USAID and the Asia-Pacific Rebalance

Early in his presidency, President Barack Obama launched the Asia-Pacific Rebalance policy. This policy is founded on the idea that the region is hugely consequential to our future, and it is essential to implement a long-term strategy to strengthen our relationships not only with the countries but with the people of the Asia-Pacific region. 

It is an exciting and pivotal time for U.S. policy in the Asia-Pacific region. It is the most dynamic, fastest growing region in the world. Over the next five years, nearly half of all growth outside the United States is expected to come from Asia.

More people live in Asia than anywhere else on the planet. Hundreds of millions have been lifted out of extreme poverty over the past few decades, contributing to economic growth, regional stability and a growing middle class. In the next decade, trade volume in Asia is expected to double, and by 2050, Asia’s GDP is projected to account for more than half of the world’s GDP. This presents tremendous opportunities to create American jobs, and support regional and global security and prosperity.

Yet with rapid economic growth come complex development challenges. The Asia region still has more than 50 percent of the world’s extreme poor, 70 percent of the world’s malnourished children, and the majority of all natural disasters. A host of other development challenges hold the region back, from weak systems of governance to climate change.

The Indispensible Role of Development

Now and in the coming decades, the countries of the Asia-Pacific region will play a more consequential role in the state of world affairs. The long-term success of the Asia-Pacific Rebalance will be determined by just how the Asia-Pacific develops.

How a country develops can make the difference between economic growth that is lasting and economic growth that is fleeting.

Between cities powered by clean, sustainable energy sources versus suffocating pollution in overwhelmed urban areas.

Between a generation that grows up illiterate and malnourished, or one that is educated and healthy and breaks free from the cycle of poverty.

Between an oppressed populace with no hope for the future, or one empowered to unlock its full potential.

The decisions these countries will make today will impact the global economy and jobs, the air we all breathe, the world’s food supply, and whether our planet is plagued by conflict or peace.

In addition, we are all safer and stronger at home when fewer people face destitution, when our trading partners are flourishing, when nations around the world can withstand crisis, and when societies are freer, more democratic and more inclusive.

President Obama understands the stakes very well. That is why he elevated development to a core pillar of our national security strategy, alongside diplomacy and defense.

While we must focus on solving immediate crises, it is essential that we also address the root causes of poverty, conflict and instability.

That is where development comes in. We not only lend a hand during times of humanitarian crisis or natural disaster, but we partner with countries over the long haul to help them develop into more reliable partners.

In launching the Asia-Pacific Rebalance, President Obama contended that security and peace, shared prosperity, and fundamental rights for every human being were its key elements.

By helping to build more peaceful, prosperous and just societies, USAID’s development efforts underpin the Rebalance.

At USAID, our mission is to end extreme poverty and enable resilient, democratic societies to realize their potential. Key to achieving success is ensuring that development gains are broadly shared, or inclusive, of all a country’s people — which is also key to ensuring that development progress can be sustained over the long term. Our efforts also help advance the key elements of the Asia-Pacific Rebalance, by building the foundation for peace and prosperity.

Our work in each of these seven development sectors helps advance USAID’s core mission of ending extreme poverty and promoting resilient, democratic societies:

