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Six Key Socio-Economic Issues & Challenges Facing The Asia-Pacific Region

Imtiaz Muqbil

Although the travel & tourism industry tends to focus primarily on economic indicators, its fortunes are more affected by a broad range of key issues and factors related to national, regional and global development as a whole. In order to help travel industry decision-makers and strategic planners better understand these wider issues, Travel Impact Newswire has summarised the keypoints of a briefing paper presented at the 67th annual ministerial session of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP) held in Bangkok between May 21-22.

The paper lists the key issues and challenges facing the Asia-Pacific region in six areas: 1) macroeconomic policy and inclusive development; 2) trade and investment; 3) transport; 4) environment and development; 5) information and communications technology and its role in disaster risk reduction, and 6) social developments.

The summary is designed to save readers time and effort in researching and understanding these big-picture issues. It will be handy for copy-and-paste inclusion in everything from marketing reports to investor analysis and research studies.

This is the link to the original source document.

1. Macroeconomic Policy And Inclusive Development

The Asia-Pacific region has recovered strongly from the depths of the recent crisis but it still faces problems. The global environment in 2011 is more challenging than in 2010, as many leading developed countries are seeing their growth decline to anemic levels. The continuing dependence of many small economies in the region on exporting to developed country markets means that growth rates in Asia and the Pacific will suffer negative impacts. Conversely, a trend towards increasing intraregional trade and strong domestic demand in the region will cushion the effects of the export slowdown to a certain extent. In coming years, the Asia-Pacific region is expected to play a central role both in driving its own development and serving as a critical anchor for the global recovery from the crisis.

Another key short-term challenge for the region stems from the impact of the enormous liquidity injections undertaken by developed economies as part of their policies to recover from the crisis. Favourable growth prospects and comparatively high interest rates in developing economies have attracted large foreign portfolio inflows from international investors to asset markets in the region. The capital inflows originated, in significant part, from the cheap liquidity available through near-zero interest rates and quantitative easing in developed economies; they have supported a burgeoning carry trade which invests in high-yielding assets of developing economies. These capital inflows have led to potential asset market bubbles in some countries and boosted demand-side inflationary pressures.

Excess global liquidity has also spurred dramatic rises in food and energy prices which, when coupled with supply disruptions in key producing economies, have led to renewed supply-side inflationary increases across the region. Additionally, capital inflows have led to pressure for exchange rate appreciation, thereby hampering the recovery of exports from the region. Countering the inflationary pressure will restrict the policy space for supporting growth and will lead to an additional downward impact on growth rates in the region in the year ahead. Price rises have made the ongoing challenge of inclusive development an increasingly urgent issue, with the burden of food and energy price increases having the strongest impacts on the poor.

In the year ahead, economies in the region will need to undertake complementary policies which address a number of objectives: (a) protecting macroeconomic fundamentals from global instability; (b) creating new sources of internal and regional growth in the medium term; and (c) improving the quality of growth to ensure that robust progress at the aggregate level translates into far more rapid improvement in the livelihoods of the poor and vulnerable.

Issues Related To Poverty And Inclusive Development Policy

The Asia-Pacific region is home to about 950 million people living below the poverty line. High food prices will affect the poor disproportionately more, as they spend a large portion of their income on basic food commodities. Consequently, rising food prices may push more people below the poverty line. A strong and sustained growth momentum is needed to tackle the problem of poverty and food insecurity. Countries need to continue pursuing economic reforms to improve productivity, particularly that of their agricultural sector, strengthen public institutions, improve economic governance, enhance financial inclusion and build social safety nets to protect the more vulnerable segments of the population.

Reform of the international financial architecture is critical for promoting economic growth and macroeconomic stability. At the same time, the elements of regional financial architecture need to be elaborated in order to enhance the availability of capital for long-term development projects in the region. A stronger regional financial architecture could help direct regional savings to regional infrastructure needs, thereby contributing to growth and development.

