Notes from the Field

Poverty in Asia: Stubborn Pockets of Deprivation

December 12, 2007

“While great advances have been made in reducing poverty in Asia, there remain stubborn pockets of deprivation,” said Dr. Arsenio Balisacan, speaking at a recent economic and reform seminar organized by The Asia Foundation in San Francisco.

Dr. Balisacan is a noted poverty analyst from the Philippines, the current Director of the Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture (SEARCA).

The statistics expressed in terms of Asia-wide averages gloss over wide disparities in per-country growth. China, Vietnam, and Thailand show major decreases in poverty between the early 1990s and the early 2000s ” largely explaining the fall in the proportion of people living on US$1 per day or less from as much as 80% to only 20%. However, poor people continue to dominate the populations of Cambodia, Laos, and Timor-Leste.

Moreover, national-level data masks major gaps in sub-national welfare, even in the fastest-growing Asian economies. For example, in the Philippines, some local areas became even poorer, while the country as a whole grew. This is the case particularly for the Muslim-dominated Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) in Southern Philippines and is a matter of serious concern due to the links between chronic poverty in the Muslim areas and long-running civil unrest that has constrained the area’s growth and welfare.

Dr. Balisacan said that, based on his extensive analysis of poverty in Asia, The Asia Foundation’s strategy of engaging the poor in networks and coalitions in support of economic and political reforms is key to equitable and sustained poverty reduction. Indeed, inclusive strategies that enable all sectors of society equal opportunities for access to public resources and services work for sustained and equitable growth and development for all.

Dr. Bruce Tolentino is the Director for Economic Reform and Development Programs at The Asia Foundation.

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