Asian leaders must address rising inequality in all aspects, aid agency Oxfam warned Tuesday, saying ignoring the issue would leave almost 500 million people trapped in poverty and threaten economic growth.
“Asia is now at a crossroads. It could continue with the existing policies and risk political, economic, social, and environmental sustainability or it could make a turnaround by addressing inequality more seriously in all aspects to sustain its economic progress,” said Lilian Mercado, Deputy Regional Director of Campaigns and Policy for Oxfam.
Mercado made the statement in Thailand’s Bangkok on Tuesday, ahead of the World Economic Forum to be held in Switzerland’s Davos on January 21 to 24.
This warning comes as Oxfam’s new briefing note, Asia at a Crossroads, highlights that though Asia’s remarkable success has created millions of new middle-class citizens, it is estimated there still remains almost 500 million people living in poverty, as the division between rich and poor increases across the region.
“The fact that Asia continues to encompass hundreds of millions of poor people, whilst China and India have 1.3 million millionaires between them, is an alarm bell for governments, administrations and other relevant institutions and agencies to take immediate action,” said Mercado.
“In Asia, inequality is widespread in various dimensions, such as public healthcare, basic education and gender,” she said.
Whilst the region’s richest man has amassed US$31 billion in wealth, almost 500 million people barely survive on $1.25 a day, Oxfam said in a statement.
Almost every Asian country has grown wealthier since 1990, most strikingly China, Vietnam, Korea, India, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Cambodia and Bangladesh, the agency said.
However, between the early 1990s and late 2000s, the Gini coefficient (standard measurement of economic inequality) for the region as a whole increased an astounding 18 percent, it said.
Mercado urged Asian governments to empower poor people and communities, particularly women and marginalized groups.
“It is clear that we need fair and equal access to education and health services as well as fair wages,” she said, “Therefore, governments, NGO’s, civil society organizations and the private sector, must collaborate and act now to address inequality, in all its guises and forms.”
For three years, the World Economic Forum’s Global Risks survey has found “severe income disparity” to be one of the major global risks for the coming decade.