As per the Asian Development Bank (ADB), the coronavirus pandemic increased Southeast Asia’s poorest by 4.7 million in 2021, reversing gains made in combating poverty. The organisation urged governments to increase economic growth to reverse the trend.

Extreme poverty – defined as living on less than $1.90 a day – affected 24.3 million Southeast Asians last year, or 3.7 per cent of the region’s 650 million residents, the ADB reported.

Prior to the pandemic, there had been a decline in the number of people in extreme poverty in Southeast Asia, with a figure of 14.9 million in 2019, down from 18 million in 2018 and 21.2 million in 2017.

“The pandemic has led to widespread unemployment, worsening inequality, and rising poverty levels, especially among women, younger workers, and the elderly in Southeast Asia,” said ADB President Masatsugu Asakawa.

Asakawa emphasized the need to improve health systems, streamline regulations to boost business competitiveness, invest in smart, green infrastructure, and adopt technology to boost growth.

There were 9.3 million fewer employed workers in Southeast Asia in 2021 as COVID-19 curbs reduced economic activity, resulting in millions finding themselves jobless.

Southeast Asia’s growth forecast for 2021 was 3.0 per cent.

This year, the region was projected to grow 5.1 per cent. However, if the Omicron variant of the virus spreads further and causes supply and demand shocks, that growth outlook could be cut by as much as 0.8 percentage points, the ADB said.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine had not yet been factored into the projection for 2022.

As a result of that conflict, Asia’s policymakers have been forced to re-evaluate their assumptions for 2022, with weak growth and surging prices adding to the complexity of their monetary setting plans.

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