Asia-Pacific Making Progress in Meeting the Millennium Development Goals But Falls Behind Other Regions in Some Target Areas, Says New Report

Slow Progress in Reducing Child Mortality and Child Hunger Key Concern

The Asia-Pacific region as a whole is forging ahead on many of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), but there is uneven progress between and within countries, with many countries falling behind Sub-Saharan Africa or Latin America in certain areas, says a new report released today.

The report – “The Millennium Development Goals: Progress in Asia and the Pacific 2007” – states that the region is well on track and ahead of its peers in Latin America and Sub-Saharan Africa to reduce extreme poverty by half, attain universal education, and achieve gender parity in education by the target year 2015.

The region’s greatest challenges lie in addressing the issues of child mortality, malnutrition, improving maternal health and providing safe drinking water and sanitation facilities, says the report – a joint publication by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP), the Asian Development Bank (ADB), and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). The report was launched simultaneously today in Bangkok and Manila.

Asia and the Pacific accounts for about 65% of the world’s underweight children. More than one in four children (28%) under the age of five are underweight. The rates in many Asian countries exceed those of Sub-Saharan Africa. The region is also moving too slowly in reducing child mortality – every year six out of every 100 children do not live to see their fifth birthday, a rate almost double that of Latin American and the Caribbean. The most serious problems are in South Asia where most countries are off track on reducing child mortality.

Maternal deaths in Asia and the Pacific account for almost half of the global total. The region’s overall maternal mortality ratio, at over 300 per 100,000 live births, is more than 30 percent higher than in Latin America and the Caribbean.

“The 2007 MDG progress report gives us an indication of what the region stands to gain if we intensify our efforts to meet the MDGs. We need to focus on those countries that are moving slowly or not making progress, and within those areas concentrate on improving the lives of the most vulnerable”, says Haishan Fu, Chief, Statistics Development Section, UNESCAP.

The report says if the countries in the region that are off track were able to speed up and meet the MDG targets by 2015, then about 196 million more people would be lifted out of extreme poverty, 23 million more children would no longer suffer from hunger and nearly one million more children would survive beyond their fifth birthday.

The other key areas where Asia-Pacific region is making slow progress are provision of access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation facilities. Across the region, over 560 million people in rural areas lack access to improved water sources; over 1.5 billion people are living without basic sanitation facilities, nearly three-quarters of the global total.

The report also warns that environmental pressures – arising from land degradation, poor water management, rising pollution in urban areas, CO2 emission contributing to climate change and other factors -- could push more people into poverty.

While many countries in the region have resources to speed up and meet the MDGs, the poorest states do not have funds to meet all their investment needs.

“We need to build a global partnership for development to meet the investment gaps through channeling more and better targeted funds to those areas, subsectors and people actually in need.” says Omar Noman, Deputy Director, UNDP Regional Centre for Asia and the Pacific.

Another way to meet the investment needs of the poor countries is to provide them with access to developed markets, the report says. It also emphasizes the importance of economic and technical cooperation among developing countries within the region.

“We are at the half-way mark towards the target date of 2015 and have a historic opportunity to change the lives of millions living in abject poverty,” says Shiladitya Chatterjee, Head of the Poverty Unit in the ADB. “We need to adopt inclusive strategies to ensure that benefits of growth are shared equitably to sustain global growth and prosperity.”

The eight Millennium Development Goals – which range from halving extreme poverty to reducing child mortality, halting spread of HIV and AIDS, providing universal primary education and providing access to clean drinking water and sanitation facilities by the target year of 2015 – formed a blueprint agreed to by all the world’s nations.