Asia and the Pacific has seen tremendous growth over the years. In the 1960s, it had a 4.1% share in the global gross domestic product. In 2019, it contributed 24%. Incidence of poverty radically declined from 68% in the 1980s to just around 7% in recent years.
While the region has made tremendous progress in reducing income poverty, inequalities remain. As 95% of the region’s population live in middle-income countries, about 264 million people still live below the $1.90 per day poverty line, and around 1.1 billion live on less than $3.20 per day. In addition to the remaining income poverty, much more needs to be done to address the non-income dimensions of poverty and vulnerability in urban and rural areas, promote social inclusion and development, and build resilience.
Partnerships have strengthened ADB’s efforts to address not just the income aspect of poverty, but of the many deprivations the poor experience daily. In 2019, all 148 cofinanced projects addressed poverty in one form or another.
Several cofinanced projects explicitly address the non-income dimensions of poverty such as the nine projects that focused on improving access to education and the other nine on health for the marginalized. Another 17 cofinanced transport projects will contribute to the poor’s increased access to economic opportunities. Not only will they generate jobs during project implementation; the roads, once done, will make employment and markets accessible to the poor. Water and other infrastructure projects in 2019 will also contribute to poverty reduction in many countries in Asia as they help make water and sanitation accessible and affordable.
Achieving Better Health for All
Many governments in Asia have been spending less than $10 per person per year on healthcare, pushing people to increasing amounts of out-of-pocket healthcare spending. Making healthcare accessible and affordable to all is imperative, but it is also critical that health systems and financing across Asia and the Pacific are optimized. In 2019, the Republic of Korea e-Asia and Knowledge Partnership Fund (EAKPF) supplemented the ongoing Regional: Universal Health Coverage for Inclusive Growth: Supporting the Implementation of the Operational Plan for Health, 2015–2020. This project, which began in 2015 and cofinanced with the People’s Republic of China Poverty Reduction and Regional Cooperation Fund, is increasing the number of ADB developing countries that pursue universal health coverage. It is making health systems across Asia stronger while making quality healthcare accessible and affordable to more people.
Improving Education and Training
Improving education and training ensures the employability and job readiness of graduates, who will be the pillars of sustainable economic growth in their respective countries. ADB in 2019 pursued projects that improve both formal and technical education in many countries across Asia. One example is the Supporting the Advanced Knowledge and Skills for Sustainable Growth Project in Indonesia. Through the financing partnership of ADB, Japan Fund for Poverty Reduction, and the High-Level Technology Fund, this project will upgrade four public universities in Indonesia to improve the country’s skilled human capital. When the project is completed, these universities will be providing high-quality and demand-based programs, providing Indonesia with a highly skilled human capital ready to meet labor market demands.
Another initiative that focused on improving students’ technical capabilities is the Skills for Competitiveness Project in Cambodia. This project supports the country’s thrust to modernize and transform its industrial structure from being labor-intensive to skills-driven by 2025. Cofinanced with the Cooperation Fund for Project Preparation in the Greater Mekong Subregion and in Other Specific Asian Countries, this project will lead to better technical training institutes, a competitive and inclusive workforce, and better job-matching in Cambodia.
Ensuring Social Protection for everyone
Social protection is integral to reducing inequalities. It decreases people’s exposure to risks and protects them against any event that may threaten their incomes. In 2019, ADB began a project, Developing Insurance Markets for Sustainable and Resilient Societies in Asia and the Pacific, that reduces the risks marginalized women and farmers faced by using practical insurance solutions. Cofinanced with Korea, the project is now improving the insurance and pension industry in developing member countries to ensure that poor and marginalized households are better protected. The project Building Inclusive Social Assistance has also been helping the marginalized in Indonesia by expanding the country’s conditional cash transfer program, the Family Hope Program, so that it can reach remote areas and other vulnerable groups such as the elderly and people with disabilities.
Generating Quality Jobs
To generate quality jobs in developing member countries, ADB’s S2030 aims to enhance the business environment while strengthening the financial sector. This strategy ensures both worker and businesses, especially small- and medium-sized enterprises (SME), are empowered and made more productive.
One project designed to strengthen SMEs is the Supporting Internationalization of Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises: Linking India and the Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS) Project. Cofinanced with the United Kingdom Fund for Asia Regional Trade and Connectivity under the Regional Cooperation and Integration Financing Partnership Facility, this project aims to encourage cross-border investments among small enterprises in GMS countries and India. This will lead to a more vibrant regional trade and stronger SMEs.
Providing Asia with quality jobs, education, healthcare, and social protection is a tall task. This will be made harder with the impending global economic slow-down. In Asia and the Pacific, growth will fall to 2.2% this year, according to the Asian Development Outlook 2020. Partnerships can cushion this impact, helping the region to bounce back next year. Stronger partnerships can help ADB effectively respond to the region’s immediate needs while safeguarding the shared progress achieved through the years. They can scale up and widen the reach of poverty alleviation measures. They can help make access to quality education, health, jobs, and social protection, equitable. Partnerships can genuinely show that investing in poverty reduction initiatives is, ultimately, investing in people.