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Anti-Poverty Drive
July 2, 2007

Widening inequality a setback to reducing poverty
A United Nations assessment report on global progress towards the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) released on July 2 pointed out that Asia is right on track to achieve the goal of halving the population living in extreme poverty, but the achievement was accompanied by the cost of widening inequality.

The Millennium Development Goals Report 2007 comes at the midpoint of a 15-year effort to implement eight key development objectives which world leaders have pledged at a declaration in 2000 to achieve by 2015, including halving the proportion of people living on the equivalent of one dollar a day.

At the report's Asia-Pacific regional launch in Bangkok Monday, Erna Witoelar, United Nations Special Ambassador for the MDGs for Asia and the Pacific, said that although progress has been made globally in a few areas, many countries are still off track towards many goals, such as promoting gender equality and reducing child mortality and improving environmental sustainability

"Of course we are not satisfied," said Ms. Witoelar, "Countries need to move faster to meet their commitments."

However, "It is still possible to achieve the goals," she emphasized, "we have enough resources to accomplish the goals. Thekey is better governance."

The report indicated the region is comfortably on track to achieve the first MDG, which calls for a 50% reduction in the population living in extreme poverty and hunger by 2015 in comparison with 1990, largely due to the achievements in China and India.

In the Asia-Pacific region, the greatest gain was in Eastern Asia, where the proportion of people living in extreme poverty fell from 33% in 1990 to 9.9% in 2004. In South-Eastern Asia, where extreme poverty was already down to 20.8% in 1990, the percentage had dropped to 6.8% by 2004.

But Asia's unprecedented poverty reduction was accompanied by evidence that the benefits of economic growth are not being shared across different parts of the continent, the report said. In Southern Asia, almost 30% of the population was still living on a dollar a day.

Inequality has also been rising within countries. Eastern Asia has experienced the most dramatic rise in income inequality: the share of income (or consumption) of the poorest quintile of the population in the sub-region declined from 7.3% in 1990 to 4.5 percent in 2004.

At the same time, the statistics show that Asia's path to the MDGs may be obstructed by challenges in other areas, such as health, environmental sustainability and gender equality. These include deforestation, unplanned urbanization, and the fast rate of HIV/AIDS infections in some parts of the region.

Progress in improving child nutrition is still unacceptably slow. If current trends continue, the report said, Asia will fall short of reaching the MDG target of halving the proportion of underweight children, in large measure because of slow progress in Southern and South-Eastern Asia, which are still among the sub-regions with the highest percentage of children under five suffering from malnutrition--with 46 and 28% of children, in the two sub-regions respectively, still malnourished in 2005.

Asia is also lagging in meeting the Goal of promoting gender equality, the report said, noting that large numbers of women are still shut out of jobs and receive poor health care.

In Southern Asia, the participation of women in paid, non-agricultural employment rose from 13% to 18% between1990 and 2005 -still the lowest percentage of women working for wages, aside from farm labor, among all the regions of the world.

The report also calls on governments redouble their efforts to reach a successful conclusion to Doha Trade negotiations so as to help developing countries to benefit from international trade.

Developed countries are urged to deliver more to keep their promises to use 0.7% of income on official development assistance to less developed countries.

The UN report, titled the Millennium Development Goals Report 2007, is an annual statistical survey of global and regional progress toward the Goals that is produced at the request of the General Assembly.

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 by the world's all countries and leading development institutions. Xinhua


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