Asia's prosperity is under threat because of growing economic disparities, a top Asian Develop-ment Bank (ADB) official said yesterday, as he urged government and business leaders to work to reduce the inequalities.
While rapid economic development has benefited Asia enormously, it has also been accompanied by a widening gap between the rich and poor, ADB managing director-general Rajat Nag said at a meeting of business leaders in Singapore.
"We believe that this rising disparity in Asia, where one Asia is growing very well and the other Asia is struggling behind, has in itself the seeds of some very grave social tensions and political tensions which actually can threaten the entire prosperity of this region," Nag said at the World Economic Forum on East Asia.
Although Asia as a whole is becoming richer, some social indicators are worse than in sub-Saharan Africa, Nag said.
He said 1.9 billion Asians live on less than US$2 a day, while 2 billion have inadequate access to sanitation and clean water.
"Political leaders, corporate leaders need to deal with that rising inequality," he said.
"There has to be conscious public policy choices encouraging growth but also making it inclusive," he said.
Delegates to the two-day forum also cited urban congestion, poor education and inadequate infrastructure as key problems faced by the world's fastest-growing region.
Singaporean Foreign Minister George Yeo (
He said that almost 3 billion people, mostly in China and India, are joining the global marketplace and "it will be in the cities where all these problems will be concentrated."
"Cities can either become shining nodes of globalization or they can become festering grounds for violence, crime, extremism [and] unhappiness," he said.
Philippine President Gloria Arroyo, in an opening address to the conference, said that over the next 40 years, Asia will see increasing integration and prosperity "and at the same time the likelihood of greater income disparity."
Speaking later in a question-and-answer session, Arroyo said "the 21st century is bringing us truly global problems."
"Not only economic integration but also environmental degradation, pockets of poverty and the continuing threat of terror-ism," she said, "and these require global solutions and regional leadership, not just national leadership."
Asia's urban population is expected to grow 70 percent to more than 2.6 billion over the next 25 years, placing a severe strain on services, a study jointly published by ADB last December showed.
As more and more rural people migrate to the cities for work, traffic congestion and pollution will get worse, urban quality of life will deteriorate and poverty will increase, the study said.
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