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Achieving the MDGs and Ensuring an Asian Future of Shared Prosperity Beyond 2015
Speech by Haruhiko Kuroda, ADB President, at the MDGs Ministerial Meeting, Plenary Session 2, Tokyo, Japan
Distinguished participants, ladies and gentlemen:
Thank you for inviting us to this timely meeting, which will help reinvigorate efforts to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Meeting here in Japan, we are inspired by the fortitude with which the country is rebuilding after the devastating calamity in March. With similar determination, we can also achieve the MDGs.
I would like to focus today on a critical issue confronting us: What are the Asia and Pacific region’s priorities to achieve the MDGs and ensure a future of shared prosperity beyond 2015?
The region’s dynamism has, in fact, already helped achieve much. The incidence of poverty has been slashed by half since 1990, helping the world also achieve this MDG toward ending poverty globally. Nearly all children of primary school age are likely to attend school by 2015. Gender parity will be achieved in education. Targets for providing safe drinking water and halting the spread of diseases such as tuberculosis will also be met.
However, severe challenges in the Asia-Pacific region remain. One hundred million children are undernourished. Two billion people live without basic sanitation. Infant mortality in some countries is over 10 times that in developed nations. A quarter of a million mothers still die each year at childbirth, despite the region’s advances in medicine and science. Women still work mainly in agriculture, and secure few important positions in government or business. The region faces declining forest cover, rising greenhouse gas emissions, and increasingly frequent natural disasters.
Also, performance on the MDGs has varied widely across and within the countries. Despite the region’s overall success in reducing poverty, nine countries are unlikely to meet the poverty target. Nearly one third are unlikely to achieve targets in half or more of the MDG indicators.
Given such large deprivations and inequities, efforts to ensure equitable social development and achieve the MDGs must be urgently scaled up. This is not only intrinsically desirable, but also essential to prevent such inequities from hampering Asia’s future progress. And these efforts must continue well beyond 2015. Even if the MDGs are met, a quarter of the region’s population will still live in extreme poverty and millions will still face severe social deprivations. Several actions are needed now to ensure a future of prosperity with equity.
First, rapid and inclusive growth must be attained. ADB has estimated that each 1% increase in growth has reduced poverty incidence in Asia by around 2%. Restoring and even surpassing pre-crisis rates of growth is therefore crucial. This will require the expansion of infrastructure and a proper policy environment for private enterprise, the major engine of growth.
But it is not only the quantity, but also the quality of growth that matters. Growth must be fully inclusive to overcome the region’s inequities and large-scale poverty.
Second, as the poor rely almost entirely on the government for basic services, the public sector must significantly scale up investments to support MDG achievement. Reliance on growth alone—even if inclusive—will not be sufficient. Even households with growing incomes cannot access non-existent social services. Investments will be required in schools and rural health centers, which are connected to roads and electricity and staffed with skilled teachers and health workers. Enhanced social protection for the weak and vulnerable will also be needed. Over two-thirds of the region’s population, by ADB estimates, has no social security coverage.
Third, governments must establish responsive, participatory and efficient governance and institutional structures that can ensure both prosperity and equity. Mechanisms to hear and respond to peoples’ voices—especially the weak—need to be strengthened. Governments must harness and prioritize resources for the poor more effectively. Tax collections remain much below potential; the region collects less than 10% of GDP in taxes, compared to the world average of 15%. Spending on social services, particularly education and health, also lags behind the world average.
In addition, international action—planned with better synergy and coordination—is necessary for the least developed countries in the region. They need improved capacities, knowledge and technology, as well as about $8 billion annually to cover their MDG funding gaps. A significant amount of concessional assistance is therefore required. Regional cooperation—with Asia’s leading nations taking a proactive role—must also be stepped up significantly, to enable lagging countries to share in the region’s development.
Ladies and gentlemen, the MDGs have raised the hopes of millions of deprived people in our region which must be fulfilled. Immense responsibility lies with all stakeholders and there is no time to lose. Let us therefore redouble our efforts, acting in cooperation, to realize the vision of an Asia and Pacific region free of poverty.