London (AsiaNews/Agencies) Poverty will be Asia's next big hurdle, this according to British Prime Minister Tony Blair who told a conference in London that Asia faces major challenges in tackling poverty in the next decade.
Speaking to delegates at a conference on Asian poverty, organised by the Asian Development Bank, the World Bank and the British government, Mr Blair said that by 2015 more than one billion people will be living in desperate poverty in Asia.
Politicians from across Asia are discussing dramatic wealth gaps there, but many are frustrated that the world's focus on alleviating poverty is on Africa, with Asia failing to get the attention it deserves.
Part of the reason is that, to many people, Asia is a success storya region of rapid economic growth and progress. But, although tens of millions have been lifted out of poverty, Asia is still home to two-thirds of the world's poor.
For many Asian leaders, the struggle now is to sustain growth whilst managing greater competition for natural resources and greater pressure on the environment.
"There is remarkable progress to applaud," Mr Blair said, "but none of us here today are under any illusion that major challenges still remain."
"There are still areas of conflict, instability and engrained poverty"," he noted and even though it "is estimated that the number of people living in Asia on US$ 2 a day will have halved by 2015 that still leaves over a billion people in dreadful poverty."
One other key question is how to distribute wealth more evenly. Even within booming economies like India and China, the wealth gap is widening with many millions still mired in poverty, especially in rural areas, raising fears of social instability.
"There are people who are getting richer and richer and people who remain in poverty for nearly forever," said Japan's Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister Kiyohiko Toyama. "We have to address [. . .] the widening disparity inside Asia."