Abandoning Asia’s Poor

The Asian Development Bank, whose mission is to reduce poverty, has adopted a new long-term strategy that leaves social protection, housing, employment, and labor rights off the agenda. The ADB's new focus on business-friendly regulations and removal of market "barriers" may be pro-growth, but that won't be enough to improve most people's daily lives.

NEW YORK -- More than half of Asia’s population -- 1.8 billion people -- live on less than $2 a day; more than 600 million of them try to survive on less than $1 a day. With food prices now soaring, most of Asia’s “working poor,” who are already struggling on degraded lands, in sweatshops, on streets and at homes, risk further destitution.

Yet the Asian Development Bank – an institution whose mission is to reduce poverty – last month approved a new corporate strategy (ADB Long Term Strategic Framework 2008-2020) that is ominously silent on the importance of employment and social protection for the poor. A handful of influential ADB bureaucrats with large salaries, secured pensions, comprehensive health insurance, subsidized housing, and education for their children, have apparently decided that financing subsidized housing, health, nutrition, and child protection programs is not a priority. Nor do they consider land reform, employment services, or pensions for all Asians a priority.

Instead, these officials have decided to refocus ADB operations on three areas: inclusive economic growth, environmentally sustainable growth, and regional integration, with a heavy emphasis on private-sector development. The ADB is abandoning crucial public support for social development.

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