Amid concerns over trade disputes and challenges posed by climate change, Asian Development Bank’s (ADB) 52nd annual meeting of the board of governors concluded in Fiji on a positive note: fighting the challenges and achieving prosperity through unity.
Among the issues discussed at the event were sustainable tourism and its potential to boost national and regional development efforts, the role of private-sector financing for disaster risk management and climate resilience, and the importance of actions to improve ocean health.
In one of the sessions, Adviser to the Prime Minister on Institutional Reforms Dr Ishrat Husain proposed a single visa for tourists to travel through the Central Asia Regional Economic Cooperation (Carec) member countries without multiple immigration challenges.
He also suggested common marketing strategies as well as tourist operators well versed in different languages.
Unless immediate action is taken, about 90pc of Asia and the Pacific’s coral reefs will be dead by 2050 and all commercially exploitable fish stocks will disappear
In the backdrop of ADB President Takehiko Nakao linking $1 billion additional budget support this year to a successful conclusion of the IMF programme, Dr Husain explained to a separate international audience that Pakistan’s debt challenges were not caused by Chinese loans as they were no more than 11.5 per cent of the total $100bn loans and liabilities.
ADB launched a $5bn fund and an action plan to fight climate change challenges and ensure healthy oceans and sustainable blue economies. President Takehiko said the action plan would expand financing and technical assistance for ocean health and marine economy projects from 2019 to 2024 through co-financing from partners.
It will focus on four areas: one, to create inclusive livelihoods and business opportunities in sustainable tourism and fisheries; two, to protect and restore coastal and marine ecosystems and key rivers; three, to reduce land-based sources of marine pollution, including plastics, wastewater, and agricultural runoff; and four, to improve sustainability in port and coastal infrastructure development.
Asia and the Pacific is at the epicentre of a major crisis in marine plastic pollution, threatening the productivity of the region’s marine economies, which are crucial to poverty reduction. For example, among the 10 rivers transporting 88-95pc of plastics into the sea worldwide, eight are in the region.
Ocean ecosystems have been pushed to the brink of collapse by the threats of climate change, pollution and illegal and unregulated fishing. Unless immediate action is taken, about 90pc of Asia and the Pacific’s coral reefs will be dead by 2050 and all commercially exploitable fish stocks will disappear.
This will significantly threaten food security, the global economy and livelihoods, especially among millions of poor and vulnerable communities in the region.
The ADB president noted that economic growth in Asia and the Pacific remained solid although there was much discussion about a slowdown in the global economy. Domestic consumption and investment have provided a strong growth foundation. In some countries, growth is even accelerating.
Countries need to continue to pursue prudent macroeconomic policies, implement structural reforms and invest in human capital and infrastructure. He warned that trade tensions remained a concern, which could seriously undermine consumer and investor confidence and weaken growth in the region.
ADB’s future operations will be based on Strategy 2030. First, the priority will be to address remaining poverty and reduce inequality by supporting the poorest and most vulnerable countries in the region.
The second operational priority is to accelerate progress in gender equality. By 2030, ADB will ensure that at least 75pc of its operations will integrate gender equality designs into a wide range of operations, including transport, energy and urban infrastructure.
Third is climate change. For ADB, 2018 was another strong year for climate investments, reaching almost $3.6bn in approvals for climate change adaptation and mitigation. By 2030, at least 75pc of operations will support mitigation and adaptation efforts.
Fourth, ADB will continue to foster regional cooperation and integration. Building on ADB-led sub-regional cooperation platforms in the Greater Mekong Sub-region, Central Asia, South Asia, Southeast Asia and the Pacific, it will further enhance regional connectivity through transport, energy and trade facilitation.
ADB will also promote regional public goods such as tackling communicable diseases as well as helping strengthen cooperation in the financial sector and prudential policies. It will encourage knowledge sharing in areas such as education and agriculture.
The meetings also focused on sustainable tourism that has graduated from a luxury to an industry as the number of tourists have jumped, thanks to a growing middle class, more leisure time, budget airlines, influence of social media, better-quality tourist infrastructure and policies to promote the tourism industry.
In 2018, about 350 million international tourists arrived in Asia and the Pacific countries. This number has more than doubled since 2005.
Going beyond the usual meetings, Fijian Prime Minister Josaia Voreqe Bainimarama presented his island country as a tourism hotspot while warning the over 2,000 delegates about the seriousness of climate change.
From the disappearing coastlines of Bangladesh to water scarcity across the Mediterranean, the desertification of arable farmland in land-locked countries in Africa, worsening super-typhoons wreaking havoc across the Philippines, Japan and China, and the communities slipping beneath the rising seas in the South-east of the United States, all people are vulnerable. All nations must unite in taking decisive action to address this threat, he pleaded.
Published in Dawn, The Business and Finance Weekly, May 6th, 2019