Photo Blog: Critical Issue – Poverty and Inequality

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June 25, 2014

Despite the region’s dramatic growth, income inequality across much of Asia is rising, and poverty remains a stubborn issue to overcome. Some 700 million people across the region live on less than $1 a day. In response, governments are taking on urgent policy reforms needed to create jobs and foster inclusive growth, protect natural resources, and provide greater access to education and public services. This slideshow captures scenes from Bangladesh, Myanmar, Laos, and Mongolia and the different ways they are tackling poverty and inequality. Compiled by In Asia editor Alma Freeman.

40 years ago, Bangladesh was the second poorest country in the world. Now, thanks to the government’s focus on public services, microfinance programs, education, and the private sector, experts predict it to reach its goal to become a middle-income country by 2021. Photo/Conor Ashleigh

Though poverty is still dire in Bangladesh, the country experienced a remarkable decline in poverty of 26 percent in the last decade, a reduction that has been closely linked to growth in labor income, mostly from the garment sector. Here, a worker dries silk on the roof of a factory in Rajshahi. Photo Conor Ashleigh

While the garment industry makes up 80 percent of the country’s export earnings and employs over 3.6 million people, mostly women, a string of recent deadly tragedies in the factories have shone a spotlight on the lack of safety for garment sector workers in Bangladesh. Last year, the government announced a plan to raise the minimum wage for garment workers and agreed to allow the workers to form trade unions without prior permission from factory owners as a step toward greater safety in a sector that is critical to the country’s development. Photo/Conor Ashleigh

Economic growth in Myanmar has been strong over the past several years, with the IMF predicting a 7.5 percent growth rate for 2014. The government is implementing a broad spectrum of reforms to lift the country out of poverty, but reaching the average citizen is still a challenge, leaving an estimated one-quarter of the population below the poverty line. Photo/Flickr user Stefan Munder

Nearly 70 percent of Myanmar’s population lives in rural areas where agriculture remains a critical livelihood. As investment into the country increases, protecting farmland will be essential to reducing rural poverty. Photo/Flickr user Jim Driscoll

In 2012, the government of Laos announced that it aims to graduate from the UN’s least developed country status by 2020. The landlocked country boasts the sixth fastest growing economy in the world, with its capital, Vientiane, bustling with growth. Photo/Ian Taylor

Despite impressive growth, a third of Laos’s population lives below the poverty line, and, as in Myanmar, rural people increasingly rely on rapidly depleting natural resources for survival. Photo/Ian Taylor

Although Mongolia’s economic growth has helped to reduce poverty by more than 11 percent in recent years, there is rising inequality in income distribution, and access to services and opportunities is mostly concentrated in the booming capital, Ulaanbaatar. Photo/Matthew Pendergast

Rural-urban migration is high with many people leaving the countryside and moving to Ulaanbaatar, home to nearly 50 percent of the population, in the hopes of better economic opportunities. Many of these migrants settle in the outskirts of the ger districts, large unplanned settlements, which lack access to basic services such as water, sanitation, heating, schools, and kindergartens. Photo/Kristin Kelly Colombano

To improve the situation of the ger area residents, the Ulaanbaatar city municipality worked closely with citizens to implement a community mapping process using local volunteers to gather and map service delivery data on the availability and accessibility of water kiosks, kindergartens, primary schools, health centers, and other indicators in order to prioritize investments. Photo/ Tenzing Paljor

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