Developing countries of Asia and the Pacific are experiencing unbalanced tolls of the COVID-19 pandemic. Grim milestones in infections and deaths have left countless devastated. Yet, we must look at the economic and social impacts in small island developing States (SIDS), where setbacks are likely to undo years of development gains and push many people back into poverty.
The world before COVID-19 looks very attractive right now. In light of the disease, mass unemployment and social distancing, a return to pre-pandemic normality seems appealing. Yet we should remember what normal was.
Memories of idyllic beaches and sonorous waves may seem far away while we remain at home. Yet, we need not look far to appreciate the enduring history of the ocean in Asia and the Pacific. For generations, the region has thrived on our seas. Our namesake bears a nod to the Pacific Ocean, a body of water tethered to the well-being of billions in our region. The seas provide food, livelihoods and a sense of identity, especially for coastal communities in the Pacific island States.
The unprecedented public health emergency triggered by the COVID -19 pandemic and its multi-faceted impact on people’s lives around the world is taking a heavy toll on Asia and the Pacific.
Countries in our region are striving to mitigate the massive socioeconomic impact of the pandemic, which is also expected to affect the region’s economic health. In its annual Economic and Social Survey of Asia and the Pacific 2020 launched today, the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP)expectsgrowth in Asia-Pacific developing economies to slow down significantly this year.
Great strides have been taken to empower women and girls in the Asia-Pacific region since the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing adopted an ambitious global agenda to achieve gender equality twenty-five years ago. Gender parity has been achieved in primary education. Maternal mortality has been halved. Today, the region’s governments are committed to overcoming the persistent challenges of discrimination, gender-based violence and women’s unequal access to resources and decision-making.
The past five years have been the hottest on record in Asia and the Pacific. Unprecedented heatwaves have swept across our region, cascading into slow onset disasters such as drought. Yet heat is only part of the picture. Tropical cyclones have struck new, unprepared parts of our region and devastatingly frequent floods have ensued. In Iran, these affected 10 million people this year and displaced 500,000 of which half were children. Bangladesh is experiencing its fourth wave of flooding in 2019. Last year, the state of Kerala in India faced the worst floods in a century.
Leaders at the Group of 20 summit last month agreed on the “Osaka Blue Ocean Vision,” which aims to reduce additional pollution by marine plastic litter to zero by 2050. The UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) stands ready to support Japan and other countries in the region to ensure healthy and sustainable oceans.
Since this Commission first met in 1947, our countries have travelled a long journey. Our economies are expected to become larger than the rest of the world combined, measured by purchasing power parity. It is often said the Asia-Pacific region is the engine of the world economy.
Three years of implementation of the transformative 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development in Asia and the Pacific shows the region has some catching up to do.
Despite much progress, the region is not on track to reach the 17 Sustainable Development Goals set out in the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development
. We are living in a time of booming prosperity, yet many are getting left behind. Basic needs, such as the freedom for all from hunger and poverty, ill-health and gender-based discrimination, and equal opportunity for all are elusive. Economic, social and planetary well-being has a price tag. Calculations by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) show that it is mostly affordable for the region.
Asia and the Pacific’s phenomenal development has been a story of rapid urbanization. As centres of innovation, entrepreneurship and opportunity, cities have drawn talent from across our region and driven economic growth which has transformed our societies.
Equal rights have been demanded and promised for generations, but last year a shift occurred in the women’s movement. Across Asia and the Pacific and around the world, women demonstrated to condemn a status quo which continues to deprive too many women and girls of respect and equal opportunity.
2019 will be a landmark year for the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Four years will have passed since world leaders adopted the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Four years since governments recommitted themselves to eradicating extreme poverty, improving universal health care coverage, education and food security, and achieving a sweeping set of economic, social and environmental objectives. Long enough to assess our direction of travel and then refocus work where progress is falling short.
Ministers and senior policymakers across Asia and the Pacific are gathered in Bangkok this week to focus on population dynamics at a crucial time for the region. Their goal: to keep people and rights at the heart of the region’s push for sustainable development. They will be considering how successful we have been in balancing economic growth with social imperatives, underpinned by rights and choices for all as enshrined in the landmark Programme of Action stemming from the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development, or ICPD.