Policy Issues Related To Countries With Special Needs

Economic and Social Survey of Asia and the Pacific 2011 shows. These countries have also encountered great difficulties in making sufficient progress in meeting the Millennium Development Goal targets to be attained by 2015, as they have suffered multiple effects owing to the food and energy crises and the global financial and economic crises in recent years.

The food and fuel crises that occurred just prior to the economic crisis had a devastating impact on the poor. The climate change consequences are also placing tremendous stress on these countries, reversing their development gains in many instances. The agricultural sector, which is the backbone of many least developed countries and landlocked developing countries, has been neglected for almost a decade. The external environment has been equally challenging. Many of the commitments made by the development partners in support of countries with special needs have remained unfulfilled. Although there have been some encouraging signs in recent years with regard to official development assistance, ODA may not be maintained at levels sufficient to meet the needs of least developed countries, landlocked developing countries and small island developing States, as their traditional development partners face severe budgetary constraints due to the global economic crisis.

Poverty Alleviation Through Sustainable Agriculture

Developing countries in Asia and the Pacific still account for the majority of the world's poor and they have the highest proportion of undernourished people in the world. Poverty remains predominantly a rural phenomenon, and the poor are often concentrated on marginal lands. Sustainable productivity increases are urgently required to meet the Millennium Development Goals related to food security and poverty reduction. This will require faster and more widespread adoption of technological solutions and approaches to adding value than is currently the case. Stakeholders need to work together more effectively within countries and across the region to focus on transforming the outputs of agricultural research into development outcomes.

2. Trade And Investment

Economies of Asia and the Pacific have largely recovered from the severe global economic and financial crises that started in 2008. The rebound in exports in mid-2009 has continued unabated, and export volumes have now returned to pre-crisis levels in most developing economies. The Asia-Pacific Trade and Investment Report 2010 forecast that regional exports would rise by over 10 per cent in 2011, after rising by nearly 20 per cent in 2010. Trade will remain an important driver of regional economic growth and development. The economic and financial crises also highlighted the need to build more resilient and flexible economies that can weather such crises in the future and seize on new and emerging opportunities in trade and investment.

Deepening Regional Connectivity

The renewed interest of the region in increasing intraregional trade would very much depend on how effectively trade facilitation concerns are addressed. Research conducted by the ESCAP secretariat shows that, on average, the region's costs of trading with North America and the European Union are 20 per cent lower than those of intraregional trade. In other words, national trade facilitation programmes in many developing countries have inherently focused on facilitating imports from and exports to developed countries.

Some countries in the region have made progress in reducing their trade costs over the past decade, including costs of trade with other Asian countries. Some economies in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), as well as in the China-Japan-Republic of Korea triangle, have achieved high levels of trade efficiency among themselves, on par with developed country groupings.

However, the majority of countries and subregions still face unacceptably high costs of trade with their neighbours. Trade costs among South Asian and North and Central Asian countries are more than double those among South-East Asian countries. The cost of importing or exporting from these subregions to or from ASEAN countries remains consistently higher than that between these countries and traditional developed country markets.

Inadequate transport and logistics infrastructure is a key issue and it will require massive amounts of investment over time. What all countries can and should easily focus on, however, is ensuring that whatever hard infrastructure is available is used at maximum efficiency, but this can only happen if "soft infrastructure" issues are addressed: many forms of institutional barriers, regulatory procedures and bureaucratic red tape.

On average, it still takes 30 days to move goods from factory to ship-deck in developing countries in the Asia-Pacific region, which is at least three times longer than it takes in countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Overall, the hidden cost of red tape can amount to 15 per cent of the value of the goods being exported; for the developing Asia-Pacific region, that represents $300 billion per year.

Reducing trade costs begins at home. Making clear the procedures and relevant steps to complete them could save traders a tremendous amount of time and cost. Mapping out existing trade procedures is necessary to identify redundancies and simplify procedures. Harmonizing data by applying international standards should be the next step.

