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Friday, December 12, 2014, 09:47

South Asia struggles to tackle poverty

South Asia struggles to tackle poverty

A Bangladeshi child sorts through bottles for recycling in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Nearly 40 years after the country signed a collective agreement with other South Asian countries to tackle poverty, millions of Bangladeshis remain abjectly poor. (AFP)

From abject poverty, Atiur Rahman rose to one of the highest offices in Bangladesh’s financial scene as governor of the country’s central bank.

However, as the 62-year-old admits, his story is the exception rather than the rule in a country in South Asia that is teeming with millions eking out a living amid extreme poverty. “The real painful question is how many people are left behind to suffer,” says the central banker.

The World Bank’s latest poverty calculation says about 570 million people in South Asia still survive on less than US$1.25 a day. The poor in this region, comprising more than 44 percent of the developing world’s poor, outnumber the combined population of the United States (316 million), the United Kingdom (64 million), Australia (23 million), Canada (35 million) and Germany (80 million).

The collective effort to tackle poverty in the region began way back in December 1985, when South Asian leaders met in Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh, to sign the charter of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation, as they acknowledged the extent of poverty and underdevelopment engulfing the region.

The World Bank estimates that South Asia has experienced robust economic growth of 6 percent yearly over the past two decades. Growth in the region is predicted to rise 5.3 percent this year, and 6.3 percent by 2016.

“Development has taken place in various fields of economy, agriculture, industry, technology, but still the situation does not seem to have improved,” Sanjay Kumar, director at a New Delhi-based think tank Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS), tells China Daily Asia Weekly. “The problem is of fair distribution of fruits of development. That’s why we see this paradox of economic growth with increasing poverty.”

Policy reforms in Bangladesh, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, and the improving economic situation in India are helping the regional growth momentum, says the World Bank’s Global Economic Prospects 2014 report.

However, the number of people living in hardship across the region only declined from 61 percent to 36 percent between 1981 and 2008 while the population grew by 42 percent during the same period, says the World Bank, citing latest available figures.

India, which leads its neighbors in size and growth, is still home to 179.6 million of the total global poor of 872.3 million.

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