KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia today urged fellow members of Asean to step up cooperation to reduce poverty in the region to a single-digit rate by 2025.
Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, who made the call, said the rate was 14% last year, down from 31% in 1990.
He said the 10th Asean Ministers Meeting on Rural Development and Poverty Eradication (AMRDPE), which he opened, should be fully utilised as a platform to share information among the Asean countries in developing the best methods to eradicate poverty in the region.
"We hope the Asean region, with a population of over 634 million, can be transformed, with urban development extending to the rural areas," he said to reporters after opening the meeting which was attended by about 80 delegations comprising ministers and deputy ministers in charge of rural development.
Also present were Malaysian Rural and Regional Development Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob, who was elected chairman of AMRDPE for the 2017-2019 term, and the Deputy Secretary-General of Asean for the Asean Socio-Cultural Community, Vongthep Arthakaivalvatee.
Meanwhile, in his speech earlier, Ahmad Zahid said the poverty rate was still considered high despite various measures taken to eradicate poverty.
"We are also facing challenges in terms of infrastructure development, and in some areas, mainly in the rural areas which still lack basic infrastructures such as clean drinking water and electricity.
"Based on Asean Statistical Report on Millennium Development Goals 2017, in 2015, only 81% of Asean population have access to clean drinking water source, while access to electricity is approximately 85%," he said, adding that all these challenges have contributed to the rural-urban migration phenomenon.
"Statistic has shown that 50.1% out of 634 million people live in the rural areas, a significant decrease from 63.5% in 1977, the year when the Asean collaboration in the rural development and poverty eradication was formally established," he said.
He said while the increased migration from rural to the urban areas could be considered a norm especially in developing countries, more efforts were needed to develop the rural areas to make it more attractive for the population.
In this context, Ahmad Zahid said, development should not be limited to just physical and economic development only.
"Human capital development should not be neglected as well as it can be the main engine of growth. We must leverage the existing human capital resources towards a holistic approach to rural development.
"This approach is reflected in Malaysia's policy on rural development where we gave equal emphasis on infrastructure and human capital development. One of our major initiatives is the Rural Transformation Programme (RTP) launched in 2015," he said.
According to Ahmad Zahid, the prime mover of RTP is the Rural Transformation Centre (RTC) that provides new economic, social and educational opportunities for rural residents, as well as offering skills training, micro-credit, health services and opportunities to take part in high value-added agricultural activities.
"In addition to the RTCs, we are also creating over 200 mini-RTCs to extend the reach of government services to all communities. These mini-RTCs act as local hubs for economic and social activities, connecting remote communities with better economic opportunities and bringing government services closer to their homes. This is rural transformation programme the Malaysian way," said Ahmad Zahid.
He said poverty eradication not only continued to be a priority in the Asean region as stated in Asean Socio-cultural Community Blueprints 2025 but also globally as outlined in the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
Efforts to eradicate poverty require multi-dimensional approach not only in terms of income, but also encompass health, education, and living standard, therefore, there is a need to have sustainable, holistic and inclusive strategies that include the development of human capital, he said.
"At the Asean level, we have developed strategies and action plans for rural development and poverty eradication such as promoting human capital development, economic self-reliance and sustainable livelihood," he added.
The one-day meeting themed 'Rural Transformation: Enhancing Human Capital Towards a Resilient Rural Community' reflects Malaysia's commitment to rural development by emphasising on human capital development, in addition to infrastructure development.
The meeting will discuss, among others, the progress of the Framework Action Plan on Rural Development and Poverty Eradication (2016-2020) and discuss various efforts to promote rural development and poverty eradication in Asean in order to build resilient rural communities in line with the vision of the Asean Socio-Cultural Community for 2025. — Bernama