UNDP meeting calls for reducing inequalities in Asia

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Colombo, Dec.9 (ANI): During a UNDP meeting held here, experts have proposed a five-point action agenda to reduce inequalities within and between countries in Asia, which they say have contributed to social strife.

It was felt that while Asia and the Pacific is the fastest growing region in the world, the benefits of growth have been distributed unevenly, benefiting certain countries more than others.

A UNDP press release said that fourteen Least Developed Countries (LDCs) lag far behind the Asian 'economic miracle'. The unequal nature of growth within countries reveals itself in widening regional inequality and rising urban poverty and increasing conflict.

The experts were participating in a session on Regional Policy Dialogues on Inequality organized by the UNDP Regional Center here.

The dialogues focused on the policy implications of rising inequality levels in Asia, exploring development policy options to address the issue. Particular emphasis was put on deepening horizontal inequalities that could potentially be cause for unrest.

"Horizontal inequalities exist in many countries of Asia and they need to be acknowledged and addressed," said Frances Stewart, Professor of Development Economics and Director of the Centre for Research on Inequality, Human Security and Ethnicity, Oxford University.

The experts also noted that migration patterns in the Region send a clear signal to governments to manage the transition from rural to urban areas, particularly in light of growing urban inequalities.

Urban tensions have already exploded into ethnic conflict in several Asian cities. It was noted that conflict, both by state and non-state actors, is hampering development and destabilizing a number of countries. The experts called for human development strategies aimed at reducing these conflicts.

It was pointed out that an exclusively growth oriented policy was resulting in heightening inequalities. Sir Richard Jolly, Honorary Professor at the Institute of Development Studies emphasized the need for adopting policies that emphasize redistribution with growth.

Asia is home to the largest number of mega cities and urban slums. In 1970, only one in five people lived in an urban city and by 2000 one in every three was an urban resident.

Growing urban inequality throws a unique set of issues that need to be dealt with urgently to avoid further fuelling the social tensions between different groups living side by side.

"There is a direct relationship between growing inequalities and conflict. Urban poverty is on the rise. Hunger and maternal mortality continue to remain serious concerns. The Region has more than 900 million people living in extreme poverty, more than the population of Sub-Saharan Africa," said Omar Noman, the Head, UNDP Regional Centre for Asia Pacific in Colombo.

Proposing the following five point action agenda the experts said that the current financial crisis demonstrates the need for policy to have a good mix of market and state action, which is critical in reducing inequalities:

The economic slowdown and migration towards urban centers calls for generating employment, both in rural and urban areas, in addition to maintaining a strong focus on economic safety nets. Urban sustainability needs to be the cornerstone of any long-term development strategy.

There is a need for strengthening progressive fiscal systems in many countries in the Region.

In addition to urban development, public investment should also be targeted towards the rural sector where over 70 percent of the poor in Asia and the Pacific still live and work. Investments in agriculture, rural infrastructure, and education would help to reduce the rural-urban disparity.

Conflict, both by state and non-state actors is hampering development and destabilizing a number of countries. Regional institutional coordination and collaboration is needed. Conflict prevention should have a strong regional dimension as a growing number of conflicts are cross-border in scale and scope.

Asia is home to the largest number of megacities and urban slums. Strategies to reduce poverty in urban areas require a different approach as the issues span a wide range from controlling pollution and disease to issues of citizenship and other legal entitlements.

The multi-country dialogues on inequality held in honour of Professor Frances Stewart are based on research conducted by UNDP in Nepal, India, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, and Timor-Leste and had high-level participation from governments of these countries.

As part of its efforts to raise awareness and mobilize action around human development, UNDP Regional Centre also announced an annual award for young Sri Lankan social scientists in honour of Sir Richard Jolly. (ANI)

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