Malaysia has shown remarkable economic progress over the past several decades, with poverty falling from 49.3 percent in 1970 to 23 percent in 1989 and 1.7 percent in 2012. One of the key aspects of the New Economic Policy adopted by Malaysia was creating a “Pro-Poor” policy. According to the World Bank, “the NEP contributed to poverty reduction and helped provide opportunities to poor households.”
However, Malaysia’s Poverty Line Income differs from the standard $1 USD per day (purchasing power parity) poverty line. When converting to international standards, it results in Malaysia having a higher poverty rate.
There has never been a problem of chronic hunger in Malaysia. Many nutrition programs have been incorporated into the rural development programs and have proved successful. According to the World Health Organization, consumption of fewer than 1,960 calories a day is a mark of food poverty. A great indicator of successful eradication of hunger in Malaysia lies in the fact that its daily per capita intake of calories has been consistently above the standard mark. The average was 2,969 in 1999.
The government introduced the Applied Food and Nutrition Programme in 1972 to improve nutrition and alleviate hunger in Malaysia. It aimed to increase the production of nutritious foods and promote supplementary feeding of pregnant and lactating mothers as well as infants and school-going children.
The Nutrition Rehabilitation Programme started in 1989, focusing on malnourished children. Food baskets containing nutritional supplements are distributed to such children on a monthly basis.
The results have been very positive. Only 1 percent of Malaysia’s children under the age of five are severely underweight, while the proportion of moderate underweight malnutrition has declined from 25 percent in the early 1990s to 12 percent in 2001.
Malaysia has overcome poverty through an inclusive approach to growth and equity. But there are still vulnerable groups, like single female-headed households and the elderly. Also, many Orang Asli still face extreme poverty. To move forward, a new consensus has to be built around a poverty line that is more balanced in line with international standards, as was suggested by the UNDP.
– Tripti Sinha