Economic Improvement in Asia
Technological expansion facilitated a globalized community that improved industry and revolutionized society. There are, however, inconsistencies with the level of technological innovation that each country receives. Further inequalities in the field of technology exacerbate issues such as poverty and advancements in education and medicine. Many organizations make goals to advance the utilization of technology and work on economic improvement in Asia.

The Asia Foundation

One prominent organization that provides an inclusive environment for addressing issues related to gender equality, the environment and economic improvement in Asia is the Asia Foundation. The Asia Foundation began making an impact in the world in 1954 when several members from different sectors of society including leaders of corporations, university presidents and writers united to develop the unique organization.

The international nonprofit works primarily in the Asia-Pacific region through its 18 offices as well as its Washington, D.C. office and its headquarters in San Francisco, California. In 2021, the programs of the Asia Foundation provided direct support valued at $82.7 million.

The Upskilling Initiative

On September 9, 2022, the Asia Foundation announced its partnership with the U.S. Department of Commerce and the U.S. Office of the Trade Representative to begin the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF) Upskilling Initiative. Participants include Brunei, India, Indonesia and the Philippines among others. The IPEF is a program that began in May 2022. The program hopes to facilitate economic improvement in Asia to become more connected, resilient, environmentally friendly and fair. The Upskilling Initiative is one way in which the program begins economic improvement in Asia through the implementation of digital skills training for women and girls.

The intention of the project is to expand the middle class by allowing women and girls the opportunities that promote this goal. The initiative is beneficial primarily because it includes partnerships between nonprofit organizations such as the Asia Foundation, governments such as the United States of America and U.S.-based companies such as Amazon, Apple and Microsoft. These private businesses will arrange digital skills improvement opportunities in IPEF countries through 2032. Concrete skills include training in innovative areas like artificial intelligence, cyber-security, business development and digital literacy and content creation.

Digital Literacy and the Economy

Increasingly, the ability to utilize technological resources relates to the improvement of the economy, which is why many organizations throughout Asia emphasize digital skills improvement as one step in economic improvement in Asia. According to the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF), digital literacy falls for those populations that are rural or those in the population minority, and digital literacy is lower for least developed countries in Asia.

Many young people in Asian countries state that digital literacy assists in skills development and education. Examples of the shortcomings of the lack of digitalization include the fact that 61% of South Asians do not use the internet despite installed infrastructure. Likewise, inequalities exist. For example, while Singapore experiences a high level of digital inclusiveness, more than 150 million people throughout South-East Asia are not able to use certain types of technologies. South-East Asia receives a ranking of fifth out of seven regions around the world for digital inclusiveness due to low scores on affordability and digital literacy.

The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the rate at which the world uses technology to facilitate interactions among various communities. Economic growth in Asia and Southeast Asia is improving significantly with digitization with countries such as the Philippines and Malaysia leading the increase in e-commerce retail. The process reveals new opportunities, especially for the younger generation.

With continued input from partnerships such as the Asia Foundation and the U.S. Department of Commerce, countries in Asia will continue on the journey to improve the lives of the Asian population, especially women and young girls, to become a key player in the world economy.

– Kaylee Messick
Photo: Pexels

Marshall Islands
The Marshall Islands lie in the Central Pacific near halfway between U.S. Hawaii and the Philippines. The islands consist of 29 sprawling coral atoll-based and volcanic islands. With a population of only 60,000 people, the islands barely amount to a mere American town. Despite its military presence, the U.S. does not ‘own’ the islands.

The Marshall Islands are tactically important but small and very much underdeveloped, supporting happy, simple lives for many of its occupants. However, today, poor and unhealthy shanty towns are sadly commonplace. The rate of poverty in the Marshall Islands in 2019 was 7.2%

A plan to develop or rejuvenate the Islands, and particularly heath care, rests on the shoulders of the U.S. The man-made calamity of nuclear radiation in the Marshall Islands is a stark warning to all humankind, of the dangers of nuclear mass destruction in the Pacific proving ground experiment.

Nuclear Damage

During the second world war, the U.S. wrestled the islands away from the Japanese Empire. This was no relief for the inhabitants as “between 1946 and 1958 the U.S. nuclear testing program drenched the Marshall Islands with firepower equaling the energy yield of seven thousand Hiroshima bombs.”

