As discussed in my last two entries, South Asia's Infrastructure Deficit and Integrating the two South Asias, regional cooperation can be a key instrument in meeting the development needs of South Asia. In this piece, I will discuss specific areas that will bring the most region-wide benefits in my view.
The three priority areas for regional cooperation include telecoms and internet, energy, and transport. A regional telecom network and a high-bandwidth, high-speed internet-based network could help improve education, innovation, and health. A regional network would facilitate better flow of ideas, technology, investments, goods and services. It would facilitate greater interactions between knowledge workers in areas such as high-energy physics, nanotechnology, and medical research. There are untapped positive synergies at the regional level that would come from information sharing and competition in ideas among universities, non-university research and teaching entities, libraries, hospitals, and other knowledge institutions.
Forget the Homo Sapiens and the Homo Economicus. The guy who traces our destiny is the Homo Ludens, the man who plays. Johan Huizinga, a professor of history and linguistics, in his 1938 book, says that art and culture originate from our propensity to dance and have fun. But to enjoy life, play and build a peaceful world, you need a productive job that removes you from the daily struggle of making ends meet.
South Asia is unique in the multiplicity of its challenges and opportunities to generate productive employment. Start counting: many workers are stuck in low productivity agriculture and informal employment; there is low female labor force participation; the skill base is low; the countries in the region struggle with pervasive vulnerability and uncertainty, large economic and social disparities, and persistent conflict and violence.
Yet, there is no work that looks at all these factors in an integrated manner for the region. This is the reason why the World Bank’s first South Asia Region flagship report will focus on More and Better Jobs. This blog will keep readers informed on the progress of the report during next year.
Last week, I discussed the two very different South Asias and the need for regional cooperation to bring the lagging regions up to the standards of thriving regions. However, increased market integration by itself will not be sufficient to accelerate growth and benefit the lagging regions. South Asia suffers from a massive infrastructure deficit. Infrastructure is like second-nature geography, which can reduce the time and monetary costs to reach markets and thus overcome the limitations of physical geography.
Improved infrastructure that enhances connectivity and contributes to market integration is the best solution to promoting growth as well addressing rising inequality between regions. The Ganga Bridge in Bihar in India is a good example of second-nature geography. The bridge has reduced the time and monetary costs of farmers in the rural areas in north Bihar to reach markets in Patna, the largest city in Bihar. The Jamuna Bridge in Bangladesh is another good example of spatially connective infrastructure. The bridge has opened market access for producers in the lagging Northwest areas around the Rajshahi division. Better market access has helped farmers diversify into high value crops and reduced input prices.
South Asia suffers from three infrastructure deficits. First, there is a service deficit, as the region’s infrastructure has not been able to keep pace with a growing economy and population.
Large-scale public services and expenditure, especially those specifically designed for the poor, are vulnerable to leakages. Whether it is access to quality health care or education, clean water or entitlements under a development scheme; the poor face many barriers in accessing the public services and programs that are intended for them.
Social accountability interventions aggregate citizen voice and strengthen their capacity to directly demand greater accountability and responsiveness from public officials and service providers. Such interventions include the use of tools such as community scorecards, citizen report cards and social audits.
In 2007, three social accountability interventions were introduced in India in public programs on a pilot basis, representing budgets that run into the billions of dollars. With social accountability as the common denominator, three different states with three different service delivery contexts have been able to precipitate a series of impacts in just one year.
Start counting the poor in India and you are bound to get into controversy. In “A Comparative Perspective on Poverty Reduction in Brazil, China and India,” Martin Ravallion (October 2009) calculates that 42% of the population in India in 2005 lived in households with income per person below US$1.25 a day (converted using purchasing power parity exchange rates for consumption in 2005). But he finds only 20% of the population under the US$1.25 poverty line when using a different method as a sensitivity test. The difference is huge. One number is twice the other and corresponds to two hundred million people (more than the whole population of Brazil!).
Ravallion repeats the exercise and finds that in Brazil, in 2005, the population who lived in households with income per person below US$1.25 a day (converted using purchasing power parity exchange rates for consumption in 2005) is 8%. When using the alternative sensitivity test method, it is 10%. Compared to India, the difference is small (2% of the population) between the two measures.
