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Efforts to reach Asia-Pacific development targets threatened by gaps – UN

Efforts to reach Asia-Pacific development targets threatened by gaps – UN

Without filling gaps in key areas – including child and maternal mortality, environmental sustainability and water and sanitation – countries of the Asia-Pacific region may not be able to meet all of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), a new United Nations-backed report cautioned.

The report, entitled “A Future Within Reach 2008,” is the third such study on the MDGs jointly produced by the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), the Colombo, Sri Lanka-based MDG Initiative team of the UN Development Programme (UNDP) and the Asian Development Bank (ADB).

The eight MDGs – ranging from eradicating extreme poverty and hunger to combating HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases – were agreed upon by all of the world’s countries and leading development institutions at the historic Millennium Summit in 2000.

Noeleen Heyzer, ESCAP Executive Secretary, said that on the plus side, the Asia-Pacific region has been able to lift over 350 million people out of extreme poverty between 1990 and 2004.

“But that’s just not enough, we cannot rest for a minute – the gaps cited in the report need to be filled and they need to be filled immediately,” she said.

The area is currently home to 641 million of the world’s poorest, or nearly two-thirds of the global total.

The eighth MDG calls for global cooperation through official development assistance (ODA), debt sustainability and international trade, and the new study underscored the importance of improved coordination by international organizations in assisting countries trying to reach the development goals.

“Everyone involved – from all the agencies and funds of the United Nations and regional development entities to bilateral donors – needs to lift their game in this respect,” Ms. Heyzer observed. “It’s essential that development partners contribute according to their unique strengths, yet uphold the spirit, principle and practice of uniting to ‘deliver as one.’”

Efforts to boost youth employment are also facing hurdles. “Youth unemployment is on the rise almost every where and in several countries has reached double-digit levels,” according to the report. “Although some countries they have narrowed the gap, overall young women seem to have higher levels of unemployment than young men.”

An increase of 1 per cent in per capita gross domestic product (GDP) leads to a 0.86 per cent drop in the headcount poverty ratio, but the report warned that economic growth alone does not have as large of an effect on other MDGs such as under-nutrition and child mortality.

“To achieve the MDGs [Asia-Pacific countries] will need to improve the structure and quality of economic growth as well as make appropriate changes to national development strategies,” Ms. Heyzer pointed out.

“The effectiveness of all efforts at achieving MDGs will depend critically on the quality of governance,” said David Lockwood, acting head of the UNDP Regional Bureau for Asia and the Pacific. “Raising standards of governance will assist countries in their efforts to achieve ‘pro-poor’ growth.”