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					   A Perspective on Asia’s socio-economic
   problems: A formidable challenge for
    sustainable development in the new
                millennium.

Mahesh Kumar Sharma,

Associate Director, Action Center For Social Development(acsod), Delhi, India



       Asia is the most polluted and environmentally degraded region in the
       World. About 900 million people live on a mere dollar-a-day income.
       Since   the   financial   crisis   hit   East   and    South-East     Asia,
       poverty has jumped by at least 12 million people. The Asian region faces a
       formidable social challenge despite miracle in East and Southeast Asia.
       This challenge relates not only to poverty and population explosion, but
       also to other aspects of quality of life such as health, education,
       participation, environment and internal disparities among social groups.
       This is juxtaposed by the challenges of developing up to the desired levels
       of living quality vis-à-vis the developed world, as it comes at the cost of
       global ecological hazards, opposed by the latter.



A review of the scenario

The new millennium has ushered in many hopes and also, much worries. Indicators like

Information Technology revolution, new economic order, increase in volume of global
trade in around trillions etc. show a bright picture. But, are these a reality or illusion?

Will it be able to sustain itself? In other words, is it a sustainable development? The

term “sustainable development” is based on the premises of integrity of the ecosystem for

human welfare, i.e. and optimal use of available resources in the best possible way. Any

developmental activity achieved at the expense of environmental degradation is

considered as unsustainable. Sustainable development is the development that meets the

needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their

own needs. It is a trade-off in the maintenance of the life supporting systems and

economic developments. The social issues of sustainable development center around

equity while the environmental issues center on the carrying capacity limits, preservation

and maintenance of ecosystems.       Development should be culturally compatible and

decision-making should be participatory and decentralized.



This paper highlights particularly on South Asian countries comprising of Bangladesh,

Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka (popularly known as SAARC

nations) with an area of 5133 thousand square kilometers and an officially declared

population of 1155.2 million in 1991. The SAARC countries have embarked upon

economic and social development since the period of their independence from colonial

rule. Initially, they had to face acute problems of Development and had a very slow but

fluctuating growth rate. During the last two decades, they could tackle their socio-

economic-political and development problems to a great extent and reach some stability

in the growth process. The regional identity of the SAARC countries is expressed in their

unique similarity in common socio- economic problems through the last two centuries or
so, i.e. abject poverty and unbalanced population growth. About 460 million people out

of 1152 million total population or 40% of them are poor and despite the concerted

efforts, poverty could not be alleviated because of unabated population growth

particularly among poorer sections. Almost one-third of the population in the South lives

in absolute poverty. [1] 35,000 children under five-years of age die everyday [2] mostly

due to poverty related causes in developing countries. The per capita GNP ranging from

180 US $ in Nepal and Bhutan to 500 in Sri Lanka, $330 in India, 400 in Pakistan and

Maldives and $220 in Bangladesh is quite low when compared to the world average of

US $3000 in 1991. Poverty has led to rampant unemployment and illiteracy in the South

Asian countries.



We may gauge the socio- economic problems of the Asian region and take the stock of

massive socio-economic formidable challenge with the help of indicators such as literacy,

population, poverty, pollution, social inequalities, National food security system, energy,

Agricultural Development issue, level of organization etc.



A review of effect of socio-economic problems of the region on sustainable

development.

Asia is the worst affected region on the planet.             It is the most polluted and

environmentally degraded region. About 900 million people live on mere a dollar-a-day

income. Poverty has jumped by at least 12 million. Population explosion and financial

crises have seriously hampered its sustainable growth. The Asian region faces a

formidable challenge with regard to socio-economic problems vis-à-vis environmental
degradation. Indeed, environmental and socio-economic problems are interlinked. They

are an outcome of a long drawn process changing over period of time.



The historical perspective of South Asian countries reflects that colonization and its

economic exploitation have left impression on them. Achieving independence so late,

they are trying to carve out a niche for themselves. In order to increase their share in the

global economy that is just 15 percent, these countries followed a vigorous policy of

using their natural resources for development. Lack of technology and slow research &

development compelled them to use obsolete technology. This disturbed the ecological

equilibrium. Climate is changing as a result of global warming. Acid rains is changing

the chemistry of lakes and soil. The depleting stratospheric ozone is increasing the

planet‟s exposure to ultraviolet rays.     Time has witnessed an accelerating loss of

biodiversity. Humans are changing the planet‟s basic chemistry and biology on a grand

scale at an increasing rate.



The process of environmental degradation crossed its limits with demographic revolution.

