A Cambodian couple sets out a fishing net on the Mekong River in Phnom Penh. Sida's regional support contributes to an environmentally and socially sustainable development in the Mekong region.
Photo: Andy Eames/AP/Scanpix
Regional cooperation in Asia
The Asia Oceania-region is very diverse in terms of development and living conditions. Because of the large population two-thirds of the world's poor are to be found in the heterogeneous region. Several countries have experienced exceptional growth over the past decades; others have managed relatively well, while some countries have remained relatively poor, hence a regional cooperation is necessary to reach Agenda 2030.
The Asian continent is characterized by great challenges caused by environmental degradation, climate change, lack of respect for democratic principles and human rights, and a lack of equality. There are still more than 1.6 billion people in the region living of below the poverty line of 2 US dollars a day. A large percentage of them live in countries that are, or are becoming, middle-income countries.
In Southeast Asia, the proportion of the population living in extreme poverty has declined significantly. Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam have halved the poverty rate, although these countries still have many poor remain on mainly rural areas. Poverty is also still widespread in countries such as Myanmar, Bangladesh, Cambodia and Laos.
It is often the ethnic minorities who belong to the poor and vulnerable groups. Another aspect of poverty, which is characteristic of large parts of Asia, is the lack of civil and political rights. The region consists of countries with diverse political structures, where military dictatorship and constitutional democracies varies greatly respect democratic principles and human rights.
The rapid economic development prevailing in Southeast Asia will lead to increasing gaps between rich and poor, even within countries. Moreover, there is a great risk that the situation of the poor may be further exacerbated by the effects of climate change.
Ninety percent of the people who had to leave their homes because of natural disasters live in Asia and Oceania. According to the UN natural disasters in the region is caused by climate change and affects the poorest people. The effects of climate change will make the greatest harm in Oceania. Small island states are recognized in the climate agreement from Paris, along with the least developed countries, to be particularly vulnerable to climate change.
Sida's regional cooperation in Asia and Oceania
Sweden is one of the few providers in the region that focuses on strengthening the regional actors and the regional cooperation. Regional efforts are necessary when a country's actions have a major impact on neighbouring countries or for example when several countries bordering the same sea, and there is a need for regional rules on fish stocks. Regional cooperation is also expected to be a way forward in terms of achieving progress in the areas of human rights, democracy, and equality where there may be difficulties for actors to operate and work effectively on a national level. By working with regional actors to deal with the environment and climate and human rights, democracy and equality in an integrated way the chances for sustainable results in these two areas increases, and are expected to have an impact on people living in poverty in the individual countries. The work is multidisciplinary, partnership-oriented and problem-based according to the Agenda 2030 and the Global goals for sustainable development.
A more sustainable use of natural resources is one of Sweden's priorities for the development cooperation with Asia and Oceania. There have been several severe natural disasters such as floods and tsunamis, and these have led to an increased focus on environmental and climate issues. Decision-makers have been taken a greater account of these issues and rebuild and invest in the region. A dam in the upper part of the Mekong River has such a large impact on poor people downstream who depend on the river for fishing and farming. Coordination is therefore essential. Sida has contributed to a regional action plan for the management of water resources that has been developed by the Mekong Commission's four member countries.
Human trafficking is also a problem that is both national and transnational. This often involves the exploitation of poor and defenceless people who are not citizens of the country they are located. Therefore, regional cooperation proved to be very effective in coordinating the countries' resources.
Greater respect for human rights is an overarching policy objective for Sweden's work in the region and we are engaged in advocacy in a number of fora and in dialogue with regional partners. In addition, there are sensitive issues that are hard to work with in some countries where conditions are better to work regionally. Rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people are one such example.
In Asia and Oceania, Sida works by a variety of actors, such as: non-profit organizations that operate in multiple countries (International Union for Conservation of Nature, Forum-Asia, Asia Pacific Forum of Human Rights Institutions), UN organizations and the Asian Development Bank, Swedish organizations (the Stockholm Environment Institute, the Raoul Wallenberg Institute) and regional academic institutions.
The target group for regional operations in Asia and Oceania is primarily people living in poverty in the least developed countries. Small island states are recognized in the climate agreement from Paris, along with the least developed countries, particularly vulnerable to climate change.
Sida's support for regional efforts
Sida's support for sustainable development in Asia and the Pacific will be achieved through a mutual interaction between human rights, democracy, equality, the environment and climate. This is done by:
- Improving regional cooperation to strengthen resistance to common environmental and climate problems and natural disasters.
- Improve regional cooperation and sustainable use of transboundary natural resources. This focus on human rights, democracy and equality.
- Strengthen the capacity of regional actors to work for improved accountability and increased democratic space.
- Strengthen the capacity of regional actors to work with human rights and equality.
Support for research cooperation is also given. In addition to the countries in which Sweden will conduct long-term cooperation, we also support other countries in different areas.
Examples of regional cooperation in Asia
To support the work of human rights in Asia, Sida is supporting the Raoul Wallenberg Institute regional Asia program for capacity building in human rights, with a focus on Southeast Asia. The aim is to strengthen national institutions in their efforts to promote and protect human rights and to strengthen academic institutions in their knowledge and information about human rights.
Sida has also provided support to the Asia Pacific Forum of Human Rights Institutions (APF) which is an association of 17 countries human rights commissions. The network has supported previously resource-poor human rights commissions to have a have greater legitimacy and a clearer independence from the state. Read more about Sida's support to the APF.
Environment and Climate
A rapidly growing population, rapid pace of urbanization and rapid economic growth in much of Asia has resulted in a number of negative consequences for the environment, and therefore for the people in poverty. The region is characterized by the most severe impacts of climate change on Earth with extreme weather systems and ecosystems out of balance. Women and girls suffer disproportionately high levels of climate change and disasters, but are also important agents of change who possess critical knowledge to achieve sustainable development.
Core Environment Programme http://www.gms-eoc.org/ , for the Asian Development Bank will contribute to an environmentally and socially sustainable development in the Mekong region, through better integration of environmental aspects in regional decision-making and development plans. Sida supports the program which also works to strengthen the management of biodiversity through rural development efforts, develop strategies for climate change and resilience and strengthen institutions for environmental sustainability.
To improve the livelihoods and contribute to a more sustainable use of natural resources, Sida support for the program Mangroves for the Future (MFF) http://www.mangrovesforthefuture.org/ . A conservation and responsible use of ecosystems as mangrove forests will reduce the long-term threat to coastal ecosystems and increase local people's ability to live in and these coastal communities. This in turn can reduce poverty.