Columban Center for Advocacy and Outreach

Asian Poverty: The Untold Story

November 10, 2014

  Michael Bodyke, Economic Justice Intern

Asian Poverty PhilippinesOn October 1, I attended an event at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace entitled Asian Poverty: The Untold Story. Every year the Asian Development Bank (ADB) releases their annual economic report, each time focusing on a different topic. This year they examined the poverty rate in Asia, in which they found two major conclusions.

First, although Asia had a substantial poverty rate, it is in fact the fastest growing economic region in the world. The nation with the fastest economic growth is the Peoples Republic of China, followed by India and Indonesia. This year China’s growth totaled one third of global economic GDP.

Second, the World Bank’s estimation that one in five Asians lives in extreme poverty failed to capture the true extent of extreme poverty in the region. The ADB’s chief economist Shang-Jin Wei explained that the actual rate for Asians living in extreme poverty is closer to one in two, more than twice the standard measure.

The World Bank sets the standard for extreme poverty as a personal per day expenditure of US$1.25. The conventional threshold of poverty was intended to be the best guess for the minimum cost of basic survival needs. This number was taken from the average poverty line of the fifteenth poorest countries. Because 13 out of 15 of the poorest countries are in Africa, US$1.25 fails to capture one’s basic survival need in Asia. Factors such as minimum shelter, cost of food, risk, and food crises all differ between Asia and Africa. The ADB calculated the threshold for extreme poverty throughout Asia to be US$1.51.

Columbans are well aware of the realities of extreme poverty in Asia and work for economic justice for the poor. One example is the “Pedaling to Live” program in the Philippines:

“Columban Fr. Oliver McCrossan works with people in the poor areas of Ozamiz City on the island of Mindanao in the Philippines. The people must work long hours each day to eke out a living to support their families. Fr. Oliver reports that this is certainly the case for the city’s more than 3,000 drivers of three-wheeled pedicabs, which are pedal-powered tricycle taxis that carry passengers throughout the city.

Each day from early dawn, in all kinds of weather they can be seen on the streets. One pedicab driver is Josefino Baylo, who despite physical handicaps works from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. every day for a total of about US$1.80 in fares. Many of the drivers in this city become ill due to continued, everyday exposure to the rain and hot sun, says Fr. Oliver.

Most of the pedicab drivers do not own their own vehicles; they rent the tricycles by paying a daily fee. For example, Josefino usually pays half of his daily $1.80 in fares to rent his pedicab, leaving less than a dollar to take home to the family. Fr. Oliver wants to buy new pedicab taxis to help these hard-working people help themselves. His plan is to provide new pedicabs to the recipients during the first six months of the program. Ten more pedicabs would then be distributed during the second six months.

The idea is for the pedicab drivers to make payments to a people’s cooperative bank until the cost of the vehicle is paid for in 18 months. The loan payments would be less than the daily rental the drivers currently pay.

After all the payments are made, the drivers would then assume ownership of their pedicabs. The repayments are used to buy new pedicabs to be made available to other drivers and their families.”

Donations made to the Columban Fathers are used to support the “Pedaling to Live” program and others projects throughout the 15 countries where Columbans serve.