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Date Added: May 30, 2007 11:55:15 AM

Asia: Growth and Equity
    Asia is by far the largest continent with the biggest population in the world.   Its land area is nearly one third of the global total and its four billion people is 60 percent of the global population.

    The continent is distinctive for its extreme diversity in geography and climate, in languages, religions and ethnicities, and in political and economic systems, as well as for its population’s youth and higher growth rate. More than half of global youth are found in Asia. It is also well known for the waves of nationalist and anti-colonial revolutions and movements that broke out in the 20s (notably in China and Indochina), in the 70s (notably in the Philippines, Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia) and the more recent pro-democracy movements in South Korea, Myanmar, the Philippines, and other Asian countries. 

    Many parts of Asia still retain their rural-agricultural character. China and India however have rapidly developed their industrial base in the past three decades and are now considered as two new superpowers in the making.  China has been able to lift hundreds of millions of its citizens from poverty. Other countries such as Malaysia and South Korea were called Asia’s tigers because of rapid and substantial increases in their gross domestic product and some improvements in the incomes and lifestyle of their population.

    However, almost 70 percent still live in extreme poverty and there are widespread problems concerning corruption and state violations of human rights. The past decades have also shown a steadily widening gap between the rich and poor in Asian countries. 


Africa’s Burden: Debt and AIDs
    Only Asia surpasses Africa in the size of its land area.  Africa’s population in 2000 consisted of 797 million people (13 percent of the world total).  However its population is increasing faster than all other continents. Cities such as Johannesburg and Durban are growing at a tremendous rate, but Africa is still overwhelmingly rural. Like Asia, Africa is also extremely diverse in language, ethnicity, religion, and culture. In addition its biodiversity shows its potential for eco-tourism programs. Aside from the majority black population, there are substantial sections of people who migrated to Africa from Asia, Europe and other regions.

    Poverty is unfortunately widespread in Africa. The income of most people living in the Sub-Saharan region is less than US$2 a day while the income of people in Ethiopia and Burundi is less than 25 cents a day. Sections of relatively better off countries like Botswana also belong to the lowest income category as defined by the World Bank. The problem of poverty in Africa is tightly intertwined with the problems of debt and AIDS.

In 1995 the G8 nations, IMF and WB proposed debt relief measures for poor countries, prioritizing poor countries in Sub-Saharan Africa.  However, these measures were designed to enable poor countries to continue paying their debt, instead of getting real relief. So instead of using their resources to provide health and other services, and fight AIDS and poverty, these African countries continue to pay off “their” debts.

This is especially ironic, considering that many debts were contracted by governments without consultation with their citizens and much of the loans went to line the pockets of corrupt officials. To be able to pay the debts, African governments urged farmers to grow export crops, using inputs that are expensive and damage farmers’ health, instead of growing what they need – food crops to sustain their families and communities.

By 2010, 24 million Africans will be dead from the HIV virus that they contracted as far back as 2000. Each day, 6,000 Africans die from AIDS and an additional 11,000 are HIV infected. African nations have tried to develop their alternatives to expensive medicine produced by large pharmaceutical corporations but the latter are blocking their efforts. The gravity of the problem is evident. Communities lose their productive members; children lose their parents; children die at a shamefully young age. Africa is bleeding, losing its best resources, its people.

Latin America:  Environment Protection
    There are twelve countries with a combined population of 348 million people in Latin America. Half of that population lives in just one country -- Brazil. Aside from indigenous languages, many Latin Americans speak Spanish and Portuguese, a legacy from their colonial past.

The International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) has reported an increase in rural poverty (10-20 percent) in various countries inside the continent. As a result, more than 90 million peasants are below the poverty line, while 47 million more exist in conditions of extreme poverty. Poverty is especially widespread among the continent’s 26 million indigenous peoples, among households headed by women working as seasonal farm workers, and landless peasants. Studies have shown that the liberalization of trade and introduction of export oriented farming systems and practices have contributed to the rise in poverty in rural areas and damaged the environment. For example small farmers in the continent have been unable to compete with imported food products from heavily subsidized corporations forcing them into bankruptcy. The prices of products of Latin American farmers – such as coffee – continue to remain low in the global market. The rain forests are being cleared and destroyed by cattle raisers and grain farmers.

North America: The New World
The third largest continent in the world is North America, which includes Canada, the USA, Mexico, Greenland and Bermuda. It is highly urbanized, with a population of more than 400 million.

North American agriculture – with its highly mechanized and factory-type production -- is quite different from the subsistence farming that exists in many parts of Asia, Africa and Latin America. The USA and Canada are among the top 10 producers of livestock and meat as well as important crops such as cotton, wheat, soy and corn. The US and Canada also belong to the group of advanced and industrialized countries that include the EU countries and Japan. The US, after the dissolution of the Soviet bloc, became the only superpower in the world with tremendous influence over other countries in the economic, political, cultural and military fields.

The US is considered to have the major say in the IMF-WB-WTO programs and policies. This has resulted in strong criticism of the US in relation to such issues as debt, debt servicing and debt relief, trade liberalization, privatization, and agricultural subsidies.

Europe:  The Old World
    Europe had a population of 726 million in 2000.  It is not really a continent but the western region of Asia.  A total of 25 countries now make up the European Union. Countries comprising Western Europe have attained a relatively high level of cohesiveness due to common historical roots, culture, and socio-eco-political systems. Integration within the EU is more difficult for the members of the former Soviet bloc, who are undergoing a process of transition, hoping for progress in reducing poverty and unemployment, promoting equity and equality, and building a solid foundation of democratic rule and processes.


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