With 743 million people in Asia and the Pacific still desperately poor, it is essential that growth be sustainable, inclusive and job-generating, declared the head of the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) as it kicked off its Ministerial Segment in Bangkok today.
“The key to closing our development gaps and achieving our development goals is economic growth. But we cannot afford growth at any cost,” ESCAP Executive-Secretary Shamshad Akhtar said today.
“Inequalities jeopardize the social cohesion and stability of societies. The ‘inequality trap’ risks intensifying social exclusion and creating a group of the ‘bottom billion’ that would be left behind.”
While no other region in the world has done better in achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), economic inequality in Asia and the Pacific remains rampant and with only 500 days until the 2015 MDGs’ deadline, Ms. Akhtar said, underscoring that there is “no room for complacency.”
To reduce inequalities, she advocated a combination of measures in the region, in particular redistributive policies, the enhancement of social protection, and the promotion of productive and decent work, especially for youth.
More than 30 senior leaders from more than 40 member States in the region are attending this week’s 70th annual session themed ‘Regional Connectivity for Shared Prosperity.’ The forum advocates an integrated approach to connectivity as a regional public good.
It calls for exploiting the interdependence and synergies of five elements constituting the new drivers of Asia-Pacific growth: trade and transport networks; Information Communication Technology (ICT) networks; energy networks; people-to-people networks; and promotion of knowledge-based economies.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon commended in his statement, delivered by Ms. Akhtar, the countries of Asia and the Pacific for “driving the global economic recovery.”
Countries in the region have achieved remarkable gains in reducing poverty and reaching many other Millennium Development Goals. However, clear signs point to income inequality as well as large gaps in access to transport, information and communications technology, modern energy resources, women’s political and economic participation and other drivers of development.
“Boosting connectivity across Asia and the Pacific will enable countries to optimize their strengths and synergies, supporting sustainable development and shared prosperity,” the Secretary-General said.
Indeed, Ms. Akhtar said Asia-Pacific’s economic dynamism to date had been primarily driven by individual economies, but that future success would depend on the extent to which the countries of the region were able to integrate and cooperate for sustainable development.
“Enhancement of regional connectivity across the Asia-Pacific region requires political will and cooperation, to explore what is achievable and optimal, to develop consensus on conducive approaches and how we engage, and to put in place a game plan for how this will be achieved.”