In recent decades, Southeast Asia has seen significant economic growth, in part driven by growth in agricultural output. Even alongside relatively rapid population growth (i.e., 1-2% in Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia and Myanmar and 2-3 % in Lao PDR), this economic growth has translated into the alleviation of poverty and improvement in living conditions. The region must balance the forces of globalization with traditional values and livelihoods.
Despite positive indicators of economic growth, large segments of the total population of Southeast Asia, especially those living in rural areas, continue to face poverty and food insecurity. More than 40% of the population of Vietnam and Indonesia and more than 50% of the population of Cambodia, Lao PDR and Myanmar continue to live on less than US$ 2 a day. The number of malnourished infants continues to be unacceptably high.
With economic development has come the degradation of land and water resources, declining biodiversity and reduction in ecosystem services. Impacts have included deforestation, soil and water pollution, and land degradation. Water security is low throughout the region, leading to increased vulnerability to climate change.
Prevailing high levels of poverty, household food insecurity, as well as the huge environmental pressures created by the present growth pattern, suggest that current economic growth is neither sufficiently inclusive nor sustainable in the long term. The future of countries in Southeast Asia depends in large measure on stewardship of natural resources and greater inclusiveness in the benefits from resource exploitation.
Research conducted by IWMI in Southeast Asia strives to improve food security, reduce persistent poverty and inequity, and improve resource use efficiency, halting the degradation of natural resources.