While Bangladesh played host to yet another deadly cyclone on May 17th, 2013, cyclone shelters provided a critical first line of defense to thousands of poor communities living along the remote coastline of the country. A million poor people fled from their homes to seek refuge before cyclone Mahasen struck the coast.
“Young people ought not to be idle,” quipped Margaret Thatcher, “It is very bad for them.” That was twenty years ago. With over a million youth currently out of work in Britain today – 21% of the population – her words remain unfortunately prophetic. And it’s not just industrial countries that are in a funk. The “arc of unemployment” does not discriminate: it cuts across southern Europe through the Middle East to South Asia. Almost half of the world’s young people live along this arc, and it is a demographic dividend that is quickly becoming a demographic liability.
Consider South Asia: a region home to the largest proportion of unemployed and inactive youth in the developing world, a whopping 31%. Many attribute this to social norms, as many South Asian women do not work for cultural reasons. But with a growing middle class, gender norms are rapidly evolving.
Violence against women is a pervasive problem worldwide, causing the deaths of more women between the ages of 19 and 44 than wars, cancer, or car accidents. In South Asia, gender violence is widespread and persists in many forms, as the statistics below demonstrate:
- Every week in Bangladesh, more than ten women suffer from an acid attack
- In India, 22 women are killed every day in dowry-related murders
- In Sri Lanka, 60 percent of women report having suffered physical abuse
- In Pakistan, more than 450 women and girls die every year in so-called “honor killings”
- And in Nepal, the practice of enslaving young girls, whereby parents sell their young daughters – typically age 6-7 – to be girl servants is still widely practiced
Many regions and countries face urbanization challenges, South Asia is no exception. Although the region is currently the least urbanized region in the world, its urbanization rate is on par with Africa and East Asia with a projected influx of 315 million into urban areas by 2030. As such, the World Bank flagship program on urbanization strives to link key policymakers and practitioners to promote a more efficient urbanization process in South Asia through the exchange of experiences and ideas. The 3rd workshop in this series gathered over 80 professionals from 7 South Asian countries, the World Bank and the Korea Research Institute for Human Settlements in the beautiful city of Thimphu, Bhutan.
Let’s take a second and ponder over the word “Youth,” and play a game of word association. What comes to your mind? Given that I fall into the youth bucket, my list of associations is mostly positive, with a few exceptions. Yet, from a development perspective, youth can sometimes be perceived as the (excuse the word play) “problem child” demographic - What can we do with them, and how do we do it?
Did you know that approximately 1/5th of South Asia’s population lies between the ages 15 to 24? What is more, young adults also comprise 50% of the unemployed in the region. While many may view this as a sad state of affairs, Youth Solutions, the recent collaboration between Microsoft and the World Bank, viewed it as an opportunity for empowerment.
Participants at the first Community Practitioners Academy meeting, which was held ahead of the Fourth Global Platform for Disaster Reduction in Generva. - Photos: Margaret Arnold/World Bank
Communities are organized and want to be recognized as partners with expertise and experience in building resilience rather than as clients and beneficiaries of projects. This was the common theme that emerged from the key messages delivered by grassroots leaders at the Fourth Global Platform for Disaster Reduction taking place in Geneva this week, organized by the UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UNISDR). The Global Platform is a biennial forum for information exchange and partnership building across sectors to reduce disaster risk.
Ahead of the Global Platform, 45 community practitioners from 17 countries - Bangladesh, Chile, Ethiopia, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, India, Indonesia, Japan, Kenya, Nicaragua, Peru, Philippines, Samoa, Uganda, Venezuela, and the United States - met for a day and a half to share their practices and experiences in responding to disasters and building long-term resilience to climate change, and to strategize their engagement in around the Global Platform. I had the privilege to participate in this first Community Practitioners Academy, which was convened by GROOTS International, Huairou Commission, UNISDR, the World Bank, Global Facility for Disaster Risk and Reduction (GFDRR), Act Alliance, Action Aid, Japan NGO Center for International Cooperation (JANIC), Cordaid, and Oxfam, and was planned in partnership with the community practitioners from their respective networks.
- Community Driven Development
- Disaster Risk Reduction
- climate resilience
- Climate Change
- Climate Change
- South Asia
- Latin America & Caribbean
- East Asia and Pacific
- Venezuela, Republica Bolivariana de
- United States
"We have lost everything, without our homes we have nothing and now our houses are gone, broken and destroyed. Apa, what are we going to do? Do we sort out our utensils and belongings or buy food? All we have is our home and now we have nothing. No tin, no home, everything is flooded! “
- A flood-affected female resident of a low-income urban settlement (Rashid, 2000: 244)
The urban poor in low-income settlements in the cities of Bangladesh are one of the most vulnerable populations to disasters and climate risks. Nearly 35 percent of the country’s urban population lives in highly dense and populated informal settlements that lack protective infrastructure, basic services and resources needed to face the challenges in an era of changing climate. With the frequency and intensity of flooding as well as cold and heat waves increasing over the years, these marginalized communities are yet to be taken into mainstream climate adaptation planning and policy.
Bangladesh's economy is currently subject to probably the harshest test of resilience it has faced in recent memory. In the past, growth continued to be resilient despite several external shocks that slowed exports, remittance, and investment. Bangladesh’s resilience to global shocks came from strong fundamentals at the onset of the crisis, competiveness of exports and migrant labor, relatively under-developed and insulated financial markets, and a pre-emptive policy posture. Bangladesh has a robust disaster management capacity to deal with natural disasters, undertake rescue operations, and conduct post-disaster relief and rehabilitation.
A huge and chaotic conversation over how to respond to the appalling Rana Plaza factory collapse in Bangladesh (where the death toll has now passed an unprecedented 1100) is producing some important initial results, in the form of the international ‘Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh’, launched last week.
I got a glimpse of the background on Wednesday at a meeting of the Ethical Trading Initiative, which brings together big brand retailers, including garment companies, trades unions and INGOs like Oxfam to work on wages and conditions in company supply chains. The Accord got some pretty rave reviews – ‘absolutely historic’, said Ben Moxham of the UK Trades Union Congress; comparable to the 1911 Chicago factory fire, according to one of the big clothes retailers at the meeting.
So what does it say? The Accord covers independent safety inspections, publicly reported; mandatory repairs and renovations; a vital role for workers and trade unions, including a commitment to Bangladesh’s Tripartite Plan of Action on Fire Safety (a national initiative). A key, and controversial aspect is that the Accord will include a legally binding arbitration mechanism, which wins a lot of trust from civil society and trade unions, but has spooked a number of companies based in the litigation-tastic USA (not all though – part of Tommy Hilfiger’s in there, while Abercrombie and Fitch have said it they will join).
According to recent estimates, South Asia is facing a shortage of 38 million housing units, largely affecting low and middle-income households. It comes as no surprise that informal settlements, slums and squatters are growing in all major urban centers across Asia to supplement the demand from urban poor. India alone has 52,000 slums inhabited by 14 percent of its total urban population. Almost, 50 percent of total population in Karachi, i.e. 7.6 million persons, lives in Katchi-Abadis. Bangladesh has 2,100 slums and more than 2 million slum dwellers in Dhaka. Even in Afghanistan, 80 percent of residents in capital city, Kabul, live in informal settlements.