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UNDP warns possibility of social strife

Warning about the possibility of social strife in Asia, a panel of experts called for an urgent need for policy responses to reduce inequalities both within and between countries by ensuring that the benefits of economic growth permeate across social groups and classes.

Asia and the Pacific is the fastest growing region in the world. However, the benefits of growth have been distributed unevenly, benefitting certain countries more than others. Fourteen Least Developed Countries (LDCs) lag far behind the Asian ‘economic miracle’.

The unequal nature of growth within countries reveals itself in widening regional inequality and rising urban poverty and increasing conflict said panellists at Regional Policy Dialogues on Inequality organized by the UNDP Regional Centre in Colombo.

The multi-country dialogues on inequality held in honour of Professor Frances Stewart are based on research conducted by UDNP in Nepal, India, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, and Timor-Leste and had high-level participation from governments of these countries a, UNDP press release states.

Keynote speakers included Prof Frances Stewart who is Professor of Development Economics and Director of the Centre for Research on Inequality, Human Security and Ethnicity, Oxford University and Sir Richard Jolly who is Honourary Professor at the Institute of Development Studies.

As the Deputy Executive Director in UNICEF, Sir Jolly was instrumental in initiating an action agenda, resulting in reduction of child mortality from 15 to 12 million globally from 1982 to 1996. The dialogues focused on the policy implications of rising inequality levels in Asia, exploring development policy options to address the issue.

Experts noted that migration patterns in the region send a clear signal to governments to manage the transition from rural to urban areas, particularly in light of growing urban inequalities. Urban tensions have already exploded into ethnic conflict in several Asian cities. It was noted that conflict, both by state and non-state actors, is hampering development and destabilizing a number of countries.

The experts called for human development strategies aimed at reducing these conflicts. Asia is home to the largest number of mega cities and urban slums. In 1970, only one in five people lived in an urban city and by 2000 one in every three was an urban resident.

Growing urban inequality throws a unique set of issues that need to be dealt with urgently to avoid further fuelling the social tensions between different groups living side by side. “As the tragedy of Mumbai demonstrates, terrorism is a major threat to human development,” said Head, UNDP Regional Centre for Asia Pacific in Colombo Omar Noman.

“There is a direct relationship between growing inequalities and conflict. Urban poverty is on the rise. Hunger and maternal mortality continue to remain serious concerns. The Region has more than 900 million people living in extreme poverty, more than the population of Sub-Saharan Africa, he said.

Proposing the following five point action agenda the experts said that the current financial crisis demonstrates the need for policy to have a good mix of market and State action which is critical in reducing inequalities:

As part of its efforts to raise awareness and mobilize action around human development, UNDP Regional Centre also announced an annual award for young Sri Lankan social scientists in honour of Sir Richard Jolly.

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