Issues of Inequality and human development obstacles the focus during ASEAN Regional Policy Dialogue

Jul 28, 2011

Singapore, July 28, 2011 – Inequality and the obstacles to human development in the Southeast Asia Region were the center of attention during an ASEAN Policy Dialogue on Inequality held here today.

The Policy Dialogue on Inequality and the Obstacles to Human Development in the Southeast Asia Region was held at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies auditorium and officiated by Mr. Kamal Malhotra, Resident Representative, United Nations Development Programme for Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei Darussalam together with Ambassador K Kesavapany, Director, Institute of Southeast Asian Studies and Ms Rosalia Sciortino, Regional Director, International Research Development Centre, Singapore.

The dialogue, attended by 50 participants from governments, civil society and academia from all ASEAN countries as well as Timor Leste featured a policy round-table discussion centered around UNDP’s 20th anniversary 2010 Human Development Report, focusing on issues of inequality in the Southeast Asia region which is seen as a high priority to address in the future.

Mr. Kamal Malhotra, Resident Representative, United Nations Development Programme for Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei Darussalam said, “The 2010 edition of the Human Development Report found that there has been increasing inequality within the last four decades – both within and across countries – in addition to fast accelerating production and consumption patterns which have increasingly been revealed as unsustainable. Progress has varied, and people in some regions have experienced periods of regress, especially in health. New vulnerabilities also require innovative public policies to confront risk and inequalities while harnessing dynamic market forces for the benefit of all.

The report concluded that many challenges lie ahead. Some are related to policy: development policies must be based on the local context and sound overarching principles. Numerous problems go beyond the capacity of individual states and require democratically accountable global institutions. There are also implications for research: there is a need for deeper analysis of the surprisingly weak relationship between economic growth and improvements in health and education and careful consideration of how the multidimensionality of development objectives affects development thinking.”

The policy dialogue was divided into three sessions which were a presentation on the 20th anniversary of the Human Development Report (HDR), which gave a regional perspective to the development trends and progress over the last 40 years; a moderated open dialogue on the Inequality Adjusted Human Development Index (IAHDI) and Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI), where Government representatives shared their experience of human development and multi-dimensional poverty tools used in their countries for national planning and a moderated discussion on the relevance of the IAHDI, the MPI and other such new measurement methodologies, including on the challenges which such tools pose to identify a roadmap for the ASEAN region which will enable it to better measure and address both the multi-dimensionality of poverty and inequality in the future.

Ambassador K Kesavapany, Director, Institute of Southeast Asian Studies said, “This Policy Dialogue session is an ideal platform for launching a critical and in-depth discussion of human development within the Southeast Asian context. We will have the opportunity, not only to assess the state of human development in Southeast Asia today, but also to discuss the way forward, taking into account the multi-dimensionality suggested by the Human Development Report 2010.”

Ms Rosalia Sciortino, Regional Director, International Research Development Centre, Singapore mentioned, “More and more, we are coming to realize that inequity and perceptions of inequity has become the No. 1 development challenge facing Southeast Asia and, more generally, the world. For governments, the struggle has shifted from reducing absolute poverty to also addressing relative poverty and narrowing health disparities in order to create stable and more just societies enabling all citizens to live long, healthy and prosperous lives.

Development should not be seen as automatically deriving from economic growth or identical to it. The centrality of human beings and their diverse needs ought to be restated with a multi-dimensional conceptualization of development as including living conditions, sanitation, clean water, electricity, health, nourishment and education as the current Human Development Report is trying to do.

Attention also has to be given to the apparent contradiction that in most developing countries in the past two decades, failing poverty rates has been accompanied by growing inequality and the moral and policy dilemmas, which are to be tackled. One dollar or two dollar a day measure has clearly become an insufficient tool to assess poverty. Not only the threshold of current poverty lines ought to be raised to better capture deprivation, but the perception vis-a-vis other groups in society need to be taken into account. The concept of basic needs also needs revision and broadening beyond the list of necessities for physical subsistence purposes to also include items that reflect societal standards, such as for instance communication and entertainment.”

The discussions will inform the Dialogue’s report which will be published and distributed to all the relevant partners and policy makers in the ASEAN region for their information and consideration for further action.

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