UNDP warns of regional inequality, praises Cambodia’s social protections

A report warned that the region faces “converging risk clusters”, such as existential threats due to climate change and future pandemics, economic headwinds from shifting globalisation patterns and automation.

Niem Chheng

Niem Chheng

The Phnom Penh Post


A woman smiles as she sells vegetables at a flourishing local market. PHOTO: AUSTRALIAN EMBASSY/ THE PHNOM PENH POST

November 10, 2023

PHNOM PENH – The UNDP has called for more regional investment in human development, warning that the Asia-Pacific region faces “risk clusters”.

It published its 2024 Asia-Pacific Human Development Report on November 6, with UNDP officials suggesting that the report may provide useful information for the implementation of the government’s Pentagonal Strategy.

It also offered praise for Prime Minister Hun Manet’s 7th mandate government’s efforts to guarantee universal health coverage.

The report, titled “Making our Future: New Directions for Human Development in Asia and the Pacific”, details the progress of human development in the region over the last two decades. It also highlights disparity and disruptions, predicting a turbulent development landscape and making urgent calls for new initiatives to boost human development.

“Rising global tensions, new technologies, growing polarisation, and existential threats linked to climate change threaten to disrupt the improvements in well-being that the region has seen in past decades,” it said.

The report warned that the region faces “converging risk clusters”, such as existential threats due to climate change and future pandemics, economic headwinds from shifting globalisation patterns and automation, as well as a flagging pace of reform due to diminishing democratic spaces, rising populism, and political polarisation.

It said that the region will account for two-thirds of global economic growth in 2023, but income and wealth disparities are worsening, particularly in South Asia, where the wealthiest 10 percent control over half of total income.

“More than 185 million people continue to live in extreme poverty – earning below $2.15 a day – a number that is expected to climb higher following the economic shocks of the Covid-19 pandemic,” the report added.

“The report underscores that to overcome existing challenges, we must prioritise investments in human development, with an understanding that each nation will tailor its own pathways to do so,” said Kanni Wignaraja, UNDP Regional Director for Asia and the Pacific, via a press release.

“By fostering a people-first policy and smart growth strategies that place a high value on natural assets, we can pave the way for a future that is not only more secure and peaceful but also sustainable and prosperous for many millions more,” she added.

The report outlined several different factors which contribute to human development.

Regarding debt, the report described proactive debt management revenue mobilisation and SDG-aligned investment as vital.

“Some Asia-Pacific countries, like Cambodia and Nepal, have benefited from these practices,” it explained.

On social protection, the report highlighted Cambodia’s new development strategy, the Pentagonal Strategy Phase I 2024-2028, which will institutionalise the pilot of a national graduation based social protection scheme.

Graduation packages consist of a combination of transfers of productive assets, vocational training and cash payments.

The report noted consistent progress on life expectancy across the region.

“The regional average for life expectancy increased from 68.6 years in 2000 to 74.2 years in 2019. In particular, three of the least-developed countries in the region, Bhutan, Cambodia, and Timor-Leste, achieved the largest increase in life expectancy since 2000, or 10.9, 11.4 and 10.5 years, respectively,” it said.

It also painted a positive picture on Cambodia’s efforts to secure universal health coverage, particularly through the increase of financing for this sector, with recent expenditure increases of 61 per cent.

“This report provides important insights into the regional dynamics and opportunities that can inform the implementation of the Pentagonal Strategy in Cambodia and catalyse the momentum for progress,” said Alissar Chaker, UNDP Cambodia resident representative.

“The report calls for three new directions in human development: to put people at the heart of development, to recalibrate growth strategies to generate more jobs and respect the environment, and to focus relentlessly on the politics of reform and the science of delivery to turn ideas into practice,” said UNDP’s press release.

Philip Schellekens, UNDP chief economist for Asia and the Pacific, and the principal author of the report, said that calls for economic growth should be louder, as growth remains essential for human development.

“Facing growing headwinds to growth and job creation and the prospect of further disruption, it is time to recalibrate both export-led and domestically oriented growth strategies,” he added.

In August, Prime Minister Hun Manet pledged his government’s commitment to inclusive development. In October, he stressed that his government will always pay close attention to the well-being of the people and ensure no one is left behind, as stated in the Pentagonal Strategy.

Phase I of the government’s Pentagonal Strategy consists of five goals: Ensuring economic growth, increasing jobs, achieving poverty reduction, strengthening governance capacity and promoting institutional quality, and ensuring socio-economic development. It also sets out five priorities: People, roads, water, electricity and technology.

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