APFSD4: Remarks for the Panel discussion on eradicating poverty and promoting prosperity in a changing Asia and the Pacific

Delivered during Session 2 of the Fourth Asia-Pacific Forum on Sustainable Development in Bangkok, Thailand.

Distinguished Participants,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

Poverty and prosperity, the overarching theme of this year for the High Level Political Forum (HLPF) and the Asia Pacific Forum for Sustainable Development (APFSD), will be accompanied by a focus on a cluster of 6 SDGs. Progress on these specific goals and more accelerated and concerted action in areas where poverty and inequality is more acute will help reinforce the move to greater regional prosperity. Trends on the poverty incidence and intensity reveal substantial regional variation in poverty levels and mapping of these factors will help facilitate geographically focused interventions to move the numbers of the Asia-Pacific region. For instance:

  • At a subregional level, South Asia requires focus as, despite recent progress, it still has 15 per cent of the population living in extreme poverty, with numbers higher when you disaggregate. East Asia has succeeded in bringing its poverty rates down from 60 percent in 1990 to 3.5 per cent in 2013, which has provided many case studies for knowledge transfer within our region.
  • Rural areas require a special focus as they continue to experience high rates of poverty, both absolute and multidimensional, and are home to half of the region’s population.
  • In South Asia, more than 86 per cent of those experiencing multidimensional poverty live in rural areas.
  • By and large countries with special needs are falling even further behind in the fight against poverty with 8 LDCs among the 10 countries with the highest rates of multi-dimensional poverty in the region.
    Addressing poverty, however, requires action on multiple fronts.

First, understanding the global multidimensional poverty index is critical as more than 1 in 4 people in our region continue to be deprived in multiple ways. In Asia and the Pacific, 1 out of 10 people live in extreme income poverty and more than 1 in 4 people experience poverty in multiple dimensions – these include health, education and living standards. In rural areas, the rate increases to 2 in 5 people. In the context of multi-dimensional poverty, the region has achieved near-universal primary school enrollment, but this success has been poorly distributed. In many countries, educational quality does not match the needs of the current generation and education is still not a priority in many national budgets. With respect to health, a large proportion of the region’s population is not protected by comprehensive health coverage and suffers from medical impoverishment. Living standards, as measured by the Human Development Index, were below average in 19 countries of our region as of 2014 and in 15 countries, this measure was in decline or unchanged.

Second, addressing exclusion and marginalization in many demographic groups including migrants, women, indigenous people, and the elderly, is critical. Lack of protection of these groups has left nearly one billion people exposed in vulnerable employment, with women significantly more likely to be affected. Besides access to economic resources, effective approaches and enabling policies to enhance their participation need to be coupled with appropriate responses to address discrimination and harassment as well as to realize the full potential of these groups.

Third, offering better employment opportunities and services to the rural poor will have a significant impact on reducing poverty in agrarian economies. Strengthened responses to rural poverty require policy interventions that are innovative and supportive. These must include infrastructure provisioning and financing, community-based and participatory approaches to natural resources management, enhancement of farmers’ organizations, increased policy research, and further investment in sustainable agriculture and rural development, as well as the sustainable management of natural resources. The role of agriculture and natural resources management in the context of the ongoing rural-urban transitions will be critical to the prosperity of all people in the region.

Fourth, governments increasingly have to balance competing, but equally important policy objectives with respect to structural transformation, food security, environmental sustainability and poverty reduction. There are multiple links between urban and rural poverty, including through migration as the rural poor often migrate to become the urban poor. Policy responses in rural areas are key to shaping the long-term development impact of rural-urban transitions.

Lastly, these transitions in Asia and the Pacific are shaping infrastructure needs. Although significant progress has been made in expanding infrastructure, the basic infrastructure needs of many poor people remain unmet. Future demand for infrastructure is substantial, and environmental sustainability needs to be strengthened.

In conclusion, there are systemic challenges with respect to increasing inequity and processes of marginalization and exclusion that lead to unequal participation in areas such as the interactions of States, markets and civil society. Tackling multi-dimensional poverty to address human well-being beyond income will require an unprecedented level of policy integration across the SDGs, backed by more comprehensive data and better statistical systems. Policy coherence and consistency will be critical for an effective response in the region, and a multidimensional understanding of poverty and prosperity will be important to strengthening that coherence.

A strengthening of the social contract is critical for addressing marginalization and exclusion. It also provides opportunities for innovative partnerships in which diverse stakeholders can find common ground to tackle entrenched problems and build synergistic solutions to the challenges of poverty in both rural and urban areas. This requires strong policy signals, strong policy leadership, clear commitments and allocation of resources to address the multiple dimensions of poverty. Addressing inequality, marginalization and exclusion through the recognition and protection of human rights, must also be incorporated into all strategies. We must remain aware of the potential for creating more conducive conditions and for institutionalizing mechanisms that better balance private and public interests.

Regional cooperation is critical to addressing shortcomings in progress for the countries with special needs, in particular the Least Developed Countries, and to mitigate the risks posed by the cross-border dimensions of regional megatrends, especially those related to trade, migration and responsible investments. Regional cooperation should focus on strengthening national statistical systems and innovations in data collection, especially in the context of an expanded understanding of multidimensional poverty and prosperity.

ESCAP is committed to supporting regional cooperation efforts to implement the SDGs through its partnership with ADB and UNDP as well as the wider UN family. APFSD as a regional platform is well positioned to share experiences and to strengthen the implementation of the 2030 Agenda.

I thank you.