CS73: Statement at the side event on Sustainable Social Development in Asia and the Pacific for Achieving the 2030 Agenda

Delivered at the side event co-hosted with Sri Lanka on Sustainable Social Development in Asia and the Pacific for Achieving the 2030 Agenda during the 73rd Session of the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific in Bangkok, Thailand.

Distinguished Panellists
Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am pleased to open this high-level panel discussion on sustainable social development and the 2030 Agenda. Seeing so many of you here is inspiring. It demonstrates the importance of the social dimension the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development as we drive forward its implementation.

Let me thank His Excellency Mr. Dissanayake, Minister of Social Empowerment and Welfare, Sri Lanka, for co-hosting this event. We know Sri Lanka has a long tradition of progressive social development. I am looking forward to hearing more about some of the recent policy measures you are considering in your country as well as from our eminent panellists who will speak about their experiences in Afghanistan, Fiji, Kazakhstan and the Philippines.

The Asia-Pacific region has been leading the world in economic growth for many years. Our dynamism has been sustained by investments in physical and human capital and by exploiting the opportunities created by globalization. This economic growth created millions of jobs in manufacturing and services sectors. It helped lift many out of poverty and generated resources used to increase socially minded investments to protect the most vulnerable. The region’s economic growth has reduced the number of people living in extreme poverty on $1.90 per day, which declined from 30 per cent to 10 per cent between 2000 and 2013.

Despite these great achievements, large sections of the population have fallen behind. Recent ESCAP estimates indicate some 400 million people are still living in extreme poverty in Asia and the Pacific. Almost one in three people (1.24 billion people) in the region still remain in moderate poverty, living on less than $3.10 a day. Of these people, close to 900 million live in South Asia. We have not succeeded in closing the gap between the rich and the poor, between women and men, between urban and rural areas, or establishing mechanisms that ensure the systematic protection of our most vulnerable citizens. In several countries, the wealthiest 20 per cent now own up to 80 per cent of total wealth. Billions remain vulnerable, without decent jobs, social protection, education, healthcare, clean water and sanitation or energy.

Let me be more specific. In more than one-quarter of the countries for which data exist, children in families in belonging to the richest 20 per cent are 3 to 7 times more likely to attend secondary education than the poorest 20 per cent. Where healthcare is concerned, in Cambodia, Azerbaijan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India, and Tajikistan, more than 60 per cent of all health care expenditure relies on private financing. The number of people working in of vulnerable employment remains significant throughout the region. Vulnerable employment accounts for more than 50 per cent of total employment in half the countries for which data is available. Women are particularly affected.

Equally, many of the region’s achievements have introduced new challenges. Positive trends in fertility and mortality rates along with remarkable increases in life expectancy are causing rapid population ageing. This threatens to exacerbate existing inequalities, reduce labour supply and competitiveness, and increase vulnerability in older ages, particularly among women.

The share of older people is expected to double by 2050 and reach a quarter of the total population, or 1.3 billion people.

This demographic transition is taking place at an unprecedented pace. Whereas it took France 115 years to move from an ageing to an aged society, Viet Nam is expected to make this transition in 19 years. This leaves countries very little time to adjust. Well-designed social protection systems, including universal and affordable health care services, will therefore be needed to support economic growth, increase labour supply, while also providing income security for the elderly.

Investment in social development is vital to mitigate these challenges to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.

The development gaps along with emerging challenges place the commitment of leaving no-one behind and the implementation of the 2030 Agenda at risk. It calls for increased investment in social development and decent job creation through a comprehensive, inclusive and multi-sectorial policy framework that places people at the centre of the development agenda.

Progress in your countries and in our region is now of global importance. Your energy to drive forward change and to deliver on our common ambitions to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals will determine global development.

With this in mind, I would like to leave you with six policy priorities for a people focused transformation in Asia and the Pacific that we have discussed in the latest report on Sustainable Social Development. We need to:

  • Harness the potential of economic growth for creation of more and better jobs;
  • Broaden coverage of social protection;
  • Protect and promote gender equality in all spheres of life;
  • Provide universal access to affordable education and health care services;
  • Enhance financial inclusion; and
  • Ensure social inclusion of vulnerable groups

Implementation of this ambitious agenda would require additional resources of over 8 per cent of GDP annually. ESCAP’s work on financing for development shows domestic resources mobilization can be enhanced through private sector and external resources. I am looking forward to hearing the thoughts of our panellists on how these requirements can be met and these challenges overcome.

I thank you for your attention.