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November-December 2010

Vol. 35, No. 6

Asia: Progress of Millennium Development Goals

In 2000, the Millennium Development Goals were set, eight targets to end extreme poverty and inequality by 2015. In Asia progress has been made in some areas but not in others. Overall, the region is off track to meet all eight goals by 2015. Nina Bosken, an intern with the Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns through the Discipleship Year program, contributed to this article.

According to Paths to 2015 MDG Priorities in Asia and the Pacific, a report by the UN Development Program, the Asian Development Bank and the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific, the region is an early-achiever for goal three, promoting gender equality and empowering women, and goal six, combating HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases. The region is on track to achieve goal one, to cut in half, between the years 1990 and 2015, the number of people living on less than $1.25 a day. The region is slow or off-track for other goals, such as goal two, to achieve universal primary education, and goal four, to reduce child mortality.

According to the report, the most successful MDG goal for the region has been poverty reduction. Between 1990 and 2008, the number of people living on less than $1.25 a day decreased from 1.5 billion to 947 million, while the population increased by 800 million. Work must still be done on all fronts. For instance, while significant progress has been made with female equality, around 100 million Asian women are estimated to be "missing" because of discriminatory treatment in regards to health, nutrition, neglect or pre-birth sex selection.

The report suggested seven "drivers" to achieve the goals by 2015:

1) Strengthen growth by stimulating domestic demand and intra-regional trade: Greater intra-regional trade would require integrated markets, lower tariff and non-tariff barriers, concerted investment in physical infrastructure, more robust transportation networks and information platforms, and better regulatory structures. Products from poorest countries should have duty- and quota-free market access on a lasting basis.

2) Make economic growth more inclusive and sustainable: Governments will need to progressively set their sights on a more environmentally sustainable development that can decouple economic growth from environmental pressures – for example, by enhancing the efficiency of natural resource use, reducing energy intensity, preserving biodiversity, cutting waste generation and adapting to the effects of climate change.

3) Strengthen social protection: Countries will be in a better position to achieve the MDGs with a minimum social floor that addresses extreme poverty, hunger and income insecurity. Social protection programs will lessen the impact of economic crises and natural calamities while also acting as a "circuit breaker" for vicious inter-generational cycles of poverty and hunger.

4) Reduce persistent gender gaps: Gender inequality is neither just and sustainable, nor morally defensible. Investing in women and girls is in itself a breakthrough strategy for achieving the MDGs and almost any outlay made in women and girls will have effects across all the goals.

5) Ensure financial inclusion: Most of the billion or so poor people in Asia and the Pacific have little access to financial services. Instead they rely largely on cash or the informal economy, and for credit look to friends, family or moneylenders. … Governments can widen financial inclusion by improving infrastructure and the regulatory environment, and by encouraging service provision by NGOs, community-based groups and the private sector.

6) Support least developed and structurally disadvantaged countries: Measures for faster MDG achievement should be financed as much as possible from domestic resources. However, poorer countries … will need to be assisted through external resources such as official development assistance (ODA). ODA, whether bilateral and multilateral, has played a key role in supporting the economic development and social progress of many developing countries in the region and it continues to make a significant contribution to achieving the MDGs.

7) Exploit the potential of regional economic integration: This offers many other opportunities – particularly for smaller economies – by enabling them to extend their markets and reap efficiency gains from specialization and economies of scale and scope. This could make the region more resilient to future crises and bolster the capacity of many of the poorest countries to achieve the MDGs.

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