Most of these improvements can be achieved through fairly simple, low-cost interventions. However, political commitment is crucial if inefficient practices are to be changed. Making use of state-of-the-art, one-stop, single-window facilities for traders and the Government to exchange information would help countries to reduce the complexity, time and costs involved in international trade. Reducing trade costs in the Asia-Pacific also calls for action at the regional level. For example, region-wide enforcement of consistent transit rules that are based on international conventions may help landlocked countries in Central Asia gain access to seaports more easily.

Opportunities for investment and business in Asia and the Pacific

There are several emerging opportunities for inclusive and sustainable business and investment in the region.

First, various Asia-Pacific developing countries are gaining importance as sources of foreign direct investment (FDI). These flows further support the development of regional and global value chains; hence, they provide unprecedented opportunities for business.

Second, expanding global/regional value chains is offering new opportunities for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to grow and prosper as integrated components of these value chains, often in the form of suppliers of parts, components and services. Most developing countries in the region have implemented a variety of interventions that can be grouped into six key areas: (a) adopting pro-business policy and regulatory frameworks; (b) supporting infrastructure; (c) fostering a culture of entrepreneurship; (d) facilitating access to finance; (e) promoting the development and adaptation of technology; and (f) improving business development services. However, an integrated approach to cover all six key areas effectively is missing, as these activities focus on only some of the issues and are implemented fragmentally.

It is imperative to further boost technical assistance in order to develop the capacity of SMEs. Governments need to harness private-sector resources in addressing development issues by establishing meaningful public-private partnerships. At the same time, SMEs need to incorporate the principles of corporate social responsibility as an important component in efforts to strengthen their competitiveness.

Capturing the first-mover advantage in climate-smart goods, services and technologies

To avoid the worst effects of global warming, the ESCAP region would require additional investments of approximately $150 billion per year for the development of environmentally friendly/climate-smart infrastructure, goods and services during the period 2011-2015, rising to about $500 billion annually during the period 2026-2030.

The challenge lies in mitigating climate change without compromising economic growth. Tapping into opportunities in trade and investment in low-carbon or climate-smart goods and technologies could be a solution. Climate change mitigation and adaptation measures have created opportunities for "green" business, trade and investment. Markets for these products and services are rapidly expanding all over the world. Product and brand features such as "environmentally friendly" and "low carbon" could play an increasingly important role in global competition. This is an area where developing countries in the region could grasp first-mover advantages. It would also help them to diversify their export structures and market destinations. Such win-win solutions, however, require political commitment and coordinated national policy actions as well as regional and global partnerships, including public-private partnerships. Aid for trade could be mobilized to improve the capacity of developing countries to produce and utilize these products and technologies.

Pursuing and deepening regional integration

In the aftermath of the global economic crisis, a strong case has been made for increasing intraregional trade. The rapid proliferation of regional trade agreements (RTAs), however, has led to a confusing network of overlapping and sometimes conflicting commitments among countries, which are often signatories to multiple agreements with overlapping membership. In order for RTAs to evolve into orderly building blocks of regional integration and of the multilateral trading system, it is important that they be: (a) strengthened in terms of coverage and commitment; (b) expanded in terms of membership; and (c) harmonized and consolidated.

The Asia-Pacific Trade Agreement (APTA) continues to be a potential driver of regional integration in Asia and the Pacific, since its membership is open and includes some of the region's largest and most dynamic economies: China, India and the Republic of Korea. APTA has relatively simple and flexible rules of origin, which could be used as a template for common rules of origin for the region. APTA also provides flexibilities and special tariff concessions for least developed countries. Over the past several years, APTA members have made significant progress in expanding the scope of their commitments, in particular through the adoption of framework agreements on investment, services and trade facilitation and through consultations on non-tariff measures. For APTA to truly serve as the driver of regional integration, its scope will need to be further expanded and its membership broadened. Efforts are ongoing to expand its scope and increase its membership, both by the participating countries and ESCAP, which serves as the APTA secretariat.

