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Asia-Pacific Region Faces Huge Social Challenges

Despite Striking Successes Asia-Pacific Region Faces Huge Social Challenges - UN

While the Asia-Pacific region has achieved "one of the largest decreases in mass poverty in human history," huge challenges still exist in basic education, gender equality, child health, maternal mortality and environmental sustainability, according to a United Nations report released today in Bangkok.

The joint report by the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) and the UN Development Programme (UNDP) also finds sharp contrasts in the performance of individual countries. It further notes "unacceptable and unconscionable" declines in aid flows to the least developed countries, and calls for reforms in the international trade system to help the poorest countries.

Entitled Promoting the Millennium Development Goals in Asia and the Pacific: Meeting the Challenges of Poverty Reduction, it is the first ever regional report on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), a list of targets drawn up in 2000 at the UN Millennium Summit to combat poverty, hunger, illiteracy, environmental degradation and discrimination against women, and to be achieved by 2015.

Introducing the report, ESCAP Executive Secretary Kim Hak-Su emphasized that the prime responsibility for achieving the MDGs lies with individual countries, but he said the report can help countries in the region to cooperate and learn from each other about "success stories" on swiftly reducing mass poverty, sustaining economic growth and social change for achieving the MDGs.

The report identifies slow economic growth, declining official development assistance (ODA) and uneven distribution of income and unfavourable social conditions as some of the key obstacles to reduce poverty and achieving other MDGs in Asia and the Pacific.

It argues that future progress towards the MDGs in the region will rely heavily on its ability to foster sustained economic growth and cautions that two-digit growth rates witnessed in late 1980s and early 1990s may be difficult to sustain in the coming years. Given that, the objective should be diversified growth that fosters equity - combining market-based incentives with "pro-poor" measures that boost the capacity of the poor to take advantage of new opportunities, while also ensuring adequate social protection for the most vulnerable groups.

The report finds that between 1990 and 2000, assistance to the region from countries belonging to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) fell to $14.15 billion from $14.34 billion. In particular, there are worrying declines in flows to the least developed countries - a reduction the report declares as "unacceptable and unconscionable."

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