This is a continuation of my on solving Asia’s poverty problem which is my official entry to the Asia Challenge 2010. Click here to view Solving Asia’s Poverty Problem – Part 1.
Because of poverty Asia has the highest rate of human trafficking. Asians are lured into false hopes of having a good paying job in other countries only to find out that they have been trafficked into force labor. Trafficked women and children are often forced into prostitution and sexual exploitation. Statistics released by the International Labor Organization as reported by the United Nation’s Global initiative shows that an estimated 2.5 million people are in forced labor (including sexual exploitation) at any given time as a result of trafficking. A staggering, 1.4 million (56%), which is more than half are from the Asia Pacific region. 5
Poverty is also the cause behind Asia’s high illiteracy rate. There are estimated to be 625 million illiterates in Asia. This comprises 71% of the world’s total.6 While education is seen by some experts as the key to the alleviation of poverty, such proposed solution has become a looping chicken and egg question. Are Asian countries poor because they lack quality education or do they lack quality education because they are poor?
Should education be given primary emphasis in order that Asia may be alleviated from poverty or should poverty be solved first in order that Asia’s poor can have a world class education akin to that of first world countries. How can Asia’s poor have access to quality education when in the first place the necessary infrastructure such as adequate and accessible educational facilities, the basic educational infrastructure and the availability of the learner’s themselves has not been addressed ?
How can Asian governments give quality education when educations in their budgets are given secondary importance because of the government’s lack of money to implement real educational reforms?
There are places in Asia wherein students have to walk for several miles and for several hours before they reach their schools. Because of this, some parents opt not to send their children to school any more. Oftentimes, the primary reasons why parents do not send their children to school is because they ask their children to work to help augment the family income. Even if poor children are given access to education, research has shown that there is a high risk of educational underachievement for children who are from low-income households. It can clearly be seen that illiteracy and lack of education is caused by poverty and not the other way around. The solution therefore is to eradicate poverty.
Over population which is said to cause lots of problems ranging from over exploitation of natural resources including shortage of food and water and pollution among others. Over population of course have its roots in poverty. While experts are debating as to whether or not there is a connection between poverty and over population statistics seem to indicate that there is a strong correlation between low income and high population growth. First world countries often have small population growth rate compared to third world countries. Within Asia itself, the tiger economies of Hong Kong, Singapore, Japan, South Korea and recently China have exhibited the lowest growth rates among the region as compared to other Asian countries which are considered as “third world.” 7
Again the chicken and egg question is asked, is the over population of poor Asian countries the cause of poverty or are these country over populated because they are poor? It seems to me that the answer is the latter. Living in poverty leads to larger families because of various reasons. Some of them are the lack of formal education especially relating to birth control and the mindset of the poor that more children somehow helps them achieve some kind of a “social status” 8
Further, a closer look at the Tiger economies of Asia would reveal that curtailing the population growth is not the solution to the poverty problem but rather, solving the poverty problem is the key to slowing down the population growth.
Take for example the case of Hongkong. In the 1950s it seems that there was no hope for this over populated, poor British colony. One writer described Hongkong in the 1950s as “. . . a depressed place. At that time Hong Kong suffered from unemployment, a poor economy, over-crowding, homelessness, and people taking advantage of each other. Gangs roamed the street, and juvenile delinquents ran rampant.” 9
An American news paper proclaimed Hong Kong to be “dying” and the Hong Kong government itself painted a graphic picture of despair in its annual report. American journalist John Robbins wrote in 1959 that “Hong Kong’s state of supersaturation” may be “a portent of things to come throughout Asia. 10
Flash forward more than 50 years later and we see Hong Kong as one of the most vibrant cities in Asia. Hong Kong now has a population of more than seven million people which is about six times the number the Hong Kong government in 1954 declared to be its carrying capacity. It is considered as one of the most densely populated areas in the world, at 6,200 people per km². 11 Since becoming one of the Tiger economies of Asia, Hong Kong’s population growth has slowed down from 5 % in the 1950s to an average of 1 % for the past 5 years. 12
As can be seen in the case of Hong Kong, the key to solving the poverty problem is not to deliberately slow down the population growth but rather to solve the poverty problem first and the population growth will slow down by itself. I’m pretty sure this is the case of other Asian Tiger economies.
From the above, we can glean that solving the poverty problem is of vital important because when you solve the poverty problem you solve a lot of other problems as well. Problems on malnutrition (No need to find weight loss supplements that work if you are malnourished to loose weight), trafficking, overpopulation, education, exploitation of natural resources among other things will be solved once we solve the poverty problem.
Stay tuned for “Solving Asia’s Poverty Problem – Part 3.”