Asian Development Bank president Takehiko Nakao, third from left, and Indonesian Finance Minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati, second from left, participate in a panel discussion during the ADB Governors' Seminar in Manila on Friday (04/05). (JG Photo/Amal Ganesha)

Poverty, Inequality Continue to Top ADB's 2030 Agenda


MAY 06, 2018

Manila. The Asian Development Bank has reinvigorated its commitment to battle poverty and inequality in its new long-term strategy to develop a better economy in the Asia-Pacific region.

The lender's 2030 strategy represents a renewal of its 2020 grand strategy and addresses challenges that complicate the fight against poverty, such as rapid urbanization, automation and growing environmental pressures stemming from climate change.

"Half a century ago, Asia was the poorest region in the world. And today, the economic center of gravity is shifting to Asia and the Pacific, and almost all our developing member countries have advanced to middle-income status," ADB president Takehiko Nakao said during the 51st annual meeting of the regional development bank in Manila on Saturday (05/05).

The Asia-Pacific region is expected to account for more than half of global gross domestic product by 2050, the ADB predicts, having seen the region's contribution to global GDP increase to 33 percent in 2016 from 25 percent in 2000.

This growth lifted many out of poverty over the past decades, resulting in extreme poverty in the region, measured by the number of people living on less than $1.90 per day, dropping to 9 percent of the region's population in 2013 compared with 53 percent in 1990.

Still, more people are prone to fall back to extreme poverty if major shocks hit the economy. While 326 million were surviving on less than $1.90 per day in 2013, there were 915 million living on less than $3.20 per day.

"There is still persistent poverty," Nakao said in a statement. "We must address rising inequality, growing environmental pressures and rapid urbanization. Aging in some countries and an increasing youth population in others present opportunities as well as challenges."

Also, the Asia-Pacific region has been facing rising income inequality. More than 60 percent of the region's population live in countries that have seen widening inequality over the past three decades, the ADB said.

In Indonesia for example, only 1 percent of the country's population of more than 250 million controls nearly half of the country's wealth, the World Bank reported in 2015.

"In the past five years, the Asia-Pacific region has had increased wealth inequality whilst at the same time, it generated massive growth. It is not easy to close the gap when your economy grows very fast," Bambang Susantono, ADB vice president for knowledge management, said on Sunday.

The ADB promises to help create quality jobs, promote secondary and tertiary education, expand universal health care and strengthen social protection programs to address inequality.

"Amid today's global uncertainties where protectionism is rising, such policies, which focus on strengthening higher and more inclusive growth, should be supported by the ADB, as a flagship regional development bank," Suahasil Nazara, head of fiscal policy at the Indonesian Ministry of Finance, said in his remarks during the board of governors' session on Saturday.

ADB president Nakao reiterated that the bank will keep prioritizing steps aimed at eliminating poverty and inequality among member countries in the new 2030 strategy, expected to be completed by the middle of this year after a series of consultations with thousands of individual stakeholders.

"We will focus on lagging areas and pockets of poverty, even in middle-income countries," he said.

Founded in 1966, the ADB has grown its capital to $151.2 billion last year from $4.6 billion in 1968.

The bank is controlled by 67 members; 48 from the region and the rest from other regions, including the United States, which holds the highest stake along with Japan.

ADB operations include loans, guarantees, equity investments, technical assistance and co-financing, which last year totaled $32.2 billion, representing a 26 percent increase from 2016.

The Jakarta Globe was invited by the Asian Development Bank to attend its 51st annual meeting in Manila.