Asia and the Pacific, despite visible signs of prosperity due to years of rapid economic growth, has made insufficient progress in freeing its population from hunger and malnutrition, the most basic marker of true development. Given the importance of reducing poverty and hunger as core development priorities, the international community has placed these as the first Millennium Development Goal (MDG), adopted in the historic Millennium Declaration of September 2000. The MDGs envision halving the incidence of poverty and hunger by 2015 and call for major improvements in the provision of basic services, promising a better life to millions of poor across the globe. However, if progress in reducing poverty and hunger is not accelerated in the region, such hopes will remain unrealized.
The extreme poverty in Asia and the Pacific that affects around 900 million people, as well as the persistence of hunger in well over half a billion, questions the long-term sustainability of the region’s economic growth and development. About one in every six persons in the region suffers from malnourishment, and about one in three children is underweight. These problems are particularly severe in South Asia and Southeast Asia. The MDG target to reduce hunger by half is unlikely to be achieved in the case of child hunger; the region may also miss the target for undernourishment, particularly if restored economic growth from the current slowdown is sluggish and if food prices start increasing. The task before the region's governments to achieve this crucial development goal is thus demanding, requiring greater prioritization of efforts and the adoption of new, more efficient approaches. Further, more regional and international efforts are also needed.
The primary purposes of this paper are to trace the progress of efforts to (i) reduce hunger in Asia and the Pacific, (ii) identify reasons for their successes and failures, and (iii) suggest policy initiatives to help make tangible progress on these first MDG targets in the time remaining to 2015.