Striking rates of economic growth notwithstanding, 550 million people remain hungry in Asia and the Pacific, 65% of the population has no safe piped water, and more than 600 million people live without electricity. Overcoming these problems requires a combined approach in which food, water and energy are treated as a nexus, rather than as separate, standalone issues, which has too often been the case in the past.
Director General, Independent Evaluation
Vinod Thomas is Director General of the Independent Evaluation Department at ADB. Prior to his appointment in August 2011, Thomas held various senior posts at the World Bank, including Chief Economist for Asia and Director General of the Independent Evaluation Group. He formerly lived in Brazil as Country Director for the World Bank, wrote a popular book entitled From Inside Brazil, and travelled with President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva on his first trip to India. Thomas enjoys travelling with his camera in provinces and towns in the Philippines.
The recent stability of food prices in Asia and the Pacific presents policymakers a window for addressing several crucial issues that, if ignored, risk reigniting the food price crisis of 2007–2012 and undermining the region’s rise out of poverty.
For development institutions, private sector investments offer plenty of potential for promoting inclusive and environmentally sustainable growth at a profit. But how successful are they in achieving actual development gains?
Evidence-based strategies—the pragmatic pursuit of polices that worked—were at the front and center of developing Asia’s extraordinary success in raising living standards and reducing extreme poverty over the past two decades.
A global debate on what comes after the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) expire in 2015 is already in full swing. For Asia and the Pacific, a new development agenda will need to address those MDGs that made only slow progress or regressed and a number of emerging development issues gaining prominence.
The human and economic toll from natural disasters since global leaders met at the first Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 has been staggering. The United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction estimates that natural disasters caused 1.3 million deaths and $2 trillion in economic damage worldwide since then.
In development, as in matters of health, prevention is better than cure. Had policymakers acted boldly to avert well-recognized economic imbalances before 2008, the financial crisis may have been avoided.
Asia symbolizes the striking progress that has been achieved in reducing poverty but also the daunting gaps in environmental destruction and climate change. It’s rightly said that the war on climate change will be won or lost in Asia. The Asian Development Bank is uniquely positioned not only to support a more environmentally sustainable development agenda but also to lead in important aspects of this endeavor.
Social protection is moving up in the global development agenda with good reason. Sweeping social and demographic changes will be an unstoppable driver of demand for governments to provide social protection—as will widening wealth gaps, economic crises, and, especially in Asia and the Pacific, the increased severity of natural disasters.
“We’ve never seen anything like this” is the refrain increasingly heard in every corner of the world in the wake of natural disasters. Indeed, intense natural disasters have increased nearly fourfold over the past four decades, with floods and storms representing 70% of the increase. Asia and the Pacific has been the worst hit region. Yet, the response to hazards of nature has been mostly to react when they strike. The upshot I see is this: unless prevention takes center stage, disasters will likely unravel progress.