The multilateral trading system

The global economic crisis prompted many countries to resort to protectionist measures despite rhetoric to the contrary and the pledges they had made at various international forums. The role of the World Trade Organization (WTO) becomes indispensable in monitoring protectionist trends and championing the role of trade in economic growth and recovery. The multilateral trading system overseen by WTO is the only system that comprises a universal body of enforceable non-discriminatory rules governing international trade. This system of rules has enhanced the stability, transparency and predictability of international trade and warrants support from WTO members. Successful conclusion of the Doha round of multilateral trade negotiations would send a strong signal that the global economy remains open and committed to trade. There are signs that WTO members are speeding up the process with a view to finalizing the round in 2011. Making this happen is the responsibility of all WTO members.

3. Transport

The benefits of regional transport connectivity include greater regional integration and the development of intraregional trade. Connectivity also provides better access to markets for landlocked and island developing countries and offers economic and social opportunities to hinterland populations. The wide range of issues pertaining to the development of efficient transport infrastructure and services will be discussed extensively at the Ministerial Conference on Transport which will be held in Bangkok in November 2011, and which will consider phase II (2012-2016) of the Regional Action Programme for Transport Development in Asia and the Pacific. This will be the road map for the ESCAP secretariat to follow in working with member countries and institutional partners to put in place inclusive and sustainable policies towards efficient transport that serves the region's economic and social development.

Promoting regional transport connectivity

The Asian Highway and the Trans-Asian Railway are playing a pivotal role in fostering the coordinated development of regional road and rail networks. This collaborative work between the ESCAP secretariat and member countries culminated in the formalization of the two networks through the Intergovernmental Agreement on the Asian Highway Network and the Intergovernmental Agreement on the Trans-Asian Railway, which entered into force in July 2005 and June 2009, respectively. With these instruments in place, Governments in the region and development partners are collaborating to further expand capacity and improve connectivity with other regions.

In order to integrate the Asian Highway and Trans-Asian Railway into an integrated intermodal transport and logistics system, the recent focus has been on the development of dry ports and efficient logistics. An intergovernmental agreement on dry ports that defines common functions and guiding principles would assist countries in developing overall strategies and policy and regulatory measures for the development of dry ports.

In order to achieve the full potential of the connectivity provided by the Asian Highway and Trans-Asian Railway networks and dry ports, it is essential to facilitate cross-border and transit transport to improve efficiency and reduce costs. Examples abound of non-physical barriers which continue to impede cross-border and transit transport movements over land: inconsistent and difficult border-crossing formalities and procedures; large numbers of documents; duplication of inspections by different authorities; restrictive visa requirements; incompatible working hours at borders; restrictions and limitations on the entry of vehicles; forced trans-shipment operations at borders; different standards for vehicles and drivers; and a lack of coordination among various stakeholders. Addressing those issues will have a direct impact on reducing the cost of transport and the competitiveness of the region's enterprises.

Transport connectivity is critical to the domestic commerce and international trade of archipelagic and island developing countries. Owing to their small size, low population levels, limited production base and vast interisland distances, shipping services to and between these countries face unique challenges related to low and often irregular traffic volumes, long voyage distances and physical constraints in associated seaport infrastructure, superstructure and equipment. Although significant progress has been made in recent years in addressing some of the legislative, regulatory and training issues related to maritime transport, notably in the Pacific, with the technical advice and capacity-building services of the Secretariat of the Pacific Community in the areas of maritime law, training and security, the demand and supply constraints impeding inter-island shipping need to be reviewed and possible solutions identified.

In most countries of the ESCAP region, the costs associated with logistics are high. Logistics service providers are still small in size, and the industry is fragmented. Countries have started to implement policies to establish an efficient logistics industry; however, owing to the cross-sectoral nature of the issues to be addressed, it is a challenge for many countries in the region to enable stakeholders to develop and implement comprehensive logistics policies in a coordinated and consistent manner. Enhancing the professionalism and competitiveness of logistics service providers through, among other things, the establishment of minimum standards and codes of conduct, and the training of operators and officials are two important steps in addressing some of these issues.

