Zero poverty, better quality education and accountable government top the agenda for Asia and the Pacific as countries look to the future and their “unfinished business” with the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). While the Asia-Pacific region has made progress in pulling millions out of poverty, it remains off track in such basic areas as hunger, health and sanitation, according to a new UN report.
The latest assessment of regional progress towards the MDGs, ‘Asia-Pacific Aspirations: Perspectives for a Post-2015 Development Agenda’ is a clear picture of how far the region has come, and serves as a stark wake-up call for what lies ahead.
The report, jointly published by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), the UN Development Programme (UNDP) and the Asian Development Bank, comes at a critical point when one final push is needed to achieve the MDGs in less than 1,000 days. The report identifies the areas needing accelerated actions and draws attention to emerging challenges.
“Basic inequities still persist in the Asia-Pacific region despite its remarkable record of pulling people out of poverty. The time is now for the region to tackle some of its serious areas of inequality: in education, health, food consumption, housing and safe drinking water,” said Nicholas Rosellini, Deputy Director, UNDP Regional Bureau for Asia and the Pacific.
Despite remarkable regional growth overall, most of the world’s poor reside in Asia and the Pacific, and over 740 million people across the region – including middle-income countries – live in extreme poverty.
Moreover, more than 60 percent of the world’s people suffering from hunger and undernourishment – some 543 million – live in the region, particularly in South Asia.
In terms of health targets, the Asia-Pacific region has not performed well compared to other MDG targets. In 2011, there were around 3 million deaths of children under five. South Asia still accounts for the second-highest number of maternal deaths worldwide (26.8 percent) followed by South-East Asia.
Some of the region’s greatest emerging health concerns lie in the area of non-communicable diseases such as heart disease, cancer, malnutrition, diabetes, alcoholism and drug abuse, all of which are rising amid poor dietary habits and the stresses of modern living.
The region has performed better on communicable diseases: the spread of tuberculosis has been reversed, and in the majority of countries efforts to control HIV are also bearing fruit. This however, needs to be sustained.
While 18 million children in the region remain out of primary school, the quality of education is becoming an even bigger concern.
Countries in the region will need to bring together the three broad pillars of sustainable development – economic prosperity, social equity and environmental sensitivity. The MDGs are still relevant for the region and the post-2015 agenda should build on them, the report finds.
The top three priorities for Asia and the Pacific in the post-2015 agenda are good quality education for all, zero poverty and effective, accountable and responsive government, according to the report.
The MDGs have served a valuable purpose of rallying global support around common objectives which can now be harvested to serve as the basis for an even more ambitious and vigorous effort in the decades ahead. By ramping up action now, momentum will be generated in going forward, into 2015 and beyond.
“Despite remarkable improvements in the lives of millions, progress has been uneven, and we need to accelerate MDGs achievement until we live in a world free of extreme poverty and discrimination,” said United Nations Under-Secretary-General and ESCAP Executive Secretary Dr. Noeleen Heyzer. “Inclusive growth and greater access to social services for the poor and the most disadvantaged will be necessary to overcome rising regional inequalities in income and in access to services. Countries in the region need to create more decent and productive jobs and expand social protection.”
“Moving forward, the next phase of the development agenda needs to drive transformative change – enabling global and national institutions to pursue people-centred development based on economic prosperity, social equity and environmental responsibility,” she added.