Pandemic plunged 80 million Asians into extreme poverty last year

MANILA: The Covid-19 pandemic pushed another 75 million to 80 million people in emerging Asian economies into extreme poverty last year, the Asian Development Bank said in a report released today.

The latest estimates on extreme poverty, defined as living below US$1.90 per day, spells a setback to the region’s sustainable development agenda.

The estimates cover 35 economies – such as China, India, Bangladesh, and Papua New Guinea – lower than the 46 ADB tracks in its Asian Development Outlook, the bank’s widely followed publication.

About 203 million people or 5.2% of the region’s population lived in extreme poverty in 2017, according to the report.

Without the pandemic, those numbers would have fallen to an estimated 104 million people or 2.6% of the population in 2020.

ADB said progress has also stalled in alleviating hunger, and improving health and education, areas where the region had made significant gains.

“Asia and the Pacific has made impressive strides, but Covid-19 has revealed social and economic fault lines that may weaken the region’s sustainable and inclusive development,” said ADB chief economist Yasuyuki Sawada.

The economy of developing Asia shrank by 0.1% last year, the region’s first recession in nearly six decades.

Many governments resorted to lockdowns and curtailed mobility to contain the spread of the virus, which was first detected in Wuhan, China.

That resulted in brutal gross domestic product contractions in some countries, such as the 9.6% record shrinkage in the Philippines and 7.3% decline in India.

The region lost about 8% of work hours due to mobility restrictions, which hammered poorer households and workers in the informal economy, according to the report.

“The Covid-19 pandemic has magnified long-standing social and economic inequities experienced by millions living below or near the poverty line,” the report said.

ADB expects the region to bounce back this year with a 7.2% expansion, but the spread of the more contagious Delta variant – which is fuelling new surges in India and Southeast Asia – is forcing many governments to impose new lockdowns.

ADB president Masatsugu Asakawa, for his part, called for an inclusive recovery strategy.

“In the long run, disruptions caused by the pandemic are likely to have considerable adverse effects on human capital and productivity,” Asakawa said in the report.

“Our region needs a people-centred development approach to recovery that ensures nobody is left behind.”


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