Connecting rural and urban areas to economic and social opportunities

While the benefits of transport connectivity are significant, the necessary investments can be equally significant. Some countries have been successful in attracting private financing for infrastructure development; others are experiencing difficulties in creating an institutional and regulatory environment that is conducive to public-private partnerships (PPPs). Some countries are also facing substantial challenges in developing, implementing and managing such partnership projects due to a lack of clear understanding of PPPs and a lack of capacity among public officials; challenges also arise from non-standardized administrative processes and documents. Because it is necessary to overcome these barriers to PPP development, the ESCAP secretariat has developed a set of training materials on assessing PPP-readiness. Refining these materials and strengthening the regional network of PPP units and practitioners will continue to be important activities in this regard.

Addressing the negative impacts of transport

The transport sector in the ESCAP region is the largest consumer of petroleum products, which most countries must import. The sector is also the second largest contributor to carbon dioxide emissions, which are the primary source of greenhouse gases. In view of the rapid growth in international trade, income and motorization in the region, energy consumption and atmospheric pollution by the transport sector will continue to increase if measures are not taken to mitigate their impact.

There is considerable potential for countries in the ESCAP region to take further measures to reduce energy consumption and emissions in the transport sector. They have the opportunity to develop integrated intermodal transport systems, for example, which, where appropriate, take advantage of the higher fuel efficiency and lower emissions of rail and inland water transport. Improving logistics is a further means of reducing fuel consumption and associated emissions.

Currently, over half the world's road fatalities occur in the ESCAP region, and estimates are that the region's share could rise to two thirds of the global total by 2020. Road accidents cut across the most active segments of populations and have a huge economic and social impact.

4. Environment and development

There is growing concern over the increasing vulnerability of the region's globalizing economy towards resource constraints. Countries heavily dependent on imported oil continue to be at risk if they try to stabilize their economic growth when oil prices are volatile. The region's water resources are also becoming scarce and further threatened by natural disasters and pollution. Meeting the unmet needs of current urban populations, as well as those of future generations, would require simultaneously ensuring continued economic growth and poverty reduction while minimizing the adverse impacts of economic growth and urban development on the environment and natural resource base. Daily reports on various implications have raised the region's renewed concern about its resilience to economic, resource and food crises.

The United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, which will be held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in June 2012, will focus on two themes: (a) a green economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication; and (b) the institutional framework for sustainable development. Various preparations for that Conference are being undertaken at the global, regional and national levels.

A regional preparatory process in Asia and the Pacific will be conducted to formulate, among other things, a regional statement to the Conference, reflecting the region?s experience in applying green economy policies and regional perspectives on challenges and opportunities for further advancement towards sustainable development.

5. Information and communications technology and disaster risk reduction

With the meteoric rise of the digital economy over the past few decades, information and communications technologies (ICTs) have become "synergistic" technologies crucial to the region's development potential. Wireless telephony and high-capacity have all opened up opportunities for the region to evolve into one that is knowledge-based. During 2010, new mobile subscriptions in China and India were estimated to exceed 20 million monthly.

While developed countries in the ESCAP region were approaching 100 mobile telephone subscriptions for every 100 persons in the population in 2009, the figure stood at only 27.4 per 100 in least developed countries and 24.2 per 100 in Pacific small island developing States. An even starker comparison relates to the number of Internet users: in least developed countries the number is 1 per 100 on average compared with 80 per 100 in developed countries.

Likewise, the full introduction of broadband networks in the region lags behind that of North America, Europe and Latin America and the Caribbean, despite the fact that some countries in the Asia-Pacific region have the highest broadband penetration in the world.

As rapid technological advances converge with social interactions, contradictory forces are at play: on one hand, increased ICT-enabled exchanges of content-rich information can enhance people-to-people connectivity, promote linguistic diversity, enrich cultures and enhance knowledge systems; on the other, Internet-based societies also give rise to new structures of social organization that may displace values inherent in traditional communities. Social and ethnic tensions inevitably have arisen, a situation which raises questions about social cohesiveness and leaves open the possibility that these technologies may loosen as well as deepen the bonds of solidarity that are needed for cooperation across generations, communities and countries.

