growth

BALI, INDONESIA - The economic crisis threatens to reverse decades of progress in poverty reduction and governments must do what they can to ensure that gains made in recent years are not lost because of the slowdown, a seminar audience heard today at the Asian Development Bank’s (ADB) 42nd Annual Meeting in Bali.

The seminar, titled “Towards Inclusive Growth: Achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in Asia and the Pacific,” saw policymakers, economists and development agency officials discussing the impacts of the crisis on MDG progress, andthe actions needed to protect and include vulnerable groups once economies in the region rebound.

2009 is past the halfway mark to 2015, the target year for accomplishing the eight MDGs. Asia has made strong progress on poverty reduction, with many countries expected to reach the target of cutting extreme poverty in half by 2015. However, the economic crisis threatens to slow sharply the pace of further poverty reduction. According to a recent ADB report, GDP growth in 2009 for developing Asia will be 6 percentage points lower than in 2007 and 3 percentage points lower than in 2008. As a result, says the Asian Development Outlook 2009, around 60 million people who would have escaped poverty this year if growth had remained strong will be stuck below the $1.25 poverty line.

In addition, prospects for the achievement of non-poverty related development goals such as child and maternal mortality rates, nutrition, sanitation and the eradication of slums look increasingly bleak. In 2007, Asia still accounted for more than 75% of the world’s population without sanitation, over 60% of the world's underweight children were from the region and 50% of global maternal deaths occurred in Asia. Many countries also remain off-track on primary school completion rates, and access to water.

Many governments around the world have taken strong fiscal stimulus measures to bolster their economies in the face of the crisis, including heavy spending on infrastructure. But questions have been raised over whether infrastructure alone can cushion the harsh economic impacts of the crisis on poor and vulnerable sectors of the population.

“Development is only meaningful if it is inclusive and sustainable,” said Dr. Noeleen Heyzer, Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations and Executive Secretary of the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific, in her introductory remarks to the seminar. “[We need to ensure] fiscal stimulus and policy reforms being developed now are used to address these challenges.”

The seminar heard how social service programs, such as health care and education, should not be crowded out by infrastructure programs. Governments also need to address institutional weaknesses that hamper the delivery of services to vulnerable groups.

Participants also discussed how development agencies can make best use of additional resources pledged to them at the recent G20 Summit, to counter the economic crisis and how social protection systems in the region could be improved to benefit the needy.