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Poverty and Malaysia

Malaysia aspires to developed status by 2020, according to the 8 United Nations Millennium Development Goals:
  1. To eradicate extreme poverty and hunger;
  2. To achieve universal primary education;
  3. To promote gender equality and empowering women;
  4. To reduce child mortality rates;
  5. To improve maternal health;
  6. To combat HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other diseases;
  7. To ensure environmental sustainability; and
  8. To develop a global partnership for development.

The UNICEF report: Profile of Children in Malaysia – Implementation of Children’s Rights with Equity shows that Malaysia has made tremendous progress in improving children’s wellbeing with:

  • half the 1990 rates of infant mortality to 6.8 per 1000 live births;
  • 94% of children are enrolled in primary school;
  • child poverty dropped from 29.3% to 9.4%, however large disparities exist in the different ethnic groups, with 25.6% of indigenous and 33.3% of non-Malaysian children living in poverty.

Of the 9.5 million children in 2010, 55.2% are Malay, 18.4% are Chinese, 13.9% are indigenous, 6.2% are Indians. Chinese households spend 22% more on education expenses than Indian households and two times higher than Malay households.

During our time in Malaysia so far we have not observed many signs of abject poverty. We’ve seen very few people sleeping rough (less than we see at home) and even those people who are obviously very poor seem to be getting enough to eat. We have only seen one busker and no beggars. There seems to be a rapidly growing middle class and many of the cars on the roads are new. There are very few pedestrians wandering around on the streets with us and most people seem to be using vehicles instead. Worryingly there are a lot of overweight and probably obese people, even young children and I suppose this is tied to rising income, sedentary lifestyle and use of vehicles instead of walking as well as a diet obviously high in sugars and processed carbohydrates. When we buy bags of fresh fruit from stalls we watch everyone else sprinkling sugar on their fruit…

A recent article states that UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, Olivier De Schutter spent 9 days assessing the realisation of the right to food in Malaysia, and held consultations with several ministries. His report will be presented on March 10 next year to the Human Rights Council in Geneva.

Between 1995 and 2012, the incidence of aggregate Malaysian poverty was reduced from 8.9% to 1.7% and urban poverty reduced from 3.7% to 1.0%. Rural poverty has been reduced from 15.3% to 3.4%. The poorest state, Sabah, has experienced the highest reduction in poverty, from 19.7% in 2009 to 6.1% in 2012.

The number of people living in hardcore poverty, unable to meet their basic food needs, has decreased from 0.7% in 2009 to 0.2% in 2012.
The Malaysian economy has become more diversified with much less reliance on agriculture and that has led to a rapid growth in urbanisation. Between 1970 and 2010, the proportion of the population living in urban areas increased from 27% to 71%! The effects on the cities are obvious with an abundance of low quality housing, crowding and roads unable to cope with traffic demand and lack of public transport alternatives, plumbing and sewerage unable to cope, widespread littering and ecological destruction.
Agriculture, which accounted for more than 20% of GDP in 1985, dropped to 7.3% in 2012, surpassed by other sectors of the economy including services (56.4%), manufacturing (24.9%) and mining and quarrying (8.4%) of GDP.
Kuala Lumpur is an advanced city and here it’s easy to imagine Malaysia meeting it’s development goals by 2020 but in the places that we visited before KL (see previous posts in Malaysia) it seems like a difficult challenge to meet the 7th goal, that will require widespread reforms, strong leadership and lots of government funding.
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One comment on “Poverty and Malaysia

  1. Pingback: Poverty and Indonesia | strivetoengage

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