The economic liberalization during the last couple of decades led to impressive economic growth and poverty reduction in many developing countries. This period has also witnessed worsening of income inequality and widening of spatial disparity (World Development Report (2009); Kanbur and Venables (2005); Kim (2008)). There is considerable worry among policy makers about the extent to which this rise in spatial inequality is due to increasing disparity in opportunities in terms of provision of basic infrastructure and services. The recent growth and poverty reduction experience places Bangladesh as an exception to this trend of increasing spatial inequality. Bangladesh made significant strides in poverty reduction between 2000 and 2010 with incidence of poverty falling from 48.9 percent to 31.5 percent. During the same period, the incidence of poverty declined more than proportionately in traditionally poorer regions, reducing welfare gaps across regions. There is also no evidence of significant change in overall inequality over the same period. What made spatial disparity in Bangladesh to decline while its economic growth accelerated substantially? What were the sources of decline in spatial disparity in welfare?
Poverty has been a concern in societies even before the beginning of recorded history. In the past three decades extreme poverty in the world has decreased significantly. More than half of population in the developing world lived on less than $1.25 a day in 1981. This has dropped to 21% in 2010. More impressively, notwithstanding a 59% increase in population in developing countries, there were 1.2 people living on less than $1.25 a day in 2010, compared with 1.9 billion decades ago. However, the challenge of poverty reduction ahead remains daunting with 1.2 billion still living in extreme poverty. Freeing the world from poverty is perhaps the most important economic goal for the world today. More than a hundred countries are still not able to move away from high poverty traps.
The fallout from the April 24 collapse of the Rana Plaza building in Dhaka, Bangladesh has had severe domestic and international reactions. The international buyers and governments have responded vehemently to these events. Careful reappraisal of labor issues has been universally identified as a key area of reform. The objective is to ensure workers’ safety and workers’ rights. Poor labor standards can adversely affect Bangladesh’s overall reputation in the exporting sector. The government has been pressured to take a series of measures to improve workers’ safety. Representatives of the Bangladesh government, the European Union and the International Labor Organization met in Geneva on July 8, 2013 to promote improved labor standards and responsible business conduct in Bangladesh’s garment industry. Following up on the commitments made in Geneva, Bangladesh’s legislature recently amended the Bangladesh Labor Law to provide improved protection, in law and practice, for the fundamental rights to freedom of association and the rights to collective bargaining, among others.
Are these good economics and good politics now and in the future?
When I heard the news last autumn that 15-year-old Malala Yousafzai of Pakistan had been shot simply for standing up for her right as a girl to get an education, I was horrified.
It also reminded me how lucky I was.
When I was offered a rare scholarship to study abroad, it wasn’t acceptable for me, as a young married Indonesian woman, to live apart from my husband. My mother laid out two options: Either he would join me, which meant giving up his job, or I had to decline the offer.
I know it was her way to advocate for my husband to support me, which he did without hesitation. We both went to the United States to complete our master’s degrees. I combined it with a doctorate in economics, and we had our first child, a daughter, while we both were graduate students.
Within the next 30 years, urban populations in developing countries will double and UN-Habitat estimates that around 3 billion people will need housing and basic infrastructure. Already, 70% of existing housing in developing countries is built informally without appropriate structural standards. Thus, the challenge lies in reconciling informal settlements with existing and future planned environments.
In light of these challenges, the South Asia urban team at the World Bank, as part of its urbanization webinar series, organized a discussion on “Upgrading Housing in Informal Settlements.” This webinar highlighted the challenges of upgrading housing in informal settlements, and shared lessons from around the globe where targeted policy interventions and grassroots movements have mobilized resources to create success stories. Guest speakers and experts around the world joined the discussion on informal settlements.
Halima Khatun never had to worry about putting food on the table when her husband was alive. Her husband had a business which provided enough for their four children and they lived fairly contented till seven years ago, when her husband suddenly passed away.
As the years went by, one by one the children married, moved out and had their own family to take care of. Halima was left alone, fending for herself, and took up weaving mats and embroidery to help get by. But then her daughter, who used to work at a garments factory in the city after her divorce, suddenly fell sick and unable to work, she moved back in with her four-year old son. Halima was thrown into utter desperation and knew not how to make ends meet.
“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