The United States detonated a total of 67 nuclear bombs, some up to seven times more powerful than Little Boy, in the Marshall Islands. Nerje Joseph witnessed the Castle Bravo explosion from the neighboring atoll of Rongelap, an experience that will forever haunt her. Joseph evacuated the island as her hair began to fall out. Almost all those that dwelled on Rongelap that fateful day now have cancer. The locals of Bikini attempted to resettle the atoll in 1969, and nine years later, they evacuated again because the radiation was still too high.

Long Term Damage

In 2010, the National Cancer Institute “suggested that up to 55% of all cancers in the northern atolls are a result of nuclear fallout.” Thyroid cancers are particularly common. Sea life in the Marshall Islands became poisoned, resulting in the need to import processed food, which has in turn led to spiraling diabetes cases.

At the present time, the U.S. has denied calls for compensation on any series level. The United States previously attempted to clean the area up by housing contaminated soil and debris in a concrete tomb known as the Tomb. However, to this day, the contents are leaking out. The Tomb includes domed-in content of 100,000 cubic yards of nuclear waste, some of which comes from as far as the U.S. Nevada testing site. Unfortunately, Washington is now washing its hands clean of the maintenance expense, quite unfairly stating that since the dome is on Marshallese lands, the Marshall Islands, which only has a population of a single American town, ought to pay for it. The Tomb is continuing to leak and become ever more unstable, putting the poor standards of health on the islands at further risk. 

The US Commitment

Fortunately for the Marshallese, the U.S. commits to protecting these islands, Bucholz Army Airfield is the military base there. This base actually has missile testing rights potentially until 2086. Regardless, this base at the very least keeps the island safe from external aggressors. As China grows in power, it for one has set its sights on the islands of the pacific. This has more benefits for the Marshallese than one might think.

The U.S. has acted independently to aid the Marshallese in preparation for extreme weather resilience. The Pacific Partnership 2019 was a U.S. commitment to help the Marshall Islands’ readiness for extreme weather disasters, via seminars and preparation. Additionally, this program includes the installation of rainwater-catching infrastructures, such as the one set up at the Long Island elementary school. This reduces the devastating impact of extreme weather, such as drought. The installation presents clear steps to ensure the viability of the military base, yet benefit the locals greatly, for the islands are ever in danger from extreme weather events. Protection against such events is protection against the poverty they inevitably cause.

US Aid to Help in the Aftermath of Nuclear Radiation in the Marshall Islands

Since 2004, the U.S. has gifted $800 million to the islands, equivalent to 70% of the island’s GDP in that same period. The highest employer on the Islands is the Marshallese Government, followed by the mighty U.S army base. In addition to the local government’s budget, the U.S. has allowed for the setting up of two hospitals and 60 medical clinics. Additionally, the U.S. directly pays for the healthcare of the four atolls that the nuclear radiation has most severely affected.

However, for advanced care arising from nuclear radiation, such as late cancer treatment, islanders have to travel to the Philippines as the facilities are lacking in the Marshall Islands. Healthcare improvements are a great opportunity for moral correction, one that is desperately necessary, even outside the realms of radiation poisoning. For example, despite a reduction of 20% in the past 40 years, the child mortality rate is still high at 30.7 per 1,000

The country’s GDP has more than doubled in the past 20 years. About 0.9% of the Islanders live in absolute poverty as of 2019 or about the same level as Spain, a developed European nation. Development, reducing health poverty and righting wrongs are very much achievable and it feels with the right push, hope for the Marshallese could be just around the corner. The difficulties that arose from nuclear radiation in the Marshall Islands can become a thing of the past and the Marshallese can work on developing their sublime islands without this plague if those proven wrongs are put right.

