Human Development in Asia-Pacific at a Crossroads: UNDP Calls for Urgent Action and New Directions

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PUBLISHED 09 November 2023

The Asia-Pacific region is facing a critical juncture in its development trajectory. While the region has made significant progress in recent decades, it is now grappling with a host of challenges that threaten to derail further progress and exacerbate existing inequalities.

A new report from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) titled Making our Future: New Directions for Human Development in Asia and the Pacific paints a nuanced picture of the region's development landscape. The report acknowledges the region's long-term progress but also highlights the persistent disparities and widespread disruptions that threaten to undermine future gains.

The report identifies three key risk clusters that the region must confront:

  1. Existential threats due to climate change and future pandemics: The region is highly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, including rising sea levels, extreme weather events, and water scarcity. The COVID-19 pandemic has also demonstrated the region's susceptibility to health crises, with devastating economic and social consequences.

  2. Economic headwinds from shifting globalization patterns and automation: The region's export-led growth model is facing increasing challenges from rising protectionism, technological disruptions, and shifting supply chains. Automation is also expected to displace a significant number of workers, particularly in low-skill jobs.

  3. A flagging pace of reform due to diminishing democratic spaces, rising populism, and polarization: The region has seen a steady reversal in democratic practices in recent years, with governments restricting civil liberties and suppressing dissent. Populism and polarization are also on the rise, further complicating efforts to address pressing challenges.

Despite these challenges, the report offers a glimmer of hope. It argues that the region can overcome these obstacles and achieve a more equitable and sustainable future by adopting three new directions in human development:

  1. Put people at the heart of development: This requires expanding choice for everyone, tackling structural exclusion, upholding human dignity, and building capability.

  2. Recalibrate growth strategies to generate more jobs and respect the environment: This involves focusing on new areas of economic opportunity, such as the green economy and the blue economy.

  3. Focus relentlessly on the politics of reform and the science of delivery: This requires governments to be more anticipatory, adaptable, and agile in their approach to governance and policymaking.

The report concludes with a call to action for governments, businesses, and civil society to work together to forge a new path for human development in Asia-Pacific. It argues that with urgent action and a shared commitment to a more equitable and sustainable future, the region can overcome the challenges it faces and create a better life for all