Vietnam is emblematic of the region as it meets some development goals and misses others
Villagers in a boat next to their flooded homes in Huong Khe District in the north-central province of Ha Tinh on October 17. Typhoon Nari and the floods it caused claim 18 lives and damage infrastructure, houses and crops in central Vietnam. Climate change has increased the frequency and intensity of disasters, which affect the most vulnerable and cause billions of dollars in damage in Asia and the Pacific. PHOTO: AFP
If you compare before and after pictures of major cities in the Asia-Pacific region over the last decade, you will witness incredible transformations.
Glittering landscapes stand as testaments to remarkable progress in Shanghai, Hanoi, New Delhi, and Kuala Lumpur. That phenomenal growth dovetails with the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) established in 2000.
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The MDGs were laid out to change the world as we knew it.
The eight goals included a commitment to eradicate extreme hunger and poverty, tackle dreaded diseases, combat child mortality, and strive for gender equality issues that affect billions of people across the world. Targets were set, with a deadline of 2015.
Governments in Asia and the Pacific supported by the UN adopted plans to meet the goals. Those plans along with booming growth lifted millions out of poverty. This has enabled the region to meet some of the MDGs, in some places.
Yes, the Asia-Pacific region has come far, but not far enough.
Even in places where targets have been met, there is a dire need to do more. The unprecedented growth in some of our cities, and the dramatic changes in the quality of life of many, should not obscure some sobering realities.
Even now in Asia and the Pacific 750 million people still live on less than $1.25 a day and more than one and a half billion people live on less than $2 a day. Some 563 million people go to bed hungry and 1.7 billion have no basic sanitation.
The inconsistent quality of growth has negatively affected poverty and inequality in the region because economic growth hasn't generated enough productive employment. More than a billion people are stuck in vulnerable jobs. They toil without an adequate social safety net, often in jobs that are menial, poorly paid, and unsafe.
Exacerbating the problems, climate change has increased the frequency and intensity of disasters, which affect the most vulnerable and cause billions of dollars in damages.
There are no easy solutions for such monumental challenges. To reduce the growing gap between the rich and the poor, to make the benefits of economic growth reach those who need it most, and to pull forward tens of millions currently left behind, will require an acceleration of efforts and work beyond 2015 to meet lagging targets.
With that goal and the Post-2015 Development Agenda in mind, and with two years to go to achieve the MDGs, the United Nations Development Program's Asia-Pacific Bureau begins meeting today in Hanoi.
Vietnam is emblematic of Asia: with significant achievements in some areas and major challenges in others.
Vietnam has slashed the poverty rate from 30 percent in 2002 to less than 10 percent in 2012. Extraordinary gains have been made in child and maternal health, education, and gender equality.
As in much of Asia though, that progress has been uneven, revealing disparities between people in urban and rural areas, and chronic poverty persists for ethnic minorities.
Consultations on the Post-2015 agenda in Vietnam have revealed both challenges and aspirations.
"Ede women suffer from a lot of hardships," said a woman from Dak Lak Province. "When pregnant, we still have to work until we deliver, and three days after delivery we have to work again."
This is why the key Post-2015 aims for Vietnam and the region, based on national consultations with a wide range of stakeholders in 16 countries, include: zero poverty, better quality education, and governments that are more accountable.
Over three days, UNDP Administrator Helen Clark and UNDP senior managers from Asia and the Pacific will deliberate on how the UNDP can best meet these challenges and aspirations.
Combating hunger and malnutrition requires major investment in research and development for agriculture, in building rural infrastructure especially roads and irrigation and in improving links between markets and farmers.
Raising the quality of education requires increased and better access to all levels of education: including secondary, technical and vocational education.
Making governments more accountable requires more transparency and efficiency. This will demand targets, for example in the management of public resources and service delivery, to be monitored through indicators that account for transparent and corruption-free public institutions.
UNDP, as well as other development partners, has partnered with governments on hundreds of programs across the region to support fundamental change in the quality of life of millions of peoples.
To relieve the deprivation besetting so many millions in countries across Asia and the Pacific won't be easy. The immense challenges that lie ahead will require governments to champion economic and social growth that is equitable and sustainable, and will require much more of that cooperation and partnership.
But if the past 13 years serve as evidence, we know that if we work together towards common goals, we can do it.
By Haoliang Xu *
* The writer is UN Assistant Secretary-General, UNDP Assistant Administrator, and Director of UNDP's Regional Bureau for Asia and the Pacific