Press Release: Second Regional Conference on Poverty Reduction Strategies October 16-18, 2003, Phnom Penh, Cambodia

October 9, 2003

The Second Regional Conference on Poverty Reductions Strategies will be held in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, October 16-18, 2003, the four sponsoring development agencies — the Asian Development Bank (ADB), the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), and the World Bank — announced today. The Government of Cambodia will host the meeting.

Representatives from six East Asian countries — Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Mongolia, Timor Leste, and Vietnam — will participate, with country delegations drawn from government, parliament, civil society, academic and research institutions, and the private sector. Representatives from Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, and Sri Lanka will participate as observers.

While decades of strong growth in the region contributed to some of the fastest declining poverty rates anywhere in the world, for many of the lower-income Asian countries, progress on steadily reducing poverty and achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)1 remains a serious challenge. The MDGs are a set of eight goals pledged by world leaders to halve poverty, eradicate hunger, put every boy and girl in school and improve health and environment indicators by 2015.

As a way to address these challenges and help countries meet their poverty reduction objectives, low-income countries in Asia and around the world have been increasingly developing National Poverty Reduction Strategies (NPRS)2 as a vehicle to set policy and guide progress. NPRSs are also the basis for financial support from the IMF and World Bank. The strategies lay out the countries' long-term prioritized, poverty-reduction programs formulated through a range of consultations with the community, business groups, and non-governmental organizations — a process which increases the likelihood that the measures endorsed will be supported and followed through by government and community interest groups alike.

A number of challenges, however, must be addressed in order for these poverty strategies to succeed. Governments in poor countries will need more resources and technical assistance to craft and implement strategies. While assistance from developed country donors and international organizations is important, equally vital are countries' own efforts in designing and implementing their strategies.

With the understanding that information and experience gathered from other developing countries further along in their fight against poverty is useful, this conference will provide participants the opportunity to meet and exchange their experiences in developing poverty reduction strategies for their countries; to identify obstacles and challenges they face in designing and implementing their strategies; and to benefit from each other's lessons of experience and share ideas on how to overcome these obstacles.

The conference, which centers around countries' experience with the poverty reduction strategies, focuses on three major themes — governance, pro-poor growth, and the challenges of linking the MDGs with poverty reduction strategies — which are seen as key factors in Asia's fight against poverty and in addressing some of the limitations of growth on poverty reduction.

During this learning conference, delegates will discuss a range of issues under the three broad themes, including:

• How to promote participation, transparency, and accountability;

• How does weak governance affect economic growth and delivery of basic services — and how can this be addressed;

• How to improve government efficiency and service delivery;

• How can markets, and especially trade, be better promoted to improve access for the poor, women, and other disadvantaged groups;

• How to promote policies that are conducive to growth and poverty reduction;

• What policies and financing are needed for East Asian countries to make progress in the MDGs, and how can poverty reduction strategies incorporate the MDGs, including gender — and more.

For more information on the conference, including agenda, background documents, papers, etc, please see:

Poverty in East Asia

With 1.8 billion people, East Asia and the Pacific Region is one of the world's largest developing country regions — in 2000, there were about 261 million people living on less than $1 a day. That is expected to drop to 80 million in 2015. The region has already attained its MDG of reducing the incidence of extreme poverty by half and is likely to achieve universal primary school enrollment and eliminate the gender gap in primary and secondary school enrollments, but progress is mixed and challenges remain in child health, maternal mortality, gender equality and environmental sustainability.

While these aggregate numbers for East Asia are dominated by developments in China — which contains two-thirds of the East Asian poor (at the $2 a day level) — other countries have made impressive strides in recent years. For example:

• In Lao PDR, which has the highest incidence of poverty in the region with three-quarters of population living on less than US$2 a day, poverty levels have fallen from 39% (1997/98 survey) to 31% (2002/2003).

• Vietnam's extensive new household living standards survey (VHLSS 2002) showed that the proportion of people living under the poverty line fell from 58% in 1993 to estimates of around 29% in 2002 — with urban poverty falling sharply from 29 to 6% and rural poverty from 66 to 34%.

• And Indonesia, which saw poverty rates surge after the financial crisis to 65% in 1999 at the $2 a day level, is close to a return to pre-crisis poverty numbers, at about 50%.

Progress, however, remains fragile — susceptible to faltering long-term growth, increases in income inequality and the kinds of external shocks and governance weaknesses that led to the Asian crisis. Moreover, development has been uneven both among and within countries. Half of East Asia's population lives on less than $2/day; and high inequalities and persistent pockets of poverty — particularly among ethnic minorities — exist in many of the countries — making the development of carefully targeted and cost-effective poverty reduction strategies all the more important.

Conference participants include invited country delegations and donor agency representatives. A limited number of observer seats will be open to members of the public. For more information, please email:; In addition, registered media are invited to attend the entire conference, as well as the media events including the Opening Ceremony and the Press Conference. To register for the NPRS conference in advance, please email:;

Contacts at Sponsoring Agencies:

ADB: Omana Nair;

IMF: Sabina Bhatia
Ghita Bhatt

WB: Kimberly Versak:
Melissa Fossberg:
Diana Chung,
Saroeun Bou,
UNDP: Cherie Hart: Cherie.Hart@Undp.Org
Christelle Chapoy

1 Promoting the MDGS in Asia — Challenges of Poverty Reduction:

2 For access to countries' poverty reduction strategies, visit conference site:


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