Bangladesh population

Asia-Pacific: only 5% of the region’s population owns 70% of its total wealth

Asia-Pacific, Featured, Food and Agriculture, Featured, Poverty and SDGs, TerraViva United Nations

Poverty and the SDGs

Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

MADRID, Jan 18, 2022 (IPS) – The Asia-Pacific region is experiencing growing inequality while recording impressive economic growth and poverty reduction. These strong inequalities persist in the region, with almost 2 out of 4 people still not having the means to eat healthy foods.

“The gains from socio-economic development have favored the wealthiest, with the top 5% of the population controlling almost 70% of the region’s total wealth,” reports the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (GETAWAY).

The Asia-Pacific region, comprising 58 countries and territories, has recorded the fastest economic growth rate in the world in recent decades and made progress in human and social development, informs the Commission.

“Across Asia and the Pacific, 1.9 billion people cannot afford healthy diets, due to high prices for fruits, vegetables and dairy products, which prevent the poor from have a healthy diet”

And he gives a few examples: life expectancy has increased considerably. While poverty eradication efforts have lifted an estimated one billion people out of poverty, income poverty and multidimensional poverty continue to exist alongside wealth within and between countries.

Despite these gains, “inequality persists, with income, consumption and wealth concentrated in the top deciles of the population. Non-monetary inequalities exist between regions, gender, race, ethnicity, geography and age, as well as in access to services, including sexual and reproductive health services.

The Asia-Pacific region is home to around 4.5 billion people and its demographic landscape is diverse in terms of population growth and size, age and gender composition and spatial distribution, explains ESCAP in report on this region.

The multidimensional poverty of the largest region in the world is made up of several factors that constitute the experience of deprivation of poor people, such as poor health, lack of education, inadequate standard of living, lack of income, helplessness, poor quality of work and the threat of violence.

Perpetuating inequalities

“These circumstances often shape, accentuate and perpetuate inequalities in income and wealth.” For example, the outcome may be influenced by efforts in education or in the labor market.

The final category, inequality of impact, concerns the differential impact of certain events or phenomena, such as a natural disaster, on different groups.

The impact has often been greatest on the poor, women, the elderly, people with disabilities and other marginalized groups.

High fertility

The report also explains that poverty, inequality and high fertility are closely linked. Poor households tend to have many children mainly due to lack of access to and knowledge of contraceptives, the low autonomy of women and the demand for children for economic or domestic support.

Contraception is less accessible to poor, less educated and rural women. These fertility differentials perpetuate poverty and intergenerational inequalities.

No decent jobs for young people

In countries where the number of young people looking for work is high relative to employment opportunities, and where their skills do not match market requirements, young people often cannot find decent jobs, adds ESCAP.

“The share of workers in unpaid jobs in Asia is twice as high among young people aged 15-24 as among adults aged 25-29.

For example, youth unemployment rates in 2016 reached 39% in Armenia, 30% in the Islamic Republic of Iran and 18.8% in Fiji.

Human trafficking

“The fundamental rights of workers, especially those of women and marginalized populations, have also been challenged by the rise of vulnerable employment, which is particularly concentrated in agriculture, and affects women more than men.”

In South Asia and East Asia, around 40% and 30%, respectively, of identified victims of human trafficking and forced labor are children, warns the report. Vulnerable employment covers jobs involving inadequate pay, low productivity and unfavorable working conditions.

Migration, an escape from inequalities

“Migration often occurs as an escape from inequalities of opportunity, including decent work in countries of origin, or an escape from persecution, climate change, conflict or poverty. There is also migration for marriage and domestic work.

However, many migrants face other forms of inequality such as precarious working conditions, human rights violations and irregular employment in their destination country. A considerable proportion of international migration within and from the Asia-Pacific region is irregular.

Discriminated, exploited…

“Migrants are also vulnerable to coercion, discrimination, exploitation, and substandard working conditions and benefits.”

Migrant women are often victimized because they are both women and migrants. They face labor exploitation, including confinement, lack of pay and lack of rest days. Undocumented migrant women also lack access to sexual and reproductive health services, says ESCAP.

Internal migration

Another defining megatrend is internal migration, which has increased in volume in recent decades.

The increase in internal migration is due to the decrease in work opportunities in traditional agriculture and better employment opportunities in urban areas, manufacturing in urban areas and high production agriculture.

An unprecedented urbanization

According to the report, there has been unprecedented urbanization resulting from a combination of natural population increase, rural-urban migration and reclassification.

“By 2050, two out of three people are expected to live in urban areas, with around 10% of the urban population living in megacities and the rest living in medium and small towns.”

Meanwhile, “about half of all urban South Asians live in slums. In large countries like Bangladesh, China, India, Indonesia, Pakistan, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam, 30-60% of the urban population lives in slums.

Slum dwellers face challenges such as poor health conditions, lack of sanitation, and risk of exposure to pollution, including high carbon emissions.

The COVID Factor

the Asian Development Bank reports oneAccording to its Outlook 2020 report, tourism-driven economies including the Cook Islands, Fiji, Palau, Samoa and Vanuatu have been hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Asia and Pacific region alone was expected to lose nearly 70 million jobs and US$1.1 trillion in GDP, more than any other region in the world.

Persistent gender inequalities

Meanwhile, gender inequalities continue to be persistent in Asia and the Pacific. Particularly in the Pacific, women and girls have fewer opportunities for development.

Gender inequalities also intersect and overlap with age, ethnicity, wealth status and residence, among others. Many of these inequalities have been discussed earlier, such as differential access to maternal health services for less educated, rural and poorer women.

Hunger, malnutrition

For its part, the 2020 report: Asia and the Pacific – Regional overview of food security and nutrition provides an update on progress towards the 2030 goals at regional and national levels.

While the region continues to work to end all forms of malnutrition and achieve zero hunger, progress in food security and nutrition has slowed, and the Asia-Pacific region is not on track to reach the 2030 goals, warns the report, drawn up by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), World Food Program (WFP) and World Health Organization (WHO).

It is estimated that around 350.6 million people in the Asia and the Pacific region were undernourished in 2019, representing around 51% of the global total of undernourished people.

Stunted, emaciated children

“An estimated 74.5 million children under five are stunted and a total of 31.5 million wasted in the Asia and Pacific region. The majority of these children in the region live in South Asia with 55.9 million stunted children and 25.2 million wasted children.

Estimates predict a 14.3% increase in the prevalence of moderate or severe wasting among children under 5, or 6.7 million additional children, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Two billion people unable to afford healthy food

As staple food prices and disposable incomes influence household decisions about food and food intake, they are key to improving food security and nutrition in the region, the joint report adds.

“However, in the Asia and Pacific region, 1.9 billion people cannot afford a healthy diet, due to high prices of fruits, vegetables and dairy products, which prevents the poor to have a healthy diet.