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Many Asian countries falling short of global development goals, warns UN report

Many Asian countries falling short of global development goals, warns UN report

While the Asia-Pacific region as a whole is on track to achieve most of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), progress in many individual countries is slow and performance on some of the vital targets – including infant mortality and access to basic sanitation – is unsatisfactory, according to a new United Nations joint report released today.

The report – Millennium Development Goals: Progress in Asia and the Pacific 2006 – is produced by the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP) and the UN Development Programme (UNDP). The Asian Development Bank (ADB) was also involved in its preparation.

Stating that the “average progress, and relative performance” of the region is no reason for early celebration, the report points out that the “absolute size of social and economic deprivation remains enormous,” highlighting that two thirds of Asia – or a total of 1.5 billion people – is still without access to basic sanitation.

The region is also home to roughly three times as many underweight children and people living on less than $1 a day as sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America combined, it adds, noting that HIV prevalence is on the rise and the proportion of people with access to improved water sources is declining.

“Much remains to be done if governments in the region are serious about delivering the MDG promises to their poor and to achieve sustainable development,” says UNESCAP’s Statistics Division Chief Pietro Gennari, referring to the eight goals set by the UN Millennium summit of 2000 to dramatically slash poverty, illiteracy, maternal and infant mortality and a host of other global ills by 2015.

“At present, too many countries that score low on the progress or status of the education and health targets commit only a small proportion of their GDP (gross domestic product) to these sectors. And countries of most concern in the region are often among those not receiving enough from trade or aid.”

The report says that regional targets such as halving poverty and hunger, achieving universal primary education, and eliminating gender disparity in education are on track or have already been achieved. Progress on these is impressive compared to sub-Saharan Africa and even Latin America.

But it warns that the regional progress presented in the report masks drastically uneven progress across countries, with many of these developing nations – stretching from the Pacific to Central Asia – likely to miss or even regress from a wide range of MDGs, including the targets on child health, and diseases such as HIV and tuberculosis.

The report also highlights that gaps within countries can be as stark as the gaps between countries, even in places that have seen spectacular development such as China and India, while it also notes a wide divide between progress seen in urban and rural areas.

In a related development, the UNDP said today that it had entered into an Asia-Pacific partnership with multinational energy company Total S.A. to collaborate in several areas, including access to clean and sustainable energy, and promotion of a better business environment through transparent governance, including leadership training for youth.

“This partnership brings together the strengths of both UNDP and Total to create sustainable development initiatives that will contribute to local communities and also protect the environment,” says Elizabeth Fong, Manager of the UNDP’s Regional Centre in Bangkok.