Water is an essential part of life and roughly one in ten of the world’s population—748 million people—do not have access to safe water. In South Asia, about 1.5 billion people are affected by water stress and scarcity, due to increasing demand for water resources; as the climate changes, this may worsen the situation.
Treating water as a precious natural resource important for all, brings new perspective to sustainable water resource management and long-term sustainable growth in the Ganges-Brahmaputra river basin both upstream in India and downstream in Bangladesh. A World Bank initiative serves as a linchpin for developing an inclusive analytical framework that promotes access to water, improved efficiency, climate resilience and poverty alleviation in South Asia. So, the question arises: Is this too ambitious and is it achievable?
One of the primary goals of the Enterprise Surveys is to provide high quality data about the business environment based on establishments’ actual day-to-day experiences. This provides much needed information given how little is known about what businesses experience in developing economies. To raise awareness of the recently released Bangladesh 2013 Enterprise Survey, we provide a few highlights of the surveys below.
It is said short absence quickens love, long absence kills it. This is not always true in reality. One case is remittance behavior of long-term migrants. The remittance literature argues that the amount of remittances sent by migrants to their countries of origin declines through time. Reunification of families or breakdown of family ties underpins such behavior. However, the empirical evidence is not all supportive. The passage of time does not significantly influence migrant remittance behavior. Remittances are maintained at high levels over long periods. This allays concern that economies dependent on remittances will face foreign exchange shortages and falling living standards as remittance levels fall because of reduced migration rates and decline in migrants' willingness to remit over time.
What is the Bangladesh experience? One way to judge is to look at the remittance behavior of Bangladesh diaspora abroad. There is no reliable data on the number and location of Bangladeshi diaspora members. A recent ILO report–Reinforcing Ties: Enhancing contributions from Bangladeshi diaspora members--estimates the number of Bangladeshi migrants living permanently in the United States and Europe at around 1.2 million.
How much social mobility is there in South Asia? The intuitive answer is: very little. South Asia is home to the biggest number of poor in the world and key development outcomes – from child mortality to malnutrition – suggest that poverty is entrenched. Absence of mobility is arguably what defines the caste system, in which occupations are essentially set for individuals at birth. Not surprisingly, the prospects for people from disadvantaged backgrounds to prosper are believed to be gloomier in this part of the world.
And yet, our analysis in Addressing Inequality in South Asia, reveals that economic and occupational mobility has become substantial in the region in recent decades. In fact, it could even be comparable to that of very dynamic societies such as the United States and Vietnam. The analysis also suggests that cities support greater mobility than rural areas, and that wage employment – both formal and informal – is one of its main drivers.
When splitting the population into three groups—poor, vulnerable, and middle class—upward mobility within the same generation was considerable for both the poor and the vulnerable. In both Bangladesh and India, a considerable fraction of households moved above the poverty line between 2005 and 2010. Meanwhile, a sizable proportion of the poor and the vulnerable moved into the middle class. In India, households from Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes – considered together – experienced upward mobility comparable to that of the rest of the population.
Watching export growth across South Asia surge in the recent past leads one to ask the obvious but crucial question: Will this trend continue in the longer term and is South Asia on its way to become an export powerhouse, or has it just been a short term, one-off spurt provoked by external forces?
Clearly, the rupee depreciation following tapering talk in May 2013 and the recovery in the US constituted favorable tailwinds; however, our analysis in the fall 2014 edition of the South Asia Economic Focus finds that there are more permanent factors at play as well. South Asia is no exception to the trend across developing countries of increasing importance of exports for economic growth. While starting from a low base, the region saw one of the starkest increases in exports to GDP, pushing from 8.5 percent in 1990 to 23 percent in 2013.
Since gaining independence in 1971, food security issues in Bangladesh have been amongst the highest priorities on the government’s agenda. This is because Bangladesh faces a number of demographic, social and ecological challenges, which make it particularly vulnerable to food insecurity. These challenges are further exacerbated by climate change, including the consequences of sea level rise. Silent threats such as soil and river salinity and arsenic contamination have direct and indirect effects on agricultural production and households’ access to food.
In order to target the continuing food security threats the Government of Bangladesh has developed a number of high level policy initiatives, including Vision 2021 and the related Perspective Plan. Achieving food security is also a key objective of the country’s poverty reduction strategy and has been recognised to be the highest risk in the Bangladesh Climate Change Action Plan. Strategic objectives include realizing universal food security, which implies that the country needs to be not only self-sufficient in terms of food production but also manage equitable distribution of nutritious food. Ensuring universal food security is particularly challenging given the multidimensional nature of the food security concept which comprises food availability, physical and financial access to food, food utilisation and food stability.
The Skills and Training Enhancement Project (STEP), since its inception in 2010, has supported vocational training institutions to improve the quality of training and expand access for disadvantaged youth in Bangladesh. 33 polytechnics are currently receiving financial assistances from STEP for their institutional development. Vocational training institutions in Bangladesh have plenty of investment needs that are long overdue – degraded facilities, obsolete instructional machineries, outdated ICT tools, absence of qualified instructors, to name but a few. Such neglects are no longer tolerable in the face of growing concerns over technical skills gaps in the Bangladesh’s labor market, and the government is committed to expanding and improving skills development training in Bangladesh. STEP’s support has proven very effective to help the institutions to improve their training services.