The gigantic Asia-Pacific region that has some of the fastest growing countries in the world faces enormous challenges of food, energy and water security. The region has scientific knowledge, the political will, but alas, no solutions to the problems that confront it.
It is to try and work out the latter in consultation with the government that Noeleen Heyzer, under-secretary general of the United Nations and executive director, UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (Escap), is in New Delhi. She also released Escap’s annual report on the region on Thursday.
Echoing prime minister Manmohan Singh’s call for inclusive growth, Heyzer spoke of the pitfalls of prosperity as an end in itself. It is no longer feasible to have a world where the haves put up barriers and keep out the have-nots. This will only exacerbate social tensions. However, she said she was happy to see that the Asia-Pacific realised the benefits of shared but differentiated responsibilities for a sustainable model of growth.
For the two Asian giants India and China, Heyzer saw energy efficiency as a priority from which would flow ecological and food security. She noted the progress made by India in the field of clean fuel like CNG.
The problems of natural disasters evolving into greater disasters that will throw up a new type of climate refugees cannot be mitigated unless the private sector plays an active role. But, she felt, that in itself the private sector would not invest in the poor and marginalised unless governments were equal partners.
The state has to be a significant player in ensuring social security for those left out of the growth loop like India’s farmers.
India needs to use its dazzling growth rate as a means to reinvest in rural infrastructure, better credit, crop insurance and so on. Unless countries like India invest in human capital and capacity building, a high economic growth rate will not mean all-round progress.
Here, agriculture really needs another revolution. A situation where there is poverty reduction but growing inequality cannot work in the long run, she said.