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Poverty in Rural Eastern Asia Around 75% of the rural Eastern Asian population struggles to afford food, with an estimated 320 million living on less than $2.15 a day. The employed population in the region largely works in the agriculture sector where three out of four people in rural communities are poor. Families cannot afford to relocate to well-paid urban jobs. As a result, they continue to live in a poverty cycle. Countries such as Vietnam and Cambodia have up to 90% of their rural population living in poverty. Factors such as hunger issues, natural disasters and health care impact poverty in rural Eastern Asia greatly.

Poverty in Rural Eastern Asia

  • Mongolia: Rural areas of Mongolia have a poverty rate of 30.8% according to the World Bank, with two out of every five children living in poverty. Education heavily impacts poverty in Mongolia, as only 10% of Mongolians are able to complete university-level education. A lack of education and skills affects the jobs people can send in applications for, and this impacts Mongolians as it’s harder for many of them to enter urban employment for better-paid jobs.
  • Philippines: Half of the 100 million people in the Philippines live in rural areas with the main source of income consisting of agricultural employment such as fishing and farming. Illiteracy, unemployment and poverty are more common in Indigenous people and people living in upland areas. With an overall poverty rate of 25%, a decrease in agricultural productivity and unprofitable farming businesses stand as leading causes due to limited access to technology and knowledge.
  • Thailand: Despite major efforts to reduce poverty in Thailand, its rural sector, including agricultural households, remains poor with a poverty rate of 79%. Impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic affected the rural economy much greater than the urban, with the World Bank reporting that 70% of rural households reported decreased income levels since March 2020. The average monthly income is 68% of urban households. With the highest income inequality rate in Eastern Asia and the Pacific as well as the impacts of droughts, Thailand’s agricultural sector has been impacted heavily by economic and environmental factors. These recent droughts have caused dried-up land/soil impacting the production and quality of farming in these areas.

Improving the Socioeconomic Impacts in Mongolia

Asian Development Bank (ADB) donated $73 million toward easing Mongolia’s socioeconomic impacts from COVID-19. It also provided a $30 million loan to improve livestock production in central Mongolia. These donations have been effective in strengthening food security and traceability for communities.

Agricultural Development Projects in the Philippines

Since 1978 the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) has donated $243.7 million to fund 15 agricultural development projects in the Philippines, directly benefiting 1,742,000 households and enabling poverty-ridden rural communities to improve their income and food security as well as education and health care. IFAD also supported technology operations to improve soil and water management through the use of micro-catchment techniques that will support local fishermen.

The Baan Mankong Program in Thailand

The Baan Mankong program was one of many that transformed Thailand’s poverty rates. The program focused on improving housing, communication between citizens and the government and improving drainage systems. With $191 million, it supported 320 cities/districts, many of whom reside in the city.

Looking Ahead 

Despite negative outlooks on rural poverty in Eastern Asia, its rapid economic progress has been notable, lifting millions out of poverty. Between 2008 to 2018, GDP per capita grew at a rate of 6.7% each year, beating the global rate of 1.5%.

Organizations like ADB have contributed massively throughout COVID-19 and afterward to continue to improve rural communities through better health care, sustainable equipment, improved technology and food security. East Asia has contributed to the global reduction of extreme poverty with countries such as China, Thailand and Malaysia securing poverty rates below 1%. However, with many people still not economically stable in Eastern Asian countries, there appears to be room for more progress.

– Joshua Rogers

Photo: Flickr