BANGKOK (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Millions of people in the Asia Pacific region have been lifted out of poverty, but the region remains off track when it comes to meeting Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) on hunger, health and sanitation, the United Nations said in a report.
With less than 1,000 days to go before the MDGs are meant to be achieved in 2015, the world's most populous region is also seeing rising regional inequalities in income and access to services, the report said.
World leaders adopted the MDGs in 2000 to fight poverty, hunger and disease in poor countries. The eight targets include halving the number of people living in extreme poverty and suffering from hunger, reducing maternal and child deaths and getting all children into school.
Asia Pacific's biggest achievement has been in reducing poverty.
The number of people living on less than $1.25 per day fell from 52 percent to 18 percent between 1990 and 2011, according to the report, jointly published by the U.N. and the Asian Development Bank (ADB).
However, more than 60 percent of the world's hungry – some 543 million people – live in the Asia Pacific region, particularly in South Asia, the report said.
The region is home to more than 70 percent of the developing world's people who are living without basic sanitation - around 1.8 billion people. There are also 360 million people without access to safe drinking water.
In addition, around 3 million children under five died in 2011 and while maternal mortality has been reduced by more than half, it is still the leading cause of death among adolescent girls between the ages of 15 and 19 in the region.
INCOME & GENDER INEQUALITY
Despite progress combating poverty, about 743 million people in the region still live on less than $1.25 a day. If the poverty benchmark was raised to $2 a day, the number would jump to 1.64 billion.
The report also said the benefits of economic growth in Asia Pacific have been distributed unevenly.
Between the 1990s and the latest available year, the entire region's Gini coefficient, a measure of income disparity widely used by economists, rose from 33.5 to 37.5, it said.
This was partly due to the lack of decent and productive employment, with about 60 percent of the region's workers working for themselves or their families in jobs with little or no social protection.
Asia Pacific is also "a long way from achieving gender equality", the report said.
"Across Asia and the Pacific, women face severe deficits in health and education and in their access to power, voice and rights," it said.
As a whole, the region is lagging behind Latin America and the Caribbean but making better progress than Sub-Saharan Africa towards the MDG targets, the report said. But it also sounded a note of caution.
"Sub-Saharan Africa started from a much lower base. So although it might appear to have made slower progress, its performance is more impressive in historical and absolute terms," it said.