This blog is based on the report The Web of Transport Corridors in South Asia -- jointly produced with the Asian Development Bank, the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development, and the Japan International Cooperation Agency
One of the oldest, the Grand Trunk Road from the Mughal era still connects East and West and in the 17th century made Delhi, Kabul and Lahore wealthy cities with impressive civic buildings, monuments, and gardens.
In India alone—and likely bolstered by the successful completion of the Golden Quadrilateral (GQ) highway system—several transport proposals extending beyond India’s borders are now under consideration.
They include the International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC), linking India, Iran and Russia, the Asia-Africa Growth Corridor, and the Bangladesh, China, India, and Myanmar (BCIM) economic corridor.
The hope is that these transport corridors will turn into growth engines and create large economic surpluses that can spread throughout the economy and society.
These two cities are the economic hubs of China and India respectively, two emerging global powers.
The distance between them, about 5,000 kilometers, is not much greater than the distance between New York and Los Angeles.
But instead of crossing a relatively empty continent, a corridor from Shanghai to Mumbai—via Kunming, Mandalay, Dhaka, and Kolkata—would go through some of the most densely populated and most dynamic areas in the world, stoking hopes of large economic spillovers along its alignment.
“Build and they will come” seems to be the logic underlying many massive transport investments around the world.
However, the reality is that not all these investments will generate the expected returns.
Worse, they can become wasteful white elephants—that is, transport infrastructure without much traffic—that would cost trillions of dollars at taxpayers’ expense.
First, countries need to change the mindset that transport corridors are mere engineering feats designed to move along vehicles and commodities.
Second, sound economic analysis of how corridors can help spur urbanization and create local jobs while minimizing the disruptions to the natural environment, is key to developing successful investment programs.
Specifically, it is vital to ensure that local populations whose lives are disrupted by new infrastructure can reap equally the benefits from better transport connectivity.
For instance, more educated and skilled people can migrate to obtain better jobs in growing urban areas that are benefiting from corridor connectivity, while unskilled workers may be left behind in depopulated rural areas with few economic prospects.
But while corridors can create both winners and losers, well-designed investment programs can alleviate potential adverse impacts and help local people share the benefits more widely.
In that vein, India’s Golden Quadrilateral, or GQ highway system, is a cautionary tale.
No doubt, this corridor had a positive impact.
Economic activity along the corridor increased and people, especially women, found better job opportunities beyond traditional farming.
But this success came at a cost as air pollution increased in the districts near the highway.
This is a major tradeoff and one that was documented before in Japan when levels of air pollution spiked during the development of its Pacific Ocean Belt several decades ago.
Another downside is that the economic benefits generated by the GQ highway were distributed unequally in neighboring communities.
Schools across Bangladesh are highly vulnerable to floods, cyclones, and earthquakes. How can the country mitigate and respond to the risks of these natural hazards?
By using the GeoDASH platform - a geospatial data sharing platform - the Directorate of Primary Education of Bangladesh has assessed 35,000 schools with respect to the type of infrastructure, water and sanitation facilities, access to roads, and overall capacity during natural disasters.
The GeoDASH platform is a reliable and extensive geographic and information (geospatial) data network.
These data are Geographic Information System (GIS) and other geolocation services-based information to represent objects or locations on a globally referenceable platform to enable mapping.
For example, locations of road network data can be merged with the flood risk map to get a single map for identifying vulnerable road communication in flood-prone areas.
The Picard leather goods factory in Dhaka, Bangladesh produces bags, purses and wallets that are sold in upmarket stores throughout the developed world under various well-known brand names, and in their own chain of stores in Germany. The factory is clean, efficient and goods are produced under all the relevant international standards.
But Picard are a rarity, and most Bangladeshi manufacturing looks just like it did 50 years ago. They produce cheap goods for the local market, but are a huge distance from producing at global standards. Unfortunately, this is also the case with most manufacturers in emerging economies. And all manufacturing is being changed by a range of new technologies known as Industry 4.0, with manufacturing becoming more global, more automated, more highly skilled, more infused with technology and more integrated with services. Whole manufacturing sectors, but in particular Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) face real challenges if they are to adapt rather than be left behind.
