Mixed report on Asian MDG progress

The Asian and Pacific region as a whole is on track to achieve most of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), but progress in many individual countries is slow and performance on some vital targets is unsatisfactory.

That’s the verdict of a report from the Asian Development Bank, Millennium Development Goals: Progress in Asia and the Pacific 2006, which says that regional targets such as halving poverty and hunger, achieving universal primary education, and eliminating gender disparity in education are on track or have already been achieved. It says progress is impressive compared to sub-Saharan Africa and even Latin America. But it warns that despite promising signs, “the absolute size of social and economic deprivation… remains enormous”.

The new report points out that two-thirds of Asians – or a total of 1.5 billion people – are still without access to basic sanitation. The region is also home to roughly three times as many underweight children and people living on less than $1 a day as sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America combined. The region is not progressing fast enough to meet some important targets, including infant mortality and access to basic sanitation in urban areas. Meanwhile, HIV and AIDS prevalence is actually on the rise and the proportion of people with access to improved water sources is declining.

“Regional scorecards” presented in the report mask drastically uneven progress in a region that stretches from the Pacific to Central Asia. Many countries are likely to miss or even regress from a wide range of MDGs, including the targets on child health, and diseases such as HIV and AIDS and tuberculosis. The countries of most concern are identified in the report by combining a measurement of their current level of deprivation against progress on the goals. Using this, they are grouped into four categories:

Moving ahead– making good progress and with a latest status better than average for the region – including Armenia, Azerbaijan, People’s Republic of China, Kyrgyz Republic, Malaysia, Palau, Thailand, and Vietnam.

Losing momentum– will have to accelerate progress to be able to meet targets, although from a relatively favourable latest status – including Fiji Islands, Kazakhstan, Samoa, and Uzbekistan.

Catching up – making progress but their latest status is below the region’s average – Afghanistan, India, and Nepal.

Falling further behind– causing greatest concern because they score negatively on both progress and latest status indexes – Bangladesh, Indonesia, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Mongolia, Myanmar, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, and Philippines.

The report finds that gaps within countries can be as stark as the gaps between countries – even in places that have seen spectacular development such as China and India. China is on track to achieve, or has already achieved, most targets on health and poverty. The country enjoys one of the lowest child and maternal death rates, some of the lowest HIV, malaria, and TB prevalence, and has achieved gender parity in primary and secondary education. However, progress on access to water and sanitation is not fast enough to meet MDG targets by 2015 and overall progress comes at the expense of increasing national inequalities. Child and infant mortality rates in the coastal regions, for example, are close to those of developed countries while in the less developed western provinces the rate is three to five times higher.

India also shows important progress on many of the goals but the relative level and large absolute size of deprivation remain high. For example, prevalences of poverty and underweight children are among the highest in the region. There is also a wide divide between urban and rural areas. Of the 2 billion rural dwellers worldwide without access to basic sanitation, 1.5 billion were in Asia and the Pacific in 2004. Yet only one third of Asians living in rural areas had access to basic sanitation compared to nearly three quarters of urban residents.

“At present, too many countries that score low on the progress or status of the education and health targets commit only a small proportion of their GDP to these sectors,” says the report. “And countries of most concern in the region are often among those not receiving enough from trade or aid.”