Cybersecurity

Borderless global interconnectivity also furnishes a conduit for criminal activities, which were estimated to have generated revenue amounting to more than $10 billion in 2007-an amount that for the first time outstripped the revenue gained from the trade in illicit drugs. The effects of such criminal activities are pervasive, causing degradation or interruption of services, theft of confidential or private information, loss of customer orders and financial fraud. More worrisome is that the trust and goodwill among institutions, societies and individuals can be lost, while the damage to ICT infrastructure and services is highly disruptive. ICT infrastructure that is not secure and reliable also discourages foreign investment, which has negative repercussions on ICT innovation and adoption.

Some countries have developed highly regulated environments; others have little or no restrictions, a situation which makes it almost impossible for a single country to enforce cybersecurity on its own. Therefore, international and regional cooperation is required to respond to such security threats.

Reducing economic losses from disasters

Reducing economic losses from disasters continues to be a major challenge. Globally, economic losses from disasters in 2010 reached a value of $222 billion compared with $36 billion in 2009. Of even greater concern is the fact that about 260,000 people were killed in disasters in 2010, the highest number since 1976. The Asian and Pacific region produces only one quarter of the world's GDP, but accounts for a staggering 85 per cent of the deaths and 38 per cent of the global economic losses caused by disasters during the period 1980-2009. The floods that swept across Pakistan in 2010 affected 20 million people and claimed nearly 2,000 lives, while causing direct damage and indirect losses estimated at $9.7 billion in value.

Ongoing efforts made by high-risk developing countries towards reducing disaster vulnerability are not enough. The study called for the scaling up of efforts in disaster risk reduction and new multidisciplinary policy approaches. The post-disaster efforts in the region were found to be devoted disproportionately to rebuilding infrastructure and other sectors of the economy, even though the damage and losses were greater in the social sectors, a divergence that risked widening the levels of socio-economic inequity that expose the poor to disasters.

Integration of disaster risk reduction and development

Environmental imbalances that have arisen from improper development are another area of concern, since weather-related disaster risk is expanding rapidly in terms of the territories affected, the losses reported and the frequency of events. In the light of the growing recognition that climate variability and extreme weather events are likely to increase in frequency, it is important to recognize that addressing the underlying causes of disaster risks offers the potential for a "triple win", that is, for addressing disaster risk reduction, climate change adaptation and poverty reduction. There is an urgent need to scale up commitments, including technical and financial assistance from donor countries and international organizations, and to promote innovative approaches to reduce disaster risks.

Space information for disaster monitoring and early warning

While many governmental and some commercial remote-sensing satellite operators are providing valuable information to support disaster response efforts through various international and regional initiatives, many gaps remain. Affordable access to satellite data for pre-disaster preparedness and early warning and the provision of appropriate products and services to meet the technical and institutional capabilities of most developing countries, particularly least developed countries, are important.

Flood and drought are the two disasters that most severely affect the Asia-Pacific region. Integrated analysis of space- and ground-based observations may provide effective monitoring and early warning of drought disasters and give valuable lead-time for stakeholders to take measures to prevent drought hazards from becoming major disasters. While some international organizations, such as the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), are furnishing drought-monitoring services at the global level, more detailed drought risk analysis for action at the local level needs higher-resolution satellite data and complex technologies. ESCAP has been promoting the Regional Cooperative Mechanism on Disaster Monitoring and Early Warning, Particularly Drought, in order to provide member countries with substantive technical support, including satellite information products and services, an information portal and capacity-building activities, for the development of national drought disaster monitoring and early warning capabilities and services.