Had you looked across Shanghai's Huangpu River from west to east in the 1980s, you would mostly have seen farmland dotted with a few scattered buildings. At the time, it was unimaginable that East Shanghai, or Pudong, would one day become a global financial centre; that its futuristic skyline, sleek expressways, and rapid trains would one day be showcased in blockbusters like James Bond and Mission Impossible movies! It was also unimaginable that the Shanghainese would consider living in Pudong.
How wrong that would have been! Pudong is now hosting some of the world's most productive companies, and boosting some of the city's most desirable neighbourhoods. And Shanghai has become China's most important global city, lifting the entire hinterland with it.
Dhaka's population has grown from three million in 1980 to 18 million today and it continues to increase rapidly, which is a clear sign of success. However, Dhaka's development has been mostly spontaneous, with its urban infrastructure not keeping pace with its population growth.
With its youthful workforce and the aspiration to be a developed country by 2041, Bangladesh emphasizes skills development to provide its people the ability to transform the country into a high productivity economy. To accelerate progress in this area, the government has been actively tapping into greater South-South cooperation, especially with other Asian countries.
Bangladesh and the China’s Yunnan Province’s partnership on the Skills and Training Enhancement Project (STEP) is one example. Following the International Skills Conference held in Dhaka held in March 2018, a Bangladesh delegation, led by Mr. Md. Alamgir, Secretary of the Technical and Madrasah Education Division of the Ministry of Education, visited technical education institutions in Yunnan that are expected to receive students from Bangladesh.
Expert trainers in China will help their Bangladesh counterparts improve in the areas of student exchange, teachers’ professional development, and knowledge sharing among others. The agreement will mean that that the first cohort of 85 Bangladeshi students will be enrolled in the partnered Yunnan institutions with scholarships by September 2018.
South Asia is booming. In 2018, GDP growth for the region as a whole is expected to accelerate to 6.9 percent, making it the fastest growing region in the world. However, fast GDP growth has not translated into fast employment growth. In fact, employment rates have declined across the region, with women accounting for most of this decline.
Between 2005 and 2015, female employment rates declined by 5 percent per year in India, 3 percent per year in Bhutan, and 1 percent per year in Sri Lanka. While it is not surprising for female employment rates to decline with economic growth and then increase, in what is commonly known as the U-shaped female labor force function (a term coined by Claudia Goldin in 1995), the trends observed in South Asia stand out. Not only has female employment declined much more than could have been anticipated, it is likely to decline further as countries such as India continue to grow and urbanize.
The unusual trend for female employment rates in South Asia is clear from Figure 1. While male employment rates in South Asia are in line with those of other countries at the same income level, female employment rates are well below.
If women are choosing to exit the labor force as family incomes rise, should policymakers worry? There are at least three reasons why the drop in female employment rates may have important social costs. First, household choices may not necessarily match women’s preferences. Those preferences reflect the influence of ideas and norms about what is women’s work and men’s work as well as other gendered notions such as the idea that women should take care of the children and housework. Second, when women control a greater share of household incomes, children are healthier and do better in school. Third, when women work for pay, they have a greater voice in their households, in their communities, and in society. The economic gains from women participating equally in the labor market are sizable: A recent study estimated that the overall gain in GDP to South Asia from closing gender gaps in employment and entrepreneurship would be close to 25 percent.
One capstone of the exhibition was the construction of a shed intended to evoke the shelters found in places such as the Azraq Refugee Camp in Jordan. For the exhibition, the shed was enhanced with murals on its sides. Each mural was done by the hand of a different artist – Suhaib Attar, an artist from Jordan and son of Palestinian refugee parents, Marina Jaber from Iraq, a country with millions internally displaced people, Diala Brisly, a refugee from Syria, and Didier Kassai from the Central African Republic, a country in which violence and war have forced hundreds of thousands into displacement.