Asia is rising! Asia’s growth is now celebrated the world over, much of this focused on China and the phenomenal economic growth that over the last 30 years has lifted hundreds of millions of people out of abject poverty. But Asia is not China, and this remarkable transformation is not a ubiquitous story for all of Asia. While Southeast Asia has experienced its own economic miracles, the problems of endemic poverty, increasing divides between rural and urban communities, and absolute growth in economic inequalities, represent the dark shadow of Asia’s success that is too easily overlooked.
Asia is rising but not all Asians are enjoying this growth; many have realised only marginal improvements to their economic resilience, others have gone backwards, and still others now suffer an ever more precarious existence, shut out of any hope of accessing even the most basic of infrastructures. A deeper examination of the “rise of Asia” reveals growing gaps in access to basic financial, health, education, and social services, both across countries and within national borders. Despite Southeast Asia’s economic success, millions of its poor continue to exist in a parallel economy: a mass underclass of invisible urban and rural populations who are marginalised from the changing economic landscapes that so often make the media headlines each of us are familiar with.
In this issue, we focus on this contradictory narrative: “Rising Asia: Growing Inequalities”, and highlight how growth often manifests in ways that reduce the economic resilience of marginal communities. To do this, we have enclosed three data posters which reveal shocking inequalities in the following areas:
- Access to infrastructure: not keeping pace with economic growth
- Maternal and child health and chronic disease in ASEAN: the neglected and unfinished agenda
- Unbanked and unconnected: is the gap too wide to close?
We disaggregate the data to show gaps between countries, income groups and urban and rural areas. We also present time series data to highlight the evolution of these trends. In this issue, we hope not only to open eyes, but also to spark discussion and action.