“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.
Perhaps the most significant global social policy development in 2012 was approval of the International Labour Organization (ILO) recommendation on creation of social protection floors. Approved in June, the recommendation calls on the ILO’s 185 members to ensure that everyone in need has access to essential health care and basic income security.
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.
Aging can adversely affect economic performance, demanding changes in social and economic policies to address the challenge. While the best-known dimension of aging relates to fiscal sustainability due to spiraling health care and pension costs, the repercussions are wider. More worryingly, aging will ultimately constrain economic growth because labor supply shortages result in lower GDP growth in the absence of increases in total factor productivity.
I am not an environment or climate change expert, but I am an environmentalist out of conviction. When I was 14 years old I wrote a letter to the German Minister of Environment asking for faster policy action to reduce green house gas emissions.
I have been in several discussions recently in which people have argued that there is a definite trade-off between promoting economic growth and supporting inclusiveness. In particular, social protection is considered part of a set of welfare-oriented “populist policies” which is a drain on national budgets, as opposed to real investment to spur economic growth.
With their middle and lower economic classes being squeezed, governments overseeing several leading Asian economies are responding with greater social spending and tax relief.
Working in the development field brings us closer to people. While there’s no assurance that what we are doing would create huge impacts on development, we take comfort in knowing that in our own little ways, we contribute to a higher purpose – human development.
Millions of workers from developing Asia and the Pacific venture to richer economies in the region, the Middle East, and beyond to fill gaps in the labor market. They take on menial jobs that require little schooling and no formal qualifications.
As 2013 brings more sluggish growth for Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries, the developing nations of Asia remain the stellar performers of the global economy. And yet on one key indicator the region is lagging behind: investment in social protection in Asia and the Pacific region is lower than in any part of the developing world except sub-Saharan Africa.