  • Promoting health and strong health systems
    Poor human health hinders economic advancement and perpetuates the cycle of poverty. A healthy population is more stable and generates more income to invest. Simple interventions like family planning, malaria prevention, affordable immunizations, access to lifesaving drugs, and clean water and nutritious food lead to healthy families that can contribute to their communities and countries. Helping prevent the spread of infectious disease, such as tuberculosis or animal-to-human disease, also protects our health of the United States.
  • Ending hunger and improving well-being
    A dynamic agriculture sector can accelerate broad-based economic growth while food security and nutrition are central to the health and well-being of populations. Promoting inclusive, country-led agricultural growth is among the most effective poverty-reducing tactics and is at the heart of Feed the Future, the U.S. Government’s global hunger and food security initiative led by USAID.
  • Strengthening democracy, human rights and governance
    Governments that protect rights, respond to citizens, are built to withstand shocks, and resolve disputes peacefully are better positioned to ensure growth endures and reaches vulnerable and marginalized populations. The strengthening of democratic institutions makes governments more participatory, accountable, legitimate and responsive to their citizens. Central to achieving this is the recognition that civil society is a key pillar in any healthy democracy.
  • Expanding access to quality education
    Early grade learning outcomes have a direct correlation to a country’s economic growth. A 10 percent increase in the share of students reaching basic literacy translates into a 0.3 percentage point higher annual growth rate for that country. Few societies have achieved high and sustained rates of growth or significantly reduced extreme poverty without investing in expanded access to quality education. 
  • Reducing climate change impacts while helping communities better manage their natural resources
    The world reached a historic crossroads with the signing of the Paris agreement on climate change in December. The effects of climate change are likely to impact the extreme poor the most. Environments that are vulnerable to changing climate patterns are often the most reliant on agriculture for food and income and the least able to financially protect themselves or respond to disasters. 
  • Fostering sustainable, broad-based economic growth
    Broad-based economic growth is necessary for long-term prosperity and stability. USAID partners with countries to unlock private investment and scale up clean energy development to reduce emissions growth, which helps over the long term to stem the severe weather that affects stability and resilience. 
  • Providing life-saving humanitarian assistance and supporting disaster mitigation
    Asia suffers the majority of the world’s natural disasters — from devastating typhoons to catastrophic earthquakes. Effectively responding to and mitigating natural disasters and crises around the world ensures that the extreme poor and most vulnerable populations receive life-saving assistance. Building resilience to recurrent crises through planning, prevention and preparedness reduces countries’ vulnerability to destabilizing shocks and ensures populations are not pushed back or further into poverty. 

We’re seeing results throughout the region, based on our partnerships and investments:

  • In part due to USAID, Cambodia has met its Millennium Development Goals on maternal and child mortality way ahead of schedule and reduced HIV prevalence by more than 50 percent, paving the way for setting the ambitious goal of zero new HIV/AIDS cases by 2020.  
  • In Indonesia, USAID has helped reduce multidrug-resistant tuberculosis mortality by over 80 percent over the past five years with the introduction of cutting-edge technology.
  • In Bangladesh, where 41 percent of children are stunted, Feed the Future efforts have improved the incomes of 1.8 million farming households and expanded their access to more diverse and nutritious food.
  • In Sri Lanka, with USAID elections support, the people went to the polls twice last year to demand dramatic political changes in their government. These elections have completely transformed the U.S.-Sri Lanka relationship, offering an opportunity for a stronger bilateral relationship in the future and leading to greater cooperation on both diplomatic efforts and human development objectives.
  • In Burma, USAID provided the expertise and resources to help local watchdog organizations and Burmese press monitor the milestone 2015 elections — an important step in Burma’s long struggle for democracy.
  • In the Philippines, our education assistance is improving the reading skills of one million children in the early grades. In addition, USAID’s support is leveraging $40 million a year of Philippine government funds for collaborative research and scholarships with American universities, at a ratio of 20 to 1 for the first year alone.
  • With USAID assistance, Bangladesh recently achieved self-sufficiency in rice production through the widespread adoption of higher yielding, climate-tolerant rice.
  • USAID partners with Indonesia to help conserve its rich biodiversity. USAID supports the Indonesia Palm Oil Pledge, a commitment by the world’s leading palm oil producers to transition to sustainable production that breaks the link with deforestation. The bulk of Indonesia’s greenhouse gas emissions come from deforestation — a global problem the world has woken up to with the recent forest fire crisis.
  • In Vietnam, USAID works in close coordination with other U.S. Government agencies to promote and support implementation of reforms critical to potential Trans-Pacific Partnership participation and improve our access to Vietnam’s growing market for U.S. exports.
  • In the aftermath of the devastating April 2015 earthquake in Nepal, our support has helped jumpstart the agricultural sector, rebuild livelihoods, get children back in school, train homebuilders in earthquake-resistant methods, prevent disease outbreaks and maintain healthy communities. 

Last updated: November 10, 2016

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