Asia-Pacific makes big gains against poverty, but slow to reduce hunger, child and maternal deaths

New Delhi (UNESCAP / UNDP) – The Asia-Pacific region has made big gains in reducing poverty and is moving fast towards other development goals, but still has high levels of hunger as well as child and maternal mortality, said a new report released here today.

The Asia-Pacific region has already reached the Millenium Development Goal (MDG) of halving the incidence of poverty, reducing the proportion of people living on less than $1.25 per day from 50 to 22 per cent between 1990 and 2009, according to the latest assessment of regional progress towards the MDGs published by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

The region has also achieved some other MDG indicators ahead of the target year of 2015. These include promoting gender equality in education, reducing HIV prevalence, stopping the spread of tuberculosis, increasing forest cover, reducing consumption of ozone-depleting substances and halving the proportion of people without access to safe drinking water.

However, while strong economic dynamism has driven regional success in poverty reduction, even fast growing countries continue to lose shocking numbers of children before their fifth birthday and thousands of mothers die unnecessarily while giving birth, reveals the report. Over 3 million children died before their fifth birthday in 2010 alone.

The ESCAP/ADB/UNDP Asia-Pacific MDG Report 2011/12, Accelerating Equitable Achievement of the MDGs: Closing the Gaps in Health and Nutrition in Asia and the Pacific warns that at the present rate of progress, the region as a whole is unlikely to meet MDGs related to eradicating hunger, reducing child mortality and improving maternal health, among others.

“We are in a race against time, with just three years left to achieve the MDGs. The good news though, is that our analysis shows many of these goals can still be reached with a redoubling of effort in the time remaining until 2015,” said ESCAP Executive Secretary and UN Under-Secretary-General Noeleen Heyzer via video message at the report launch. “On our goal of reducing child malnutrition, for instance, we need less than 2% annual improvement in all 14 off-track countries to meet the goal. We are so close to the finishing line - it is time for a big final push to 2015 on the MDGs.”

If governments are to raise standards of health they will have to focus much more sharply on the needs of the poor and vulnerable, says the report.

“It is clear that achieving health outcomes requires interventions in health, but more importantly outside the health sector to include water, nutrition, education and gender empowerment,” stated Ajay Chhibber, UN Assistant Secretary General and UNDP Associate Administrator and Director for Asia and the Pacific.

“It is absolutely unacceptable that amid the unprecedented economic growth in recent history, disparities within and between countries are growing in our region and mothers and children are dying unnecessarily. We must redouble our efforts to promote inclusive growth and work for achieving the MDGs by 2015,” said Bindu Lohani, ADB’s Vice-President for Knowledge Management and Sustainable Development.

The report reveals striking disparities between and within subregions, countries and even social groups in their progress towards MDGs. While South Asia as a whole is on track for just nine MDG indicators, Sri Lanka is on track for 15 indicators and outperforms the sub-region.

Within countries disparities between men and women, between social and ethnic groups and between regions hold large sections of the population back from achieving the MDGs.

While the number of people without access to safe drinking water in the region fell from 856 million to 466 million between 1990 and 2008, it still accounts for more than half the total developing world population lacking safe drinking water.

Why some countries do better

According to the report, spending on health is important but no less important are the quality of health related services and good governance for better health outcomes. For instance countries that have been effective in controlling corruption have better health results.

Women’s literacy and education levels, access to clean water, improved sanitation and basic infrastructure, such as better roads also play a crucial role in improved public health.

Fast-tracking progress

The report notes that many countries can speed up progress with just a little effort. Fourteen off-track Asia-Pacific countries need to accelerate progress by less than 2 percentage points annually to reach the target of halving the proportion of underweight children by 2015.

The ESCAP/ADB/UNDP report outlines an 8-point agenda to fast-track progress towards the health MDGs. This requires addressing the social determinants of health inequities and vulnerabilities, establishing an equitable, accessible, responsive and integrated primary health care system as well as ensuring preventive, promotive and curative mother and child health services.

To access the report, please go to:
http://www.unescap.org/pdd/about_csns.asp