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World Bank: Coronavirus Exacerbating Poverty in Southeast Asia

Source: World Bank, East Asia and Pacific in the Time of COVID-19

As many as 24 million fewer people will escape poverty in Southeast Asia this year as a result of the unprecedented economic shocks caused by the coronavirus. And that’s only the baseline estimate from the World Bank’s latest report on the region; its worst-case scenario has the number of impoverished people in East Asia and the Pacific rising by 11 million.

The impact varies per sector, with households reliant on the manufacturing sector for income to be hit the hardest. “Poverty rates could double among households in Vietnam linked to manufacturing reliant on imported inputs and in some Pacific Islands where tourism is an important source of employment,” the report reads.

The report points to the effective containment measures in Singapore and South Korea — which limited the economic disruptions from the crisis — as role models for other Asian countries to follow. “The sooner other countries create such containment capacity, the sooner they can end the economic pain caused by stringent suppression measures.”

Asia-Pacific Embraces AI, While Other Countries Remain Wary

Source: Pew Research Center

More than half of the 20 countries surveyed believe that artificial intelligence brings value to their society, compared to 33%, which believe the technology creates a negative impact. This survey, by Pew Research Center, finds that less than half of the countries surveyed saw this technology having a positive impact on society in terms of job automation.

Views of AI were especially positive in the Asia-Pacific region, with 72% of the public in Singapore and 69% in South Korea seeing it as a good thing for their countries. Not surprisingly so, as many countries in this region have dominated the field of AI. For example, South Korea has the highest robots-to-human workers ratio in the nation, followed by Singapore. Singapore has also expressed a goal of becoming the world’s first “smart nation.” 

The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the use of AI technologies. Half of global businesses have increased the speed of incorporating automating tasks in their workday, while many executives see this technology as a key lever for success in 2021.

Global Plastic Waste Is a Major Risk for Everyone

Source: University of Leeds

Every year, nearly 30 million tons of plastic are discarded on land, 50 million tons are burned in the air and 11 million tons are dumped into the ocean, according to a computer model from the University of Leeds, U.K

Plastic waste predominantly comes from high-income countries; however, middle- to low-income countries have less access to waste collection services, thereby producing more poor waste management. Improving waste collection services is the most important factor in reducing plastic pollution, which will require political, societal and corporate support.

Businesses also need to cut back on plastic for global improvements to be made. The packaging industry accounts for the highest use — and waste — of plastic, at 146 million tons in 2015. There are multiple ways that businesses can eliminate waste, such as substituting plastic with compostable materials, and selling products and packaging that are recyclable.

Demand for Housing Soared in 2020, Despite the Pandemic

Source: International Monetary Fund (IMF)

Global housing prices rose by about 71% in 2020, despite COVID-based economic recessions. Of the 50 countries analyzed by the International Monetary Fund, the Philippines experienced the highest increase in housing prices (20% year-over-year), followed by Portugal and Latvia.

The housing market was exposed to many changes this year with record-low mortgage rates and a new motive for people to relocate. As COVID-19 pushed millions into lockdown, people started to re-evaluate the spaces they had been living in, especially during the first six months of the pandemic. This trend may continue as businesses consider extending remote work arrangements for the upcoming months and into the future. 

During the last global recession — nearly a decade ago — house prices decreased by an average of 10%. However, experts are optimistic about the current state of the housing market and predicting that this upward trend of prices will continue in 2021.

Global Support for Gender Equality Rises, But Challenges Remain

Source: Pew Research Center

Support for gender equality increased in many large nations in 2020, with a median of 94% of those in surveyed countries agreeing that gender equality is important to have where they live. There is also a large sense of worldwide optimism for the future of gender equality, with a median of 75% of those in surveyed countries holding this view, according to a Pew Research Center survey conducted in April 2020.

However, Pew’s research also found that women are less optimistic than men are about the future of gender equality. Out of the 34 countries surveyed, a majority of the public believe that men have a better chance at getting higher paying jobs than women do, as well as a more opportunities to serve in a leadership role in their communities. A median of 46% of those surveyed across the countries also believe that men have “a better life” in their countries than women.

The COVID-19 pandemic has also had a negative impact on efforts to achieve gender equality — especially in the workplace. As 2021 approaches, many question what long-term effects the pandemic will have on women’s careers as they face setbacks in their incomes and career progression due to childcare arrangements.

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