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Kamala Sarup: Fighting Poverty in South Asia

Fighting Poverty in South Asia

By Kamala Sarup

UN Assistant Secretary General Hafiz Pasha today said, ''South Asia had not achieved a breakthrough in poverty alleviation despite opening up economies and noticeable growth. This has raised the question whether globalisation is inclusive enough. Despite opening up, South Asia had a poor record in attracting foreign direct investment (FDI). South Asia receives only 15 percent FDI while East Asia gets 85 percent FDI.

''He also called for improving the quality of governance in the region and capacity building in key sectors of the economy to achieve development goals, especially of halving poverty by 2015. He stressed the need to strengthen public institutions and make them more effective to ensure that "globalisation ultimately becomes a servant of the poor. More investment should be made in human resource development to have a labour force which is internationally competitive."

The government should provide a conducive atmosphere for public sector activity and increase the quality of human resources, which is important in an increasingly competitive environment. He further argued toaday.

"Poverty promotes insecurity and conflict. South Asia, with 23 percent of the world's population, is the planet's poorest region. About 540 million people, or 45 percent of the region's population, are living below poverty line, with daily incomes of less than one dollar. This proportion is higher than in Sub-Saharan Africa, East Asia, the Middle East, Latin America, the Caribbean and the Pacific region, including China.

Internal conflicts and terrorism have been a direct result of deprivation, discrimination and the resulting poverty. Conflict will only be effectively tackled when its root cause, poverty, is properly addressed. It seeks to bring the voice of the poor to policy makers, and to let them understand the impact of their policies in real terms on the daily lives of those struggling in poverty". Chiranjibi Budhathoki argued.

"With current world attention focused on the threats that terrorism and weapons of mass destruction pose to international security, huge amounts of resources are being used in South Asia to fight the elusive enemy, terrorism, while the evident enemy, poverty, is left to grow more dangerous than ever before. Eradicating poverty is not as simple. But the task is not impossible if the resources available today, both wealth and knowledge, are properly mobilised by those responsible". Budhathoki further argued. High rates of poverty in South Asia are not a new phenomenon. Even, Urban poverty in South Asian countries is on the rise due to rapid urbanization and higher population growth rates. It is estimated that the urban population in the Asia-Pacific region which has already reached 350 million, will reach 1.3 billion in 2020 with an annual growth of about 40 million. The majority of the urban poor are concentrated in Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Pakistan and the People's Republic of China. Six mega-cities in the region, namely, Beijing, Mumbai, Calcutta, Jakarta, Shanghai, and Tianjin have the largest concentration of urban poor.

The UN poverty index, quoted in the report, shows that the poverty rate has reached 53 percent in India, 53 percent in Nepal, 29 percent in Bangladesh, 12 percent in Pakistan and 4 percent in Sri Lanka. These figures may be an underestimate. According to the countries' own national poverty indexes, the rate is 48 percent in Bangladesh, 54 percent in Pakistan and 22 percent in Sri Lanka, with no change for Nepal and India.The fate of the poor is linked to other sectors through migration, trade, and remittances.

The recently issued report on Human Development in South Asia also reveals terrible impoverishment and inequality.

Women suffer the most. Of the illiterate, 243 million are women, or 64 percent of the total number of women. For the entire region, the illiteracy rate among is 38 percent. The highest rate is in Nepal—86 percent, followed by 76 percent in Pakistan, 74 percent in Bangladesh, 72 percent in Bhutan and 62 percent in India.

"Eradication of poverty and the ending of hunger have long been recognised as among the most central challenges before human society. Equitable patterns of growth are essential for sustainable poverty reduction. Policies supporting economic stability, as well as embedded safety nets are necessary to reduce poverty and protect the poor. Strategies to reduce poverty must be situation-specific, directly addressing the realities on the ground". Chiranjibi further said.

Peace Media's advisor Dr. Ambika P. Adhikari said " The first and foremost condition for economic development is peace. For example, post-war Japan and Europe achieved extraordinary success in economic development after the second world war. Peace is necessary not only for the economic development but also for the security, physical well being and psychological comfort of the citizens.

