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Better social infrastructure pushed post-COVID-19

Louise Maureen Simeon (The Philippine Star) - June 17, 2021 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — The Philippines should prioritize social infrastructure in a post-pandemic world especially as the health crisis highlighted economic inequality among people, Tokyo-based Asian Development Bank Institute (ADBI) said.

The multilateral lender’s think tank said governments in Asia-Pacific should move to pursue better delivery of social infrastructure services particularly on health, education and housing.

The COVID pandemic has heightened social and economic gaps between the rich and the poor and vulnerable in all countries.

“Social services are the main output of social infrastructure, and their provision depends upon physical infrastructure, such as hospital buildings, public housing, roads, and telecommunication facilities,” ADBI said.

Before the pandemic, it was estimated that Asia needed at least $1.6 trillion annually to boost social infrastructure. The pandemic has increased such demand by up to a percentage of the regional economy.

ADBI said such investment is crucial to ensure a resilient and more inclusive recovery and development in Asia.

The think tank maintained that there is widespread health service under-capacity in low and middle-income countries in Asia and the Pacific including the Philippines.

The country’s healthcare system has been strained since last year. Every time there is a surge in COVID-19 cases, the first response is to reimpose lockdowns measures considering that hospitals, both public and private, will not be able to handle such a spike.

“This under-capacity poses long-term risks beyond the pandemic. There is a risk of the crowding out of essential health services, such as services for immunization and reproductive and child health,” ADBI said.

Further, ADBI maintained that education is crucial to achieving economic growth but the pandemic led to school closures which resulted in reduced learning outcomes, increased school dropouts, and an increased reliance on distance learning, all which disadvantage those lacking access to digital information and communication infrastructure.

ADBI also said access to quality and affordable housing has become important for employment, health and education. But housing in most Asian cities, including Manila, remains unaffordable for median households.

“This has led to reduced labor flexibility and fewer productivity gains that would be typically associated with urbanization,” it said.

In order to improve social infrastructure provision, ADBI said there should be regulatory reforms to attract greater private-sector investment amid limited public resources.

“In the context of increasing financial constraints, policy makers must make careful decisions on how to invest public funds. They must not simply consider the quantity of investment but also the quality,” ADBI said.

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