UN MDG report says world on track to halve poverty thanks to Asia

But the region faces challenges in child malnourishment, sanitation and CO2 emissions

The world is on track to halve the global poverty rate by 2015 and achieve the number one target of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), thanks to progress made in East Asia, particularly China, says the United Nations’ latest MDG report. Without China’s contribution, the world would fail to meet the poverty reduction goal.

The Millennium Development Goals Report 2008, the most current global assessment on progress towards the eight MDGs on reducing poverty and deprivation, is being launched today in New York by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. The Asia-Pacific regional launch took place in Bangkok with Dr. Noeleen Heyzer, the senior most UN official in the region, presenting.

Dr. Heyzer, who is a UN Under-Secretary-General and the Executive Secretary of the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), said the region can be proud of its achievements but there are still many countries lagging behind.

“In East Asia – the world’s poorest region three decades ago – the poverty rate has fallen from nearly 80 per cent in 1981 to 18 per cent in 2005. In South Asia, it has fallen from 60 per cent to 40 per cent over the same period. These are no mean feats,” said Dr. Heyzer. “But the region as a whole still has the highest number of poor people in the world. It is no time to celebrate.”

Enrolment and gender parity in school on the rise, but malnourishment a challenge

Improved gender parity in school enrolment at primary and secondary levels is another big achievement of the Asia-Pacific region. Between 2000 and 2006, the primary school enrolment of girls increased more than that of boys in all developing countries of the region. South Asia made the most progress - there were 95 girls enrolled per 100 boys in 2006, compared with 77 girls per 100 boys enrolled in 1991.

Overall net primary school enrollment has also improved markedly, exceeding 95 per cent in South-East Asia and 90 per cent in South Asia, a significant achievement for South Asia although 18 million children are still out of school.

‘While our region is now doing better at providing basic education to our children, in particular for girls, we are failing them on another front – food and nutrition,” said Dr. Heyzer.

In South Asia, almost every second child is underweight – twice as high as the rate in sub-Saharan Africa. In South-East Asia, one out of four children is underweight, the same as in sub-Saharan Africa.
“This is simply unacceptable. Governments need to take urgent and sustained action, especially as the rising food prices are pushing more people into poverty,” Dr. Heyzer stated.

Slow in improving access to sanitation

According to the Millennium Development Goals Report 2008, almost half of the developing world’s population – about 2.5 billion people – still live without access to improved sanitation such as proper toilets. More than one billion of them are in Asia and the Pacific.

Despite progress since 1990, South Asia, where over two-thirds of its people have no access to improved sanitation, remains one of the two worst-affected regions in the world alongside Sub-Saharan Africa. The Pacific is the only region in the world where no progress has been made since 1990: every second person there is still without access to improved sanitation. East Asia made some progress, with the proportion of people having access to improved sanitation rising from 50 per cent in 1990 to 65 per cent in 2006.

Another challenge the region faces is the rapidly rising CO2 emissions. East Asia has the highest rate of increase in total CO2 emissions worldwide since 2000. In South-East Asia, emission per unit of economic output increased by 35 per cent since 1990.

Latest ESCAP regional report addresses MDG gaps

As the regional arm of the UN in Asia and the Pacific, ESCAP has been working closely with governments and development partners to help address the challenges faced by its member states in achieving the MDGs. The latest in a series of regional MDG reports, A Future Within Reach, was published in April 2008. It identified gaps in five areas that are holding back MDG progress in the region: growth gap; policy gap; strategy gap, resource gap; and implementation gap. Dr. Heyzer pointed out that although the international community has a decisive role to play, MDG achievement ultimately depends on the commitment of the countries themselves. “Most countries in our region have yet to develop MDG-based national development strategies,” she said. “Most governments also do not have specific budget allocations to reach MDG targets. Serious implementation gaps exist due to weak institutional arrangements and poor governance.”

With nearly 100 Heads of State or Government scheduled to attend the special high-level event on the MDGs convened by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in New York on 25 September, Dr. Heyzer said the time has come for governments, including those in the region, to commit to further actions to reach the MDGs by 2015.

“At the current rate, no country in our region will achieve all the targets. But further progress is possible – indeed some of the poorest countries have made significant advancements, even in the most difficult circumstances,” Dr. Heyzer noted. “As the regional hub promoting cooperation among member states to achieve inclusive and sustainable economic and social development, ESCAP has pointed the way forward with its regional MDG roadmap. We are already halfway towards the target date of 2015; the time for action is now.”

For more information, please visit: http://www.mdgasiapacific.org; http://www.un.org/millenniumgoals;

Please find the additional press releases for global for MDG report 2008 and the High Level Event on the MDGs.