The mechanism was launched by ESCAP in September 2010 and is moving towards its operational phase. To expand the scope of the mechanism to cover floods and other major disasters, efforts will be made to explore the enabling policies of countries in the region that operate satellites. The purpose would be to enable those countries to provide more affordable satellite information for flood preparedness and to assist other countries in the region in making effective use of their services during major flood disaster emergencies.

6. Social development

By the end of 2009, an estimated 4.9 million people were living with HIV in the region. This accounted for 14.7 per cent of the global population of people living with HIV, about the same number and proportion as five years earlier. From 1999 to 2009, the number of total new infections declined by more than 20 per cent in the region. Equally encouraging is that wider access to services preventing mother-to-child transmission of HIV has led to a 15 per cent decrease in new infections of children aged 0 to 14 during the same period. In addition, from 1999 to 2009, the proportion of females aged 15 or older living with HIV relative to the total population of the same age group stabilized at about 35 per cent.

Despite these broadly positive developments, key affected populations within the region continue to be particularly vulnerable to the HIV epidemic. According to some estimates, 75 per cent of all HIV infections in the region are among: (a) injecting drug users and their partners; (b) female sex workers, their clients and their clients' partners; and (c) men who have sex with men.

National and other reports prepared recently in follow-up to the special session of the General Assembly on HIV/AIDS have indicated that prevention programmes in the region were able to reach no more than 30 per cent of key affected populations. Moreover, national prevention programmes still need to develop effective approaches to address issues surrounding the female partners of men who pay for sex, inject drugs and have sex with men. Of new infections among women - a growing population in some countries in the region - 25 to 40 per cent are among the partners of men who pay for sex, inject drugs and have sex with men.

In the Asia-Pacific region, the legal, regulatory and policy environments often prevent comprehensive responses to HIV and AIDS from being carried out. In the region, 90 per cent of countries reportedly have laws which obstruct the rights of people living with HIV. Barriers of this nature significantly hinder progress in developing and implementing effective responses to HIV and AIDS, especially among key affected populations.

Positive developments have occurred recently, with a number of countries in the region taking steps to provide environments that decrease marginalization and stigma, including programmes to address these issues specifically, lifting HIV-related travel restrictions and decriminalizing consensual same-sex relations among adults, either through legislation or court judgements. Such developments need to be built upon in order to achieve greater success across the region in terms of access to HIV prevention, treatment, care and support.

Ageing Populations

The number of older persons in the region are projected to triple from 419 million in 2010 to more than 1.2 billion by 2050, when one in four people in the region will be aged 60 or older. The situation will be particularly acute in East and North-East Asia, where more than one in three people will be older than 60 years by 2050. This dramatic demographic shift is unmatched in scale anywhere else in the world.

Such a rapid increase in the population of older persons has profound and far-reaching social, economic and political implications. Rural-to-urban migration and changing family structures have left many older persons without traditional means of support. A large number of older persons in the region have to grapple with income insecurity due to a lack of social protection. In developing Asian and Pacific countries, only about 30 per cent of older persons receive some form of pension. Most countries? health systems have limited capacity to meet the need for geriatric care services, and few have been adapted to address the range of chronic conditions facing older persons; such conditions require a multidisciplinary continuum of care, including specialized diagnostic and therapeutic care. In addition, there is rising demand for age-friendly and barrier-free environments, including housing, infrastructure and public facilities, to enable continued freedom of movement and active participation of older persons in society.

The fast pace of the demographic transition towards an ageing population may have adverse effects on economic performance and prospects due to a shrinking labour force, lower saving and investment rates and rising health-care and pension costs. Reforming policies and institutions would be vital for sustaining economic growth and preventing a decline in standards of living.

The feminization of the elderly population is notable, with women constituting the majority of the older population and an even greater majority of the "oldest old" population (80 years and older). Older women, more so than older men, tend to live alone due to the death of a spouse. Older women are also more vulnerable to poverty and social isolation, and face greater risks of physical and psychological abuse due to discriminatory social attitudes. Timely policy measures are thus needed by Governments in the region in order to make the vital social and economic adjustments in preparation for the region's rapid transition to an ageing society.