South Asian 'Growth Miracles' can wipe out poverty and hunger by 2030

24 Feb 2011

New Delhi - South Asia, the second fastest-growing region in the world is uniquely placed to accelerate growth and catch up with the world leader, East Asia, to create its own ‘growth miracles’ and eliminate poverty and wipe out hunger by 2030, according to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

South Asia is at a critical turning point in its history. Countries are deepening and strengthening their democracies. Stimulus packages have helped the region recover well from the global economic downturn. Efforts at reconciliation, peace-building, and including marginalized social groups into the national mainstream are beginning to take off.

“The time has come for South Asia to achieve its full potential. The region has a huge ‘demographic dividend’, democracy is taking root, the leadership is kept on its toes by an increasingly vocal population that demands accountability and transparency,” said Ajay Chhibber, UN Assistant Secretary General and UNDP Regional Director for Asia and the Pacific. “Stronger institutions and greater decentralization are transforming the governance architecture giving power to those on the bottom rung.”

Mr. Chhibber was speaking today alongside President Mohamed Nasheed of the Maldives and  Nobel Laureates Amartya Sen and Muhammad Yunus at the inaugural session of the World Conference on Recreating South Asia: Democracy, Social Justice and Sustainable Development, organized by the South Asia Centre for Policy Studies.  The Conference aims to explore new policy perspectives for development, democracy and peace to transform South Asia.

Even as economic growth has reduced the poverty rate in South Asia, the total number of poor people in the region has increased. The number of people living on less than US$1.25 a day increased from 549 million in 1981 to 595 million in 2005. More than 250 million children are undernourished and more than 30 million children miss out on schooling in South Asia. More than one-third of adult women are anaemic. These numbers clearly indicate that a large part of the population has been deprived of opportunities for sharing the fruits of growth.

Poor households are disproportionately affected by high food prices as compared to the rich - the purchasing power of the poor declined by 24 percent as compared to 4 percent for the rich. With rising food and fuel prices, South Asia’s poor will be hit hardest. Governments must manage the demand and supply side to ensure food security and rapid poverty reduction. Another challenge is to create decent employment as half of South Asia’s workers are underemployed.

Making a push for an inclusive growth model Mr. Chhibber added: “The focus must now be on bringing the benefits of prosperity to those who have been excluded for far too long. Inclusive growth must be the mantra that informs all our policy decisions with civil society playing its part in articulating the voice of the voiceless.”

The democratic governance challenges in South Asia are diverse, ranging from inequitable service delivery, weaknesses in parliamentary oversight, unequal access to justice, and the exclusion of marginalized groups—including indigenous peoples.

For the past 20 years UNDP has advocated the human development approach that is not only about helping to ensure a decent income level and standard of living for everyone but also about helping to ensure that every person has the capacity, right, freedom, and choice to be part of the decisions that affect their lives, to select the leaders that take those decisions, and to then hold them to account. “Democracy has the real potential to empower inclusive development and to enable pro-poor growth that sustains human development.” said Mr. Chhibber.

“It is sometimes claimed that East Asia does better than South Asia because it does not have to deal with dysfunctional democracies. The recent events in the Middle East show that these are false choices. South Asia has revealed that it can deliver democracy at lower levels of development and can accelerate growth even under chaotic democratic systems,” he added.

Even as growth continues to accelerate, South Asian countries are climate victims and continue to be very vulnerable to the impacts of climate variability and disasters. Largely attributed to global warming, Pakistan witnessed a flood of historic magnitude along the Indus valley. While rising sea levels threaten the Maldives, and Bangladesh coastlines, the Himalayan mountain range on which South Asia is so dependent is melting.

“Climate change is no longer a distant threat; it is a reality and a sign of what lies ahead…Win-win strategies need to be identified and promoted – conferences like this offer a huge opportunity to build synergies between the fights against both poverty and climate change.” said Mr. Chhibber.

Contact Information

Surekha Subarwal
Tel: +91 11 2462 8877
ext. 346; 9810153924
Surekha.subarwal@undp.org