– William Fletcher
Photo: Flickr

South-South Cooperation
In June 2021, the United Nations High-level Committee on South-South Cooperation (BAPA+40) met for its 20th session to assess the
progress on South-South cooperation and discuss progress regarding the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). South-South cooperation is the technical collaboration between developing countries of the southern hemisphere or Global South to improve economic development, human rights, climate change, health and other indicators of a thriving society. The Buenos Aires Plan of Action for Promoting and Implementing Technical Collaboration Among Developing Countries (BAPA), which emerged in 1978, launched the South-South cooperation initiative and, since then, 40 additional countries have joined the effort. At the June 2021 meeting, the group discussed progress regarding the COVID-19 pandemic.

Global Context and Trends

The period from 2016 to 2020 witnessed a combination of disastrous shocks and notable human progress. Between 1990 and 2016, poverty rates fell by 35%. By 2019, those living in excessive poverty (below $1.90 per day) decreased to 630 million from the 1990 figure of 2 billion. Nevertheless, by 2020, this situation had changed due to the serious effect of the COVID-19 pandemic which, up to April 2021, had resulted in more than 2.8 million deaths in the world, and also a disastrous economic impact. Experts were concerned that crises like the COVID-19 pandemic, environmental challenges and violent conflicts may negate the success in alleviating poverty over the past three decades.

Specifically, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) emphasized the necessity to consider human progress from a wider perspective than economics. This program, in cooperation with the University of Oxford, promoted the idea of “multidimensional poverty” as development practitioners and policymakers began tracing poverty to its origin as apparent in the different living conditions of destitute persons and communities. For example, the 2020 Global Multidimensional Poverty Index which the UNDP published, shows that 803 million multidimensionally poor persons dwell in undernourished households, 1.03 billion persons live in substandard housing and 476 million children are not receiving an education.

Developing nations also encountered multiple, interlinked climatic, financial and microeconomic challenges from 2016 to 2020. For that reason, they attempted to accelerate the attainment of the 2030 SDG goals.  They viewed the  South-South coordination as an important model for this effort.

Developing Countries: Africa

The South-South collaboration 2019 landmark Agreement Establishing the African Continental FreeTrade Area bolstered regional integration in Africa. Africa has an extensive single market of over 1.3 billion persons as well as a $2.2 trillion combined yearly output. The implementation of the Free Trade Area is likely to have a major socioeconomic effect. Some have anticipated that there will be further gains from intra-African trade which has the potential of increasing by 33% during the Free Trade Area transition stage. There has also been an increase in the number of African leaders who have slowly initiated terms of engagement with other nations. The High-Level Committee reports that it will be critical that these leaders avoid inequalities that would reduce the potential benefits that Africa could obtain from South-South collaboration on the continent.

Developing Countries: Asia and the Pacific

Asia’s high level of regional integration makes it an epicenter of economic South-South coordination. While Asian economies represented 80% of all South-South exports, China continued to be the instrument of growth in investment and trade, and 19 economies in the region “reported China as their first or second-largest export market in 2017.” Despite its excellent performance in South-South trade as well as in other exchanges, large infrastructure gaps have hampered Asia. 

The small island developing nations in the Pacific area continued to be susceptible to climate shocks. Consequently, in the Southeast Asia and Pacific region, South-South collaboration is of critical importance for capacity building for economic resilience to natural shocks with Asia being a role model for public-private partnerships. For instance, in 2019, the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and Amundi announced a  $500 million Asia Climate Bond Portfolio. This initiative’s objective has been to promote climate action on the part of bank members that involves increasing green leadership and climate resilience as well as considering the climate bond market’s underdevelopment. Despite a dramatic reduction in foreign direct investment (FDI)  and trade in 2020 due to the pandemic, the Asia and Pacific area performed better than the remainder of the world because of more regional integration.

Developed Countries

Several developed nations and multilateral organizations remain supportive of South-South collaboration by triangular coordination. This triangular coordination combines the abilities of various development partners in order to introduce new and adaptable solutions to development challenges and to help to attain the 2030 SDG goals. Unfortunately, a 2019 study by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) found that despite the increased focus on triangular coordination, no more than 30 nations or international institutions established guiding documents, strategies or cooperation policies. The study indicated a need for an attitude shift of developed nations from thinking of developing nations as “donor recipients” to considering them as partners.

