The UN on Tuesday said the COVID-19 pandemic has erased years of progress in poverty reduction in the Asia-Pacific region.

The Economic and Social Survey of Asia and the Pacific 2021, released by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), suggested that the Asia-Pacific region needs large, yet attainable, investments in resilience to protect development gains amid a fragile and inequitable post-COVID-19 economic recovery.

The survey forecasts that the Asia-Pacific economies are expected to grow by 5.9% in 2021 and 5% in 2022 after having experienced an estimated contraction of 1% in 2020.

“Despite a reasonably strong rebound expected in 2021, a “K-shaped recovery” is likely, with poorer countries and more vulnerable groups marginalized in the post-pandemic recovery and transition period,” it said.

The survey estimates that due to the pandemic, an additional 89 million people in the region could have been pushed back into extreme poverty in 2020 at the $1.90 per day threshold, erasing years of progress in poverty reduction.

Working-hour losses in 2020 equaled 140 million full-time jobs, it said, adding severe disruptions of economic activity and education are likely to have caused a significant setback to human capital accumulation and productivity in the region.

“COVID-19 is a shock like no other and it requires a response like no other,” said Armida Salsiah Alisjahbana, UN under-secretary-general and executive secretary of ESCAP.

“The time is now for the Asia-Pacific region to seize this opportunity to speed up and make its transition towards more resilient, equitable, and green development the centerpiece of the post-pandemic economic recovery,” Alisjahbana added.

Close regional cooperation needed

The survey also called for a more synchronized COVID-19 vaccination program across countries and close regional cooperation.

ESCAP suggested the regional countries to take more comprehensive approach to building resilience against future shocks.

The survey also proposed a “build forward better” policy package for resilient post-COVID-19 economies that aims to ensure universal access to healthcare and social protection, close the digital divide and strengthen climate and clean energy actions.

“It estimates that the package would reduce the number of people living in poverty in the region by almost 180 million people and cut carbon emissions by about 30 per cent in the long run,” ESCAP said.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has recommended in a policy brief that countries “address immediate liquidity constraints; debt overhangs and creating space for investment in crisis response, the Sustainable Development Goals and climate action; and reformation of the international debt architecture.”

The survey recommended the regional countries to respond aggressively to adverse shocks to minimize the reversal of hard-won development gains.

“Swift and robust policy responses are needed to safeguard sustainable development in crisis times, and risk management must become central to development planning and policymaking,” it added.

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