Unrest looms in Asia Pacific, UN warns

Published by rudy Date posted on March 27, 2009

BANGKOK: Asia and the Pacific face a “marked risk” of social unrest as the global financial crisis bites, but the region continues to lead international prospects for recovery, a United Nation survey said Thursday.

The annual survey said that the region faces multiple layers of crisis ranging from financial breakdown, food and fuel price instability and climate change that could have wide-ranging effects this year.

There was “fresh evidence mounting that the worst has yet to come,” with a big slump in trade, the region’s engine of growth, according to the Economic and Social Survey of Asia and the Pacific 2009.

“There is a marked risk that the financial crisis could converge on itself in a downward spiral of deepening recession, social unrest and political instability,” said the survey.

A key trigger for unrest was that millions of Asian migrants are returning to their rural homes in search of work after losing jobs in the crisis-hit export sector, UN Undersecretary-General Noeleen Heyzer said.

“Asia Pacific is under multiple threats and the gains that have been made in terms of development can be lost very easily,” Heyzer told Agence France-Presse in an interview ahead of the report’s launch in Bangkok.

Investment in job security and social safety nets for the poor must be sought urgently, she said, adding: “If we do not address the growing disparities we are going to find it’s going to create social unrest.”

The survey estimated some 24 million people could lose their jobs as a result of the economic slowdown. It added that only 30 percent of the region’s elderly receive pensions and 20 percent of people have access to healthcare.

The report also cited climate change as a threat because of an increased incidence of natural disasters in Asia Pacific, which experiences almost half of the world’s disasters and is home to nearly two thirds of their victims.

But sounding an optimistic note, the report said reforms introduced in recent years following the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis meant the region could be a future bright spot.

Its developing countries “would emerge as primary sources of any world economic growth that might take place in 2009, thus providing some global stability,” the report said.

Heyzer said the real opportunity for the region’s countries lay in investing in each other.

Asian countries should resist the temptation to increase barriers to labor migration, Heyzer said, citing Malaysia’s decision this month to cut the number of foreign worker permits it issues by 70 percent.

“All this makes it extremely difficult for communities under stress to survive,” she said, adding that it also increased people smuggling and illegal trafficking.

“This is the time to invest in Asia-Pacific solidarity,” she said.

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