Civil Society, Think Tanks and the Private Sector

In development cooperation, the private sector, think tanks and civil society are significant stakeholders who could be influential in increasing the application of the 2030 SDG Agenda through South-South and triangular coordination. The Alliance of Non-Governmental Organizations, the United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation and Civil Society Organizations for South-South Cooperation are collaborating to improve the understanding of the value of South-South cooperation in humanitarian development and related areas. 

Moving Forward

The June High-level Committee on South-South Cooperation underlined the progress of the South-South cooperation and triangular coordination with developed countries. The committee reported that these strategies have been effective in reducing multidimensional poverty and associated problems in developing countries. Its report suggests that the introduction of the United Nations system-wide strategy on South-South and triangular cooperation has great potential for enhancing this progress moving forward.

– Aining Liang
Photo: Flickr

RCEP will benefit Asia's impoverishedOn November 15, 2020, 15 Asia-Pacific countries signed The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP). The RCEP is a free trade agreement (FTA) establishing new relationships in the global economy. The 15 countries that signed the trade deal account for 30% of all global gross domestic product and impact more than two billion people. The new economic opportunities that will emerge from the RCEP will benefit Asia’s impoverished.

The Introduction of the RCEP

In 2011, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit introduced the RCEP. Simultaneously, another free trade agreement, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), was undergoing development. The TPP’s existence failed to come to fruition when former U.S. president, Donald Trump, removed the U.S. from negotiations in 2017. Consequently, this led many Asia-Pacific nations to negotiate with each other to make the RCEP become a reality. The ASEAN Secretariat has declared the RCEP as an accelerator for employment and market opportunities. The RCEP has been seen as a response to the absence of U.S. economic involvement and a form of stimulating the economy due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

RCEP Regulations

The RCEP has a set of new regulations that made it enticing for many nations to join. As much as 90% of tariffs will be eliminated between participating countries. Moreover, the RCEP will institute common rules for e-commerce and intellectual property. The trade deal will also include high-income, middle-income and low-income nations.

RCEP Benefits for the Philippines

Allan Gepty, a lead negotiator from the Philippines, assures that the RCEP will benefit the low-income country in many ways. The RCEP will mean more investments in sectors such as e-commerce, manufacturing, research and development, financial services and information technology. Moreover, the trade secretary, Ramon Lopez, also believes the Philippines will benefit because the RCEP will bring job opportunities. In a country where the poverty rate stood at 23.3% in 2015, the RCEP will benefit Asia’s impoverished.

Supporting Myanmar’s Economic Growth

According to the World Bank, a way to promote the reduction of poverty in Myanmar is supporting the private sector to create job opportunities. Furthermore, vice president of the Asian Investment Bank (AIIB), Joachim von Amsberg, also believes the RCEP will benefit Asia’s impoverished. He sees the RCEP as a way to grant small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) more access to markets, thus creating more job growth and promoting infrastructure development.

Industries Impacted by the RCEP

Many other nations will benefit from the RCEP as well. Textile and apparel (T&A) is a key sector under the RCEP. While countries such as Australia and Japan have high labor and production costs, many others do not. The RCEP will increase investment to lower-cost and less skilled countries such as Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos. The trade deal will also impact the country of Vietnam. Vietnam will benefit from its exports which include footwear, automobiles and telecommunications. Furthermore, Vietnam is could also benefit from the exporting of agriculture and fisheries products. Malaysia anticipates greater opportunities in travel, tourism and the aviation industry. Malaysia is expected to increase its GDP between 0.8% and 1.7% through the RCEP.

The Potential for Poverty Reduction

The RCEP is the biggest trade deal in Asia-Pacific’s history. The trade deal is predicted to add US$186 billion to the global economy and 0.2% to the gross domestic product of each participating nation. Also, free trade agreements allow emerging economies to become more sustainable. According to the World Bank, poverty is reduced by boosting international trade. Global trade expands the number of quality jobs and encourages economic growth. The RCEP came at a time when there are future uncertainties due to the COVID-19 pandemic and its economic impacts. Many anticipate that the RCEP will benefit Asia’s impoverished.

