February 10, 2004

Asia Should Focus On Poverty Eradication, Says Abdullah

KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 10 (Bernama) -- Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi said Tuesday that the region should focus its attention on poverty eradication to be on par with the developed world.
"Asia has a number of relatively affluent nations. Some of the world's most dynamic economies are in Asia. However, anyone looking at Asia cannot ignore its multitude of poor," he said.
Abdullah said it was estimated that about one in every five Asians, close to 600 million people, suffer from the effect of poverty and hunger, and even famine was still common in some countries.
He said therefore it would be a tragic omission if Asia does not place poverty eradication at the top of its agenda.
The Prime Minister said this in his keynote address at the "Agenda Asia Conference" which brings together several respected media organizations in Asia, here.
Abdullah said the good news for Asia was that it was indeed making great progress in this sphere, if only because countries like China and India, the two nations with the largest number of poor, were making impressive strides in developing their economies.
"Nonetheless, much work remains to be done in these and other countries and the challenges are enormous. As usual, the burden often weighs greatest on those countries that are least able to shoulder it," he said in outlining four major strategic and fundamental challenges confronting Asia.
The Prime Minister said that the information age, information technology and telecommunications were bringing Asian nations closer, allowing them to accomplish tasks more quickly and efficiently.
He said these advances and innovations were enabling leaps in productivity that were never thought possible before.
"However, if we allow the information age to pass us by, then the digital device will be a new source of poverty. It is therefore vital for us to work together and build capacity so that our poor will not be further left behind," he said.
Abdullah said that the second critical challenge for Asia was human development and that any programme to eradicate large-scale poverty must involve the wider issue of human development.
"We must focus not only on raising income levels but also must provide satisfactory access to good education and literacy, adequate health services and clean water, to cite just a few of the core requirements," he said.
He said that nations pursuing economic prosperity cannot ignore their most valuable resources, which were the people.
Abdullah said that as nations progress and embark on knowledge-driven growth, the cultivation of human resources becomes even more critical.
"We must be prepared to foster a quality education system supplemented by skills training and lifelong learning facility. We must be prepared to allocate the unavoidable substantial resources required for this purpose," Abdullah said.
He said that Asian nations cannot achieve high human development without the resources required to develop the various sectors critical to it.
"At the heart of human development therefore is economic growth and economic prosperity and any nation that does not give utmost priority to achieve prosperity will not achieve high human development," the Prime Minister said.
The Prime Minister said that the third critical challenge facing Asia was the need to develop good governance structured by the state, by the private sector and the civil society.
He said that of the three, the most important would undoubtedly be good governance by the state despite the diminution of its growth as a result of the empowerment of non-state factors and globalization.
"The state remains the most powerful and most influential force, a force that has the greatest capacity to act for the good as well as for the bad," he said.
Abdullah also said that Asia's agenda should concentrate on developing a system that could deliver the social and economic good for the people.
"There is no cookie-cutter approach for achieving this. There is no common mould that every country can use. A system that works well for one country may fail miserably in another. Each country and its people must be allowed to find the best suited paths for them," he said.
The fourth and the last challenge for Asia, he said, was to ensure regional peace and stability as many countries were still vulnerable to ethnic and religious tensions, autonomy and separatist pressure, and militancy and terrorism.
Abdullah said that Asia's agenda must allow for the peaceful resolution of all boundaries and territorial disputes, on land and as well as sea.
He said that Asian nations must also work towards building trust and confidence, focusing on the future rather than dwelling on the past.
The best hope for an Asia at peace with itself and with the rest of the world lies in the pursuit of a two-pronged approach, he said.
The Prime Minister said that one was addressing the root causes of tension and conflicts at home and between states.
The other, he said, was through the strengthening of a regional and global architecture for peace and security founded on respect for international laws and norms and cooperative security.
"We must build and foster a network of bilateralism and multilateralism that complements each other and discard the option of crude militarilism to resolve disputes," Abdullah said.
The Agenda Asia conference is organised by 14 daily newspapers published in Asian cities to provide avenues for cooperation and to optimize coverage of major news events in the region.

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