I suspect that instead of trying to calculate the number of people with less than US$ 1.25 a day, policies for poverty reduction should focus on the bottom quintile of the population: the 20% poorest group in the country.
One of my reasons is that inequality matters. Think of poverty as a relationship.
Regional Cooperation can be the key instrument to promote increased market integration in South Asia through greater flow of goods, services, capital, and ideas. This is appropriate for a region which is the least integrated region in the world, although many countries share analogous cultures and histories, as well as a passion for cricket and curry.
It is also very timely given the global downturn and the slowdown in global trade. Increased regional trade could more than compensate for the potential loss in global trade. It is estimated that increased intra-regional trade could add two percentage points to South Asia's GDP growth. This could raise South Asia's real GDP growth from 6% to 8% in 2010. Unlike fiscal stimulus, increased market integration and regional trade could add to GDP growth, without increasing public debt. It is the most efficient and cost effective instrument for South Asia to cope with the global downturn.
- South Asia
- Social Development
- Science and Technology Development
- Macroeconomics and Economic Growth
- Law and Regulation
- Financial Sector
- Culture and Development
- Communities and Human Settlements
- Greater Flow
- Border Regions
"Just like the Other Kids" could reach 300,000 first and second graders this year.
We like to think that our value added is our strong intellect and analytical skills combined with the ability to provide additional resources to tackle development issues. But for South Asia’s efforts in disability, it has sometimes been the smallest amounts of money and the least ‘Bank-like’ activities that have been creating the greatest awareness on the subject. I wanted to highlight some of the very exciting initiatives that we have been working on marking the International Day of Persons with Disabilities today. Three such activities have been the development of a children’s book on inclusion in Pakistan, coverage by an Indian newspaper of a one-page analysis of Bollywood’s depiction of disability in films in the report Disability in India: from Commitment to Actions, and a Small Grants Award Ceremony in Sri Lanka.
“Just like the Other Kids” is a book by young people between the ages of 12 to 18 with and without disabilities financed for $22,000 by the South Asia Youth Innovation Fund and the Pakistan Small Grants Program. Its intent is to introduce first and second graders to characters with disabilities in a friendly, inclusive way. Three out of five of the characters have a disability, but all the characters have strong abilities (and some weaknesses).
The online population in Asian and Pacific countries grew by 22 percent last year. China led the growth with an incredible 31 percent increase – to 220 million – in total unique Web visitors. These latest numbers of the region’s explosive Internet growth are according to a report, released last month by Internet researcher comScore, measuring online audiences in the region and individual countries between September 2008 and 2009.
The report indicates that Internet audiences in Japan, India and South Korea also saw double-digit growth and that the Asia-Pacific region now has 41 percent – or 441 million people – of the global Internet audience. It’s interesting to see how quickly things have changed since the last time we wrote about an earlier report from comScore.
If you want to examine more of the report’s findings you can see the related press release, or download a presentation on the subject here. (Note: To download the slides, you have to provide them with your name and some contact info.)
I’ve pointed before to World Bank evidence that shows the Internet may lead to improved economic growth, job creation and good governance. What else do you think such increased connectivity could mean for development in the region?
In the film, Venus, an old and frail Peter O’Toole discovers the Greek goddess in the guise of his best friend’s niece. The ironic and good humored story explores the theme of the games played in a mutual seduction between the older man with experience, money and a nostalgic yearning for carnal desire and the young woman who soon finds out the power she wields and negotiates three kisses in return for a pair of earrings. In the final scene, wearing only one of his boots on a cold beach, O’Toole feels the caress of the sea’s salty foam with the sole of his foot and smiles. His face expresses the happiness of someone who knows the joys of being alive.
It is impossible to weigh up Peter O’Toole’s smile, measuring the degree of his happiness or comparing it to what you would feel if walking barefoot in the sand. But, the idea that his feelings can be measured as a metric has become fashionable, ever since the King of Bhutan decided that GDP fails to portray the well-being of his subjects and summoned a team to create the Gross National Happiness index.