Andy Calderon
Photo: Flickr

hiv epidemic in the philippinesThe HIV epidemic in the Philippines is the fastest-growing in the Asia and Pacific region. According to UNAIDS data, HIV prevalence in the Philippines increased by 207% from 2010 to 2019. AIDS-related deaths rose by 338% in the same period. In 2019, an estimated 97,000 people were living with HIV in the Philippines. Of those, 73% knew their status and 44% were receiving antiretroviral treatment.

Although these statistics indicate some progress, the Philippines still falls far below the 90-90-90 target set by UNAIDS. Aimed at ending the HIV epidemic by 2020, the program wanted to ensure that 90% of people living with HIV would know their HIV status. It also strove to give 90% of people with a diagnosed HIV antiretroviral therapy and induce viral suppression in 90% of those receiving treatment. Unfortunately, the world is not on track to meet these goals, and new targets are being developed for 2025.

Populations Most Affected

The prevalence rate of HIV in the Philippines among adults ages 15 to 49 was 0.2% in 2019. This national rate, however, masks alarmingly high prevalence rates among specific populations. The groups most affected by the HIV epidemic in the Philippines often face social stigma, isolation and legally sanctioned discrimination. These populations include people who inject drugs (PWID), men who have sex with men (MSM), sex workers and transgender people. However, new technologies, programs and initiatives are working to lessen the burden of disease and stigma on these populations.

People Who Inject Drugs

According to UNAIDS, the HIV prevalence rate among people who inject drugs in the Philippines is 29%. Among PWID, only 26.9% have been tested and are aware of their status. Key factors fueling the HIV epidemic in the Philippines among PWID include hostile public opinion and brutal law enforcement. These constitute major barriers to HIV testing and awareness. While official statistics released in 2018 revealed that over 4,500 drug users were victims of extrajudicial killings, civil society estimated the true toll to be as high as 20,000.

Progress in HIV testing is crucial to reduce HIV prevalence among PWID, who struggle to access services due to their criminalized status. Various alternative testing methods, such as rapid finger-prick testing, can reduce barriers to testing for PWID. In particular, self-testing kits, which allow people to test in private, have attracted a large proportion of first-time testers in Thailand and have achieved impressive success in China.

Men Who Have Sex With Men

The HIV prevalence rate among men who have sex with men is 5%, the second-highest among key affected populations. MSM who fear social stigma and discrimination often do not participate in HIV prevention programs. As a result, the participation rate for these programs is 14.6%, and the majority of MSM lack awareness about HIV. Condom use in this population is also low at 40.1%. However, condom distribution and sex education programs would benefit MSM, many of whom reported not using condoms because they were “not available.” Fighting the HIV epidemic in the Philippines means tailoring help to MSM.

Sex Workers

Female sex workers in the Asia and Pacific region are 29 times more likely to be living with HIV than other adult women of reproductive age. The HIV prevalence rate among sex workers in the Philippines is now 0.6%. This group has the highest rates among affected populations for coverage in prevention programs and condom use, which are 71.8% and 85.3%, respectively. Many important national HIV prevention programs raise awareness about HIV and encourage condom use among sex workers. These programs include the 100% Condom Use Program, the HIV Counseling and Testing Service, and programs led by the Philippine National AIDS Council.

Transgender People

Transgender people are one of the populations most affected by the HIV epidemic in the Philippines, with a prevalence rate of 3.9%. However, there is little information or research about the effects of HIV on the transgender community in the Philippines. A key problem is the lack of transgender visibility due to social exclusion and widespread stigma. This challenges efforts to obtain health data and develop targeted programs to support transgender individuals. To raise awareness about gender identities and transgender acceptance, sexual health education and gender studies programs must be more inclusive. This would help reduce the stigma and barriers to healthcare for transgender people in the Philippines and engage them in HIV prevention and treatment programs.

The Effect of COVID-19

Lockdowns in the Philippines due to COVID-19 have blocked access to essential services for HIV patients, including treatment and testing. Eamonn Murphy, UNAIDS regional director for Asia and the Pacific, stressed that the Philippines needs to do more to convince those in high-risk populations to seek out HIV-related services.

Continued attention to these key affected populations is necessary to reduce HIV prevalence rates and make progress toward HIV eradication. In this way, focused programs can work toward lessening the severity of the HIV epidemic in the Philippines.

– Alice Nguyen
Photo: Flickr