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Last Updated: Monday, 6 March 2006, 17:11 GMT
Asia faces 'major poverty test'
By Jill McGivering
BBC Asia analyst

Tony Blair, with his Pakistani counterpart Shaukat Aziz, at the Asia 2015 conference in London 6 March 2006
Mr Blair said "major challenges still remain" over poverty
British Prime Minister Tony Blair has told a conference in London that Asia faces major challenges in tackling poverty in the next decade.

He was speaking to delegates at a conference on Asian poverty, organised by the Asian Development Bank, the World Bank and the British government.

He said that by 2015 more than one billion people will be living in desperate poverty in Asia.

Politicians from across Asia are discussing dramatic wealth gaps there.

Many have expressed frustration that the world's focus on alleviating poverty is on Africa, with Asia failing to get the attention it deserves.

'Engrained poverty'

To many, Asia is a success story - a region of rapid economic growth and progress.

But, although tens of millions have been lifted out of poverty in recent decades, Asia is still home to two-thirds of the world's poor.

The struggle now is to sustain growth whilst also managing greater competition for natural resources and greater pressure on the environment.

There are people who are getting richer and richer and the people who remain in poverty for nearly forever
Kiyohiko Toyama
Japanese deputy foreign affairs minister

"There is remarkable progress to applaud - but none of us here today are under any illusion that major challenges still remain. There are still areas of conflict, instability and engrained poverty," Mr Blair said.

"It is estimated that the number of people living in Asia on US$2 a day will have halved by 2015, but that still leaves over a billion people in dreadful poverty."

One other key question is how to distribute wealth more evenly.

Even within booming economies like India and China, the wealth gap is widening with many millions still mired in poverty, especially in rural areas.

As well as being a human rights issue, it also raises fears of social instability.

Japan's deputy foreign affairs minister, Kiyohiko Toyama, sees this as a pressing concern.

"There are people who are getting richer and richer and the people who remain in poverty for nearly forever and, you know, we have to address this programme of widening disparity inside Asia," Mr Toyama said.

Asian politicians have many reasons to be optimistic, but many also express frustration that in recent years the world's focus has been on helping Africa.

They see this conference as a welcome first step in redressing the balance and claiming attention for Asia's poverty needs too.

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