Rapid economic growth has lifted millions in Asia out of extreme poverty, but the continent has at the same time experienced a dramatic rise in income inequality, the United Nations said in a report yesterday.
The UN report was released to mark the midway point of a 15-year global development plan - dubbed Millennium Development Goals - that targets improvements in various social and economic indicators.
The worldwide report said the greatest progress was made in East Asia, including China and South Korea, where the proportion of people living in extreme poverty fell to 9.9 percent in 2004 from 33 percent in 1990, in part because of rapid economic growth. In Southeast Asia, the ratio of people living in extreme poverty dropped to 6.8 percent in 2004 from 20.8 percent in 1990, according to the new statistics. Extreme poverty is defined as an income the equivalent of US$1 a day, or less.
"At this rate, Asia is on a target to meet the goal of cutting extreme poverty by half by 2015," said Shigeru Muchida, deputy executive secretary of the UN's Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific. World leaders at a summit in 2000 adopted the 2015 target date.
The report also highlighted what officials said was a worrying trend in rising income inequality within and among countries in the Asia-Pacific region.
"Given the resources, it should be doing much better, but the benefits of economic growth in the developing world have been unequally shared," Muchida said.
Widening income inequality is of particular concern in East Asia, especially China, Muchida said.
The share of income of the poorest 25 percent of the population in the region declined to 4.5 percent in 2004 from 7.3 percent in 1990, contrasting with sub-Saharan Africa, where the share of income of the bottom 25 percent remained the same at 3.4 percent.
Overall success in achieving the millennium goals is also being hindered by a number of challenges such as slow progress in improving child nutrition, gender inequality and unplanned urbanization, said the report.
South and Southeast Asia are still among regions with the highest percentage of children under 5 suffering from malnutrition, the report said, warning Asia would fall short of reaching the target of halving the proportion of underweight children - a key statistic in measuring global hunger - if the current trend continues.
Progress in promoting gender equality in Asia remained slow, with a large number of women still facing employment discrimination and receiving poor health care, the report said.
Only a little more than one-third of women in South Asia received medical attention from health care personnel when giving birth, the report said. The report didn't break down the statistics by nation.
Source: China Daily/agencies