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Delivered by Armida Salsiah Alisjahbana

20 October 2021


Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,

The Asia-Pacific region has achieved remarkable success in reducing poverty in the past three decades, lifting more than 1.1 billion people out of extreme poverty and reducing the overall poverty rates to less than one-tenth of the level in 1990.

Although the region is largely on track to achieve Sustainable Development Goal 1 in eradicating poverty, this mission is still far from being accomplished.

As of 2017, more than 200 million people, equivalent to 5.2 per cent of the region’s population, were still living with less than $1.9 a day. Since then, much of the reduction in extreme poverty has been wiped out by the COVID-19 pandemic, which by ESCAP’s estimation, pushed an additional 89 million people back into extreme poverty.

The main reason behind the pandemic’s devastating blow was that millions of people were trapped just above the extreme poverty line and were vulnerable to social-economic shocks.

If a higher poverty threshold, say $3.2 per day, is considered, the region-wide poverty headcount would expand by eight-fold.

However, the greatest challenge to reducing poverty in Asia and the Pacific going forward is the need to shift our thinking.

First, surges in economic inequality accompanied structural transformation and economic development in a number of large developing countries in our region, significantly eroding the poverty reduction effect of economic growth.

For example, ESCAP estimates that the rise in inequality in 10 developing countries between 1990 and 2014 cost 153 million people the opportunity to be lifted out of poverty.

Second, the disruptive economic transition towards automation and digitalization, accelerated by COVID-19, will likely result in weaker cost advantages of labor-intensive production and depress wages.

The service sector is also under continuing pressure from the pandemic and its aftereffects. Betting on one or two traditional labor-intensive sectors such as manufacturing and tourism sectors for poverty reduction could increasingly become a risky strategy in the fast-changing post-pandemic world.


Third, global prioritization of environmental sustainability and greater public awareness of environmental wellbeing have made environmental constraints much more tangible and binding.

In this context, the usual pollute-first-and-clean-up-later development model is neither viable nor desirable anymore. Poor countries would need to seek alternative development paths to build a competitive economy for poverty reduction.

Last but not least, upper-middle-income countries of the region are likely to find diminishing returns of structural transformation and rural-urban migration on poverty reduction, when the remaining pockets of poverty are much harder to reach.

Thus, closing the last mile of poverty eradication would require more innovative and tailored policies besides increased spending.

Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,

Bearing in mind the new developments and challenges I just highlighted, our poverty reduction strategies and policies must be forward-looking and better targeted.

This thinking is behind our initiative, jointly with the Government of China and the Government of Uzbekistan, to organize this side event.

The objective is to learn from the recent successes and lessons of poverty reduction in our region and reflect on the policy directions going forward.

Since ambitious and innovative experiments on poverty reduction policies have been a hallmark of our member States, this side event intends to facilitate peer learning on this front.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank the Government of China for proposing this side event and to thank the Government of Uzbekistan for supporting it.

I also would like to express my appreciation to the distinguished expert panelists today, who will share their valuable knowledge on different aspects of poverty reduction in the next hour.

Thank you all for joining us and I wish you a fruitful event.

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