The World Population, currently equaling 6.2 billion, is growing at an annual rate of 1.2

percent or, 77 million people per year. Six countries account for half of this annual

growth; India for 21%, China 12 %, Pakistan 5 %, Nigeria 4%, Bangladesh 4% and

Indonesia 3%. World Population is expected to be around 9.3 billion by 2050 and even

10.9 billion depending on fertility, longevity and rate of death. This exponential increase

in population in South Asian region has put an enormous pressure on land. People are

burning forest, practicing over-cropping and over-irrigation etc. This has reached an
alarming stage.   If the current trend in resource use and population growth continues,

then between 1990 and 2010, the global per capita irrigated land will drop by12%,

cropland by 21%, rainland and pasture by 22% and forest by 30%. [3] World Bank

admits that due to population pressure the rate of soil erosion and land degradation in

countries such as Bangladesh and Philippines are alarmingly high. Combined population

growth and increased consumption of natural recourses per capita are merging to collapse

the very life support system on earth. The growing population is causing ecological stress

on the planet‟s recourses, as it can provide a limited support to a limited size of

population.



A related issue is of non-equitable distribution of natural resources among population and

disproportionate consumption of resources. The small population of devolved countries

uses maximum resources while the most population remains marginalized. The rich-poor

gap is also widening. Between 1960-1991,according to the UNDP estimates, the income

of the richest 20% of world population increased by 85%, while the poorest 20% had to

suffer a loss in income by 1.4 to 2.3%. Nearly 20% of the world population goes hungry

everyday. Thus, poverty is a prevalent social problem. It is a manifestation of social

inequality. The poor in order to sustain themselves use the natural resources in unnatural

ways. Burning of forests for land, cutting of trees for wood, fuel and fodder, migration

and slums in urban areas are some of the harmful practices commonly attributed to

poverty. Poverty also gives rise to crime. There is not enough food. Due to growing

population, pressure is increasing on arable land. According to World Bank, from 1 to 2

billion human are now malnourished, indicating a combination of insufficient food, low-
income and inadequate distribution of food. In China, about 80 million people are now

malnourished and hungry. There are numerous constraints on agricultural growth. The

new WTO regulation, patenting, new technologies like terminator seed have all put a

barrier on extinction of agriculture in sustainable way. As the world population expands,

the food problem will become severe. More than 99% of the world‟s food-supply comes

from land while 1% from oceans and aquatic habitats. Nearly one-third of the world‟s

fertile cropland (1.5 billion hectares) has been abandoned during the past 40 years

because erosion has made it unproductive. World cropland per capita has been declining.



Competition for water resources among individuals, regions and countries and associated

human activities is already occurring with the current world population. About 40% of

the world population lives in regions that directly compete for shared water resources. In

China, more than 300 cities are already facing shortage of water. Study shows that

between 1990-2025, the number of persons dependent on one cubic metre of water will

increase from 300 to 530 in South Asia. [4] Water resources, critical for Agriculture, are

under greater stress as populous cities, states and countries require and withdraw more

water from rivers, lakes and aquifers every year. A major threat to maintaining future

water supplies is the continuing overdraft of surface and ground water resources.



A complex situation has arisen due to population growth, poverty and food crises, namely

migration and urbanization. People are migrating in search of green pastures, mostly to

urban areas. This has led to urbanization. But is it a real development? Actually, people

end up with less paying jobs and, have to live in slums, creating an unhygienic
environment in and around. According to UNFPA, by the year 2000, most of the world‟s

largest „megacities‟ will be in the Third World. But these cities cannot provide the basic

amenities, thereby becoming centers of ecological as well social disturbances. According

to the programme of action of the UNDP, half of the 125 million migrants (including

refugees) were from developing countries. Such a high proportion of migration will

create a problem for that place with respect to social amenities, economic sphere and

increasing pressure on natural resources.


Alternatives of equitable development and environmental concerns are the concerns of

nations. We are in conflict of choice for sustainable energy development, which should

be cost-effective and environment friendly. Methods like Biomass Photosynthetic Energy

Recycling are the only other sustainable alternatives before humanity. Fossil energy‟s

depletion is accelerated as population-needs for food and services escalate. The current

decline in per capita use of fossil energy, caused by the gradual decline in oil supplies

and their relatively high prices, is generating direct competition between developed and

developing countries for fossil energy resources. By 2020, developing countries will be

emitting half of all CO2 emission annually. A rich economy is expected to guarantee an

adequate socio-economic infrastructure for satisfaction of human needs in perfect

harmony and balance with local ecological constraints. During 1970-1990, the South

Asian nations as a whole experienced a growth of 473% in value-addition in

manufacturing.



