Covid-19 pandemic sends 4.7m more people into extreme poverty in Southeast Asia

Before the pandemic, figures for those in extreme poverty in Southeast Asia had been on the decline.
PHOTO: Reuters

MANILA - The pandemic added 4.7 million more people to Southeast Asia's most extreme poor in 2021, reversing gains made in fighting poverty, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) said on Wednesday (March 16), while urging governments to take steps to boost economic growth.

The number of people in extreme poverty - defined as those living on less than US$1.90 (S$2.60) a day - was 24.3 million last year, or 3.7 per cent of Southeast Asia's collective 650 million population, the ADB said in a report.

Before the pandemic, figures for those in extreme poverty in Southeast Asia had been on the decline, with 14.9 million in 2019, down from 18 million in 2018 and 21.2 million in 2017.

"The pandemic has led to widespread unemployment, worsening inequality, and rising poverty levels, especially among women, younger workers, and the elderly in South-east Asia," said ADB President Masatsugu Asakawa.

Mr Asakawa urged governments to improve health systems, streamline regulations to boost business competitiveness, invest in smart, green infrastructure and adopt technology to speed up growth.

The ADB said there were 9.3 million fewer employed workers in Southeast Asia in 2021 as Covid-19 curbs reduced economic activity, leaving millions without work.

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Its 2021 growth forecast for Southeast Asia was 3.0 per cent.

The region was projected to grow 5.1 per cent this year but the Omicron Covid-19 variant could cut its growth outlook by as much as 0.8 percentage points if it spreads further and triggers supply and demand shocks, the ADB said.

The 2022 projection had yet to take into account the economic impact of Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

That conflict has forced Asia's policymakers to rethink assumptions for 2022, with the risks of weak growth coupled with surging prices adding unwanted complexity to monetary setting plans.