17 million Asians into deep poverty, report ADB, UN

MANILA: Seventeen million Asians have fallen into extreme poverty due to the global financial crisis, the Asian Development Bank and the United Nations said today. And another four million could this year slip into the same situation due to the effects of the slump, officials from the two organisations said at the launch of a joint report on poverty alleviation in Manila. This is on top of the 900 million people in Asia who are already living in extreme poverty, defined as living on less than $1.25-a-day.

Asia had shown great progress in bringing people out of poverty in recent years, ADB vice-president Ursula Schaefer-Preuss told reporters. "But gains are being reversed due to the economic crisis," she said.

UN under-secretary General Noeleen Heyzer said that people in the export and tourism sectors in Asia had lost and were still losing their jobs due to the crisis, which swept across the globe in late 2008. Less foreign investment, aid and remittances from overseas workers were further hurting Asia's poor, Heyzer said.

The report said more women, who form the majority of Asia's low-skilled and temporary workforce, than men had been forced back into extreme poverty due to the crisis.

UN assistant secretary-general Ajay Chhibber said the Asia-Pacific was doing quite well in areas such as infrastructure in achieving the UN's Millennium Development Goals that are aimed at bringing people out of poverty. "But it lags woefully behind in social issues," he said.

Even Latin America and Eastern Europe had better "social protections" than Asia such as pensions and unemployment insurance, Chhibber said. Only two to three per cent of gross domestic product in Asia goes to such social protections, he said, adding that this figure should ideally be four to six per cent.