In year 2000, leaders of rich and poor nations pledged to build a better world by 2015. Among their key goals now called Millennium Development Goals: halving extreme poverty and hunger from 1990 levels, reducing by two-thirds the child-mortality rate and slashing maternal mortality by three-quarters and achieving universal primary education.
The good news is that the share of people living on less than $1.25 a day seems on track to meet the goal of halving the extreme poverty rate. However, the bulk of those gains have occurred in China and other East Asian countries. In fact, East Asia, Southeast Asia and North Africa are all on track to achieve almost all of the MDGs by 2015, but South Asia and the rest of the developing world have made insufficient progress so far, according to the current assessment by UN agencies.
The three-day summit to press world leaders to meet U.N. MDGs
by significantly reducing poverty by 2015 concluded Wednesday with new financial pledges from countries but no guarantee that there will be enough money and political will to meet the targets. With many countries under financial stress from the effects of the global economic crisis as well as rising food and energy prices, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has asked member nations not to abandon the 1 billion people living on less than $1.25 a day. While the MDG goals encompass a variety of areas including education, health and gender parity, the first and the most important of these goals is to reduce poverty
With South Asia as the region with the largest share of the one billion global poor, the world will not meet its targets unless there is much greater focus and strong commitment to meet MDG goals in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. In fact, even South Asia has a better chance of meeting the poverty and hunger reduction goals excluding India
. Let's discuss the status of South Asian nations to assess where they are and what needs to be done.
India alone has the world's largest population of poor, hungry and illiterate people
living within its borders. A new multi-dimensional measure of poverty confirms that there is grinding poverty in resurgent India
. It highlights the fact that just eight Indian states account for more poor people than the 26 poorest African countries combined, according to media reports
. The Indian states, including Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal, have 421 million "poor" people, compared to 410 million poor in the poorest African countries.
OPHI 2010 country briefings on India
contain the following comparisons of multi-dimensional (MPI) and income poverty figures:
Among other South Asian nations, MPI index measures poverty in Bangladesh at 58 per cent and 65 per cent in Nepal.
On poverty in Pakistan, World Bank economist Sanket Mohapatra
has said in a recent post
that remittances by overseas Pakistanis have played a significant role in Pakistan's economic improvement. Not only have such remittances contributed to significant poverty reduction in Pakistan "by an impressive 17.3 percentage points between 2001 and 2008 (from 34.5 percent in 2001-02 to 17.2 percent in 2007-08)", but "continued strong growth in worker’s remittances in the past few years has also contributed to improvements in the external current account balance” and “have facilitated improvement in the country’s external position”, according to a World Bank report
released on July 30, 2010.
There are now fears, however, that some of the gains made in poverty reduction have reversed due to widespread devastation in massive floods and Pakistan's economic woes since 2008 for which the poverty rate of 17% was reported by the World Bank. Thousands of schools and clinics have been destroyed in the recent deluge, setting back Pakistan's efforts toward meeting health and education related millennium development goals by 2015.
In addition to lagging in poverty reduction, South Asians are also doing poorly in terms of hunger and health indicators.
According to a recently-released FAO report's highlights as published in The Guardian
, there are 847.5 million undernourished people in the world. India tops the list with 237.7 million, followed by China with 130.4 million, Pakistan 43.4 million, Democratic Republic of Congo 41.9 million, Bangladesh 41.7 million, Ethiopia 31.6 million and Indonesia 29.9 million.
A recent report by World Health Organization
(WHO) claims that India accounts for most maternal deaths in the world, with at least 63,000 such deaths taking place in 2008 alone. In fact, India fared worse than even Nigeria (50,000 maternal deaths in 2008), Congo (19,000), Afghanistan (18,000), Ethiopia (14,000), Pakistan (14,000), Tanzania (14,000), Bangladesh (12,000), Indonesia (10,000), Sudan (9,700) and Kenya (7,900). An estimated 65% of maternal deaths globally occurred in these 11 countries in 2008, with India contributing the most.
As South Asians lurch toward the 2015 deadline for meeting the MDG goals, it is important to recognize their governments' role and the need for help from rich donor nations to significantly increase spending on human development for poverty reduction. However, the South Asian governments alone can not do it. The private sector organizations, NGOs and civil society have to come forward to make their contribution toward meeting the important MDG goals to reduce poverty and hunger and improve health and literacy.
In Pakistan's case in particular, the overseas Pakistanis
and Pakistan's middle class need to step forward to do their part in rebuilding the shattered lives of millions of their poor fellow citizens affected by the recent floods.
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