Health as a sector covers public expenditure on hospitals and all components of medical

care, family planning and preventive medicines. India and Pakistan have the lowest
investment although in other cases it does not exceed 5%. Diseases associated with water

divest people of health, nutrients, and livelihood. This problem is most serious in

developing countries. About 90% of diseases occurring in developing countries result

from a lack of clean water. Worldwide, about 4 billion cases of diseases are contracted

from water and water-born diseases cause approximately 6 million deaths each year.

Disease and malnutrition problems in the third world appear to be as serious in rural areas

as they are in urban areas, especially among the poor. Furthermore, the number of people

living in urban areas is doubling every 10 to 20 years, creating major environmental

problems including water and air pollution and increased diseases and food shortages.



The air-pollutions containing smoke particles and dust in cities of Asia, standing at twice

the world average and 5 times as higher than in industrialized nations, cause respiratory

diseases. Housing amenities, social security and welfare cover expenditures on provisions

for housing and shelter programs including slum clearance activities, community

facilities and sanitation services. In India & Pakistan, housing was not a priority sector

and their expenditure on housing was as low as 4.3% and 4.1% respectively in 1980. The

housing sector gained importance during 1980-1991 in the SAARC countries as

component of poverty-alleviation programs.



A related issue is of level of urbanization, which was quite low in 1970. But the rate of

urbanization accelerated in 1970-91 at a higher rate than the rate of total population

growth. The urbanization in SAARC countries is coincidentally marked with emergence
of    new      social    problems      like    slums,     urban     poor,     environmental

degradation etc.



Pollution caused by wastages from consuming resources, is increasing at an alarming

rate. Fossil fuel burned in 1994 released 5.925 million tons of carbon into the

atmosphere, compared to 2,543 tons in 1960. The biosphere is disrupted greatly by

increasing volumes of wastages – many of which cannot be absorbed and recycled in our

biosphere system. Such toxic wastes, pesticides etc. can render soil and water unusable

and further lead to cause acid rains etc. More than 90% of wastewater in Asia is

discharged directly into streams, rivers, lakes and coastal water without treatment.



Compounding the problem of exponential growth of population, resources use and

pollution is the inequitable distribution of resources. Access to wealth, resources and

even basic necessities is unevenly undivided among nations. Industrialized countries with

1.2 billion people (22% of world population) command about 85% of world‟s wealth and

income, use 88% of its natural resources, consume 73% of its energy and generate most

of its pollution and wastages. Even within industrialized countries, there is great disparity

in use of distribution of resources leading to hardships for many segments of populations

and social conflicts.



Each year less industrialized countries pay to industrialized countries four times more in

debt interest than they receive in aid. These debt payments create enormous pressure to

extract natural resources and grow cash crops for export, further threatening ecosystems
and resources vital to whole planet, siphoning off money and increasing political

instability.



In the last 4 decades, Asia has lost half of its forest cover as well its fish stock.

Deforestation in Asia is partly responsible for desertification, soil-erosion, flooding and

loss of bio-diversity.



Remedial Measures and Approaches

Some approaches and remedial measures can be adopted to tackle socio-economic

problems of Asian countries for achieving the objectives of sustainable development in

the new millennium which may be discussed here :



    I          Constant upgradation and research on recycling technology is most needed so

               that reusing of waste-material decreases land fill use, air-pollution, water

               pollution etc. while promoting economic use of natural resources in balanced

               way      and        increasing      local     as     well    global      benefits.



    II         The inclusive economic growth policy is to be adopted for equitable

               distribution   of    natural     resources   among   poor   and   rich   nations.



    III        The social and economic transformation of Asia must be based on a strategy

               of openness and market-orientation containing interalia macro-economic
                 policies with policy-discipline.



       IV       More investments in human resources-development and physical infrastructure
                 are to be made to boost economic development and improvement of quality of
                 life.


       VI.       The provision of adequate financial resources for bringing out the developing

                 countries from debt trap, access to new environment-friendly and cost-saving

                 technologies, opening up world markets for poor countries, promoting

                 participation of poor countries in decision-making on matters of global

                 importance, need to be taken care of by UN policy-making bodies so

                 that poor countries are saved from victimization and exploitation.



       References

. UNDP, Human Development Report 1995, p. 16
2
    . UNICEF, The State of The World‟s Children 1993, p. 5
3
    . Postel, “carrying capacity”,p.57
4
    . “Population and Water Resources: A Delicate Balance”, Population Bulletin, Volume. 47, No 3, Nov.

      1992, p. 20

				
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