Five years after the 1997 financial crisis, many workers
in Southeast Asia are not far from extreme poverty, according to the authors
of a new UN-ESCAP publication. “Protecting Marginalized Groups During
Economic Downtown: Lessons from the Asian Experience,” provides some sober
reading and its conclusion call for determine action.
Southeast Asia, is still recovering from economic shock
that accompanied the sudden devaluation of regional currencies. But the
people worst affected were, and continue to be, individuals toward the
bottom of the socio-economic ladder.
Many countries in the UN-ESCAP region still have few or
no social safety nets, like unemployment benefits, and it is this
disadvantaged group that would suffer most during the onset of a fresh and
rapid recession, depression, or currency devaluation. The main fear is job
loss due to downsizing and/or restructuring.
The report warns that another financial crisis - or
sudden economic downturn - could result in more severe hardship for millions
of people across the region, especially for those in the so-called
“informal sector”, many of whom are self-employed.
This study, through quantitative and qualitative surveys
conducted in three countries, Indonesia, South Korea and Thailand, also
finds that most of the program introduced following the last financial
crisis did not benefit persons who lost jobs in the urban formal sector,
which is especially vulnerable to fluctuations in the economy and
Women are affected disproportionately.
Aggravating the situation is the pattern of shifting
production centers, according to changes in competitive and comparative
advantages across the region, further perpetuating the boom-and-bust cycle.
The revolution in ICT and a freer flow of goods, services and technologies
further exacerbate the situation.
The study advises governments to act now to avoid the
socio-economic turmoil that a fresh downturn or crisis could cause by
initiating a package of measures: Longer-term public works program,
coordinated between national, regional and local governments; the creation
of national unemployment insurance schemes; micro-credit facilities to be
made available to the unemployed; information and counseling centers for
small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), and further encouragement of the
long-standing Asian tradition of developing networks of families, friends
and communities. (TNA)