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Despite the impressive progress made in economic and social development in much of Asia over the past three decades, a substantial proportion of the population in Asian societies remains in dire poverty, and the gaps between the richest and poorest groups continue to widen. The World Bank has found that two-thirds of the world's poorest people-those living in "absolute poverty" with incomes of less than US $50 a year-can be found in Asia. Most are concentrated in Bangladesh, Pakistan, India, and Indonesia, but large numbers of people also live at or near subsistence levels in rural hinterlands and on the fringes of the urban economy in Thailand, Burma, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Korea, Nepal, the Philippines, and other Southeast Asian countries.' In its study of poverty in rural Asia, the International Labour Office notes that over the past two decades the incomes of many of the rural poor fell and the percentage of the rural population with incomes below the poverty line increased. The inequitable distribution of income and wealth in some countries was more pronounced by the middle of the 1970s than at the beginning of the 1960s.

The distribution and severity of poverty within Asian countries are related to patterns of regional resource development. The limited access of some regions and population groups to the natural and man-made resources needed to satisfy basic needs, increase productivity, diversify economic activities, and raise incomes is an underlying cause of poverty. Growing disparities in levels and rates of growth are evident between those countries that have been able to use their resources effectively to stimulate agricultural and industrial development, and those unable to mobilize resources for productive purposes.

Serious disparities in levels of development and standards of living also appear between urban and rural areas, and among subnational regions with different levels of resource endowment and productive assets.

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