MANILA, PHILIPPINES - The Asian and Pacific region as a whole is on track to achieve most of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), but progress in many individual countries is slow and performance on some vital targets is unsatisfactory, according to a new report released today.
The report - Millennium Development Goals: Progress in Asia and the Pacific 2006 - says that regional targets such as halving poverty and hunger, achieving universal primary education, and eliminating gender disparity in education are on track or have already been achieved. And progress on these is impressive compared to sub-Saharan Africa and even Latin America.
"The average progress, and relative performance, of the region, however, is no reason for early celebration," the report says. "The absolute size of social and economic deprivation ... remains enormous."
The MDG 2006 report updates the detailed analysis provided in the regional report, "A Future within Reach 2005," released in September last year at the Millennium Summit in New York. It is produced through a regional partnership between ADB, United Nations Development Programme, and UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific.
The new report points out that two thirds of Asians - or a total of 1.5 billion people - are still without access to basic sanitation. The region is also home to roughly three times as many underweight children and people living on less than $1 a day as sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America combined.
The region is not progressing fast enough to meet some important targets, including infant mortality and access to basic sanitation in urban areas. Meanwhile, HIV prevalence is actually on the rise and the proportion of people with access to improved water sources is declining.
The regional scorecards presented in the report mask some drastically uneven progress across countries. Many of the developing countries of a region that stretches from the Pacific to Central Asia, are likely to miss or even regress from a wide range of MDGs, including the targets on child health, and diseases such as HIV and TB.
The countries of most concern are identified in the report by combining a measurement of their current level of deprivation against progress on the MDGs. Using this, they are grouped into four categories:
- Moving ahead - making good progress and with a latest status better than average for the region - including Armenia, Azerbaijan, People's Republic of China (PRC), Kyrgyz Republic, Malaysia, Palau, Thailand, and Viet Nam.
- Losing momentum - will have to accelerate progress to be able to meet targets, although from a relatively favorable latest status - including Fiji Islands, Kazakhstan, Samoa, and Uzbekistan.
- Catching up - making progress but their latest status is below the region's average - Afghanistan, India, and Nepal.
- Falling further behind - causing greatest concern because they score negatively on both progress and latest status indexes - Bangladesh, Indonesia, Lao People's Democratic Republic, Mongolia, Myanmar, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, and Philippines.
The gaps within countries can be as stark as the gaps between countries, the report states, even in places that have seen spectacular development such as China and India.
China is on track to achieve, or has already achieved, most targets on health and poverty. The country enjoys one of the lowest child and maternal death rates, some of the lowest HIV, malaria, and TB prevalence, and has achieved gender parity in primary and secondary education, the report says.
However, some indicators are dated, while progress on some targets such as access to water and sanitation is not improving fast enough to meet MDG targets by 2015. Overall progress comes at the expense of large and increasing national inequalities, the report states. For example, child and infant mortality rates in the coastal regions are close to those of developed countries while in the less developed western provinces the rate is three to five times higher.
India similarly shows important progress on many of the MDGs but the relative level and large absolute size of deprivation remain high. For example, prevalences of poverty and underweight children are among the highest in the region, although progress is being made in the former indicator.
There is also a wide divide between progress seen in urban and rural areas. Of the 2 billion rural dwellers worldwide without access to basic sanitation, 1.5 billion were in Asia and the Pacific in 2004, the report says. Yet in that year, only one third of all Asians living in rural areas had access to basic sanitation compared to 74% of urban residents.
"Much remains to be done if governments in the region are serious about delivering the MDG promises to their poor and to achieve sustainable development," the report says. "At present, too many countries that score low on the progress or status of the education and health targets commit only a small proportion of their GDP to these sectors. And countries of most concern in the region are often among those not receiving enough from trade or aid."
The report concludes that while developing countries must commit to supporting institutions and policies that promote the sustainable economic growth required to achieve the MDGs, developed countries must also deliver on providing more, and more efficient, aid and to ensure fair trade and a more equitable share of global prosperity for poor people.
The eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) - which range from halving extreme poverty to halting the spread of HIV/AIDS and providing universal primary education, all by the target date of 2015 - form a blueprint agreed to by all the world's countries and the world's leading development institutions.