The second prerequisite for a long term and sustainable development is the existence of a fully functioning democratic system. Although the pace of development in democratic system may seem frustratingly slow some times, only democracy will provide an economic development pattern that is long lasting. India is an illuminating example of steady growth under democracy in a developing economy. Even if the pace of growth in India is much slower than that of China, India has also demonstrated a decent and sustained growth rate. As all the fundamentals in Indian system are sound and the economic growth is on a firm footing. It is unlikely that India will experience an economic meltdown such as seen in Mexico in 1994, Thailand in 1997, and Argentina in 2002".

Dr. Adhikari has published several books, and numerous articles in international journals further argued

"The pillars of the Indian democratic system include regular elections, peaceful transfer of power, citizen involvement in all programs, military firmly under civilian control, existence of robust political opposition and non-government organizations, and a reliable decentralization of power among the states and district levels. This has enabled India to pursue a policy of economic liberalization, massive educational improvement and of providing a solid investment in science and technology with a long term perspective, all of this with wide public participation. As Nepal is a constitutional monarchy, if it attempt to emulate applicable elements of the Indian system, certain modifications will be necessary.

For many years Dr. Adhikari was a senior consultant in private sector firms in the USA and Canada. Dr. Adhikari received his Doctorate in Urban Planning from Harvard University, was a post graduate fellow at MIT, and obtained Master of Architecture from University of Hawaii further said

Although India still suffers from massive poverty, and faces daunting development challenges, these problems seem solvable in a democracy. The uneven level development in India can be explained as a result of its vast size, unequal starts, and diverse population with very different bases of infrastructure. With a population of almost 1.1 billion, India represents a microcosm of the world. The world population about 165 years ago in 1850 was 1.1 billion. Just as it is difficult to raise the standard of living of the whole world simultaneously, and it is also a complex task to extend prosperity evenly and rapidly in such a huge population spread over an entire sub-continent. Given the historic legacies and the vastness of India and also the inequalities, it will take several decades for economic development to fully reach all of its populace. By contrast, being a much smaller country than Indian (about 2% of the Indian population), Nepal can achieve a more even pattern of economic development relatively quicker.

After attaining peace, Nepal should institute a firm democratic system and establish and implement long term policies of social upliftment and economic growth. It should also create a well organized and comprehensive development vision that all the political parties should agree to follow". Dr. Ambika P. Adhikari said.

The non-income dimensions of poverty also paint a disturbing picture. Consider the indicators on education and health. In 2000, youth literacy rates in East Asia and Southeast Asia were as high as 98% and 97%, respectively. In sharp contrast, youth literacy rates in South Asia were as low as 69%.

Under-five mortality rates are a strong indication of the health of a population as a whole. Unfortunately, South Asia to be the weakest performer in Asia. While under-5 mortality rates in 2000 were around 40 and around 60 per thousand in East Asia and Southeast Asia, respectively, they were as high as 94 per thousand in South Asia. Reducing Poverty

Geert van der Linden argued Said " Poverty in South Asia today is high because it has been high historically. Despite that, the region has made progress in reducing poverty. Among the large South Asian countries, India's record in reducing extreme poverty has been relatively good. In terms of the $1 a day poverty line, for example, poverty rates have declined from around 42% in 1990 to 34% in 2002. Poverty reduction on the basis of national poverty lines and using only the large-scale surveys of the National Sample Survey show even better performance. By contrast, Bangladesh and Pakistan have not had as much success in reducing poverty.

Unfortunately, the data on youth literacy for South Asia do not show much progress. The youth literacy rate in 2000, 69% in 2000 as noted above, was only six percentage points lower than that in 1990. But on another indicator, primary school enrollment, India and Bangladesh have made significant strides in recent years despite persistent quality issues. We are hopeful that in time these achievements will lead to significant improvements in youth literacy rates in these two countries". He said.

Geert van der Linden further argued "The rural poor depend on agriculture. Making appropriate investments in rural roads, irrigation, rural electrification, and extension services-would help considerably in improving their lives.

Increasing investment in basic education and healthcare are important in ensuring that the poor participate meaningfully in the country's economic growth. A lack of education and health care hurts the poor today, but it also limits their ability to make the most of future opportunities brought about by economic growth.

And finally, the fact that the poor are overwhelmingly dependent on agriculture does not mean that growth in other sectors does not matter. It is clear that the struggle against poverty in Asia will be protracted. But there is a way to conquer the most extreme forms of deprivation. Policy makers must focus on generating high rates of sustainable growth while ensuring that the benefits of that growth is spread to all parts of society". He further said in his statement.


(Kamala Sarup is editor to )

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