New Asia-Pacific Statistical Yearbook Presents Complete Picture of the Region’s Development

While the world-leading pace of urbanization in Asia and the Pacific has contributed to the region’s growth – it has also driven up urban poverty, according to the latest edition of the Statistical Yearbook for Asia and the Pacific, released today.

The Yearbook, produced by the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), is the region’s leading compilation of statistical data which provides a detailed picture of the major economic, social and environmental trends in Asia and the Pacific. Other findings in this year’s edition include that energy consumption grew at a pace unequalled elsewhere and increased motorization is improving mobility.

Increase in urbanization aids growth, but also pushes up urban poverty

2008 represents a turning point in human geography. For the first time in history, there are more people living in cities than in rural areas. Although the Asia-Pacific region, along with Africa, is still one of the least urbanized regions of the world, its urban population has been growing at the fastest pace during the last decade and a half, the Yearbook notes.

In 1990, 33 per cent of the population of Asia lived in urban areas, compared with 41 per cent today. The fastest influx of people from rural areas to cities has occurred in the countries that make up the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, where the share of the urban population rose from 32 per cent in 1990 to 45 per cent in 2006.

The effect that the fast growth in urbanization is having on the region is particularly being felt in heavily populated slums characterized by substandard housing and poor access to basic services, the Yearbook notes.

“This growth is having a knock-on effect,” said Pietro Gennari, the chief of ESCAP’s Statistics Division. “We’re seeing more and more people living in slums and also a negative effect on people’s ability to access clean water and sanitation in urban areas.”

In Asia and the Pacific, two out of five urban dwellers live in slums, compared with three out of five in Africa. Still, this is notably higher than the 33 per cent prevailing in Latin America and the Caribbean.
“This urbanization and the increase in the number of people living in slums are largely responsible for a decrease in urban access to improved water sources in Asia and the Pacific since 1990,” said Gennari. “Countries with high access rates in the 1990s, such as China, Indonesia and the Philippines, have all recorded a fall in the proportion of the urban population with access to improved sources of water.”

Energy consumption doubled – rate unparalleled elsewhere

The Yearbook notes that the region’s rapid economic growth has contributed considerably to better social outcomes but also has put tremendous strain on the environment, and that this is partly due to the rapid increase in energy consumption.

“Although still only a fraction of the levels of North America and Europe, energy consumption per capita in Asia and the Pacific more than doubled between 1990 and 2004 – and this is a pace of increase not seen elsewhere in the world,” Gennari said, adding that among the region’s middle-income countries, per capita energy use even quadrupled.

The increased energy use is reflected in the region’s carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, which increased from 1.9 tons per capita in 1990 to 3.2 tons per capita in 2004. The Yearbook notes that while high-income countries (10.3 tons per capita in 2004) are considerably worse polluters than low (1.1 tons per capita) and middle-income (4.1 tons per capita) countries, the increase in emissions was fastest in the latter group (doubled between 1990 and 2004).

“If CO2 emissions are calculated per unit of gross domestic product, Asia and the Pacific has one of the highest CO2 intensities in the world, although as with most world regions a decreasing trend since 1990 is visible,” Gennari said.

More vehicles everywhere but few new railway tracks

The Statistical Yearbook for Asia and the Pacific says that motorization rates – measured as the number of passenger cars in use per 1,000 people – have increased appreciably in the Asian and Pacific region.

“The benefit of this growth has been that it has helped improve mobility, which in turn contributes to economic growth, but the downside is that it has also led to an increase in pollution levels and traffic accidents,” said Gennari.

It should be noted, Gennari added, that personal mobility levels in many South and South-East Asian countries are considerably higher than the relative number of cars in use suggests, as two- and three-wheelers constitute more than two thirds of all motorized vehicles in Cambodia, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Myanmar, Thailand and Viet Nam, among other developing countries.

The Yearbook notes that although railway density in Asia and the Pacific remains low in comparison with more advanced regions, it is the highest among the developing regions of the world.

In 2005, Asia and the Pacific have a railway density of 7 kilometres per 1,000 square kilometres, ahead of Africa and Latin America and the Caribbean; but lower than North America and Europe.

“Barely half of the countries in the region have constructed a sizeable intercity railway system,” Gennari said. “Moreover, in the recent years, only a handful of Asian developing countries have invested extensively in railways – and almost all the increase in the region’s railway length is attributed to the improvement in China and, to a lesser extent, the Republic of Korea.”

New standardized data for easy comparison

For the first time in its 50-year history, ESCAP’s Statistical Yearbook for Asia and the Pacific presents data compiled entirely from global sources maintained by United Nations agencies and other international organizations.

The use of “international” rather than “national” data allows for three major innovations, which together have resulted in a completely revised Yearbook: the organization of the Yearbook in chapters that address social, economic and environmental topics; the presentation of indicator values aggregated to regions and other groups of countries of interest; and the use of charts and analytical text to facilitate the interpretation of indicator values and trends therein.

“Data on neighbours and other countries with similar circumstances and levels of development provide irreplaceable benchmarks for evidence-based policy planning,” said Gennari. “At the same time, comparable indicators provide yardsticks for citizens to hold their decision makers to account, and promote good governance and prudent management of public resources.”

A Snapshot of the Region - Statistical Yearbook for Asia and the Pacific 2007

Further information on the Yearbook can be found at: www.unescap.org/stat/data/b2007