I couldn’t have been further away from Sudan last week - sipping fine green tea in a London private members’ club - but Sudan was one topic of conversation. I stumbled upon an organisation about to set up a development bank in the South of the country and, with a keen understanding of the operational environment, the focus will be on microfinance. Our discussion was just one of many I have had lately about the crucial role business plays in development and as I dip my toe (or ear) into the world of development communications, I meet more and more people who (like me) have Ashraf Ghani and Clare Lockhart’s cherished book “Fixing Failed States” tucked into their coats. Paddy Doherty of the above-mentioned development bank sums it up simply - “profitability ensures sustainability”.
With deep azure skies, bountiful sunshine, and a crisp but mild breeze today, spring is by far my favorite season in Washington. Today marks the 40th year since the advent of Earth Day, an occasion to create awareness and appreciation of the Earth’s environment that we all share in and enjoy. The event is now celebrated around the world as resources are increasingly stretched and environmental issues becoming more pertinent in our everyday lives.
I wanted to give an overview of some Earth Day related events happening in South Asia to mark the occasion.
National Saplings in Kabul: Green coverage has been reduced from 14 million hectares to 1 million hectare in Afghanistan.
Fundamental rights in most South Asian countries include freedom of movement – you can go where you want, when you want within a country. But for the majority of South Asian girls and women the reality is very different – they need permission to go almost anywhere. Now, does this stem from norms of patriarchal control or a rational response to threat of physical harm? I like to believe the two are mutually reinforcing. When families are afraid of what will happen to their daughters when they go out alone, they tend to be over-protective or over-controlling. This is certainly what happened to me and my peers as we grew up in Delhi in the 70s and 80s. While many more women are out in public spaces now, the very fact of this visibility is often a trigger for violence. Fewer than half of married women surveyed in Pakistan or Bangladesh feel safe moving alone outside their village or settlement, even during the day (World Bank 2006, 2008).
Safety and security of women in public spaces is seen often as a right, which indeed it is, but, lack of it is also a huge impediment to accessing a range of services and markets – for instance, health care, education and employment. In Pakistan and India, one of the reasons why girls drop out of school after puberty and especially when secondary schools are located a long walk away, is the fear of violence en route.
What can be done to reduce conflict in poor regions? A speech given by Indian Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh on Internal Security and Law and Order in 2005, sums up the story of conflict and development: “…development, or rather the lack of it, often has a critical bearing, as do exploitation and iniquitous socio-political circumstances. Inadequate employment opportunities, lack of access to resources, under developed agriculture, artificially depressed wages, geographical isolation, lack of effective land reforms may all impinge significantly on the growth of extremism...Whatever be the cause, it’s difficult to deny that extremism has huge societal costs. Investments are unlikely to fructify, employment is not likely to grow and educational facilities may be impaired. Direct costs would include higher costs of infrastructure creation as contractors build "extortions" into their estimates, consumers may be hurt due to erratic supplies and artificial levies. In all, the society at large and people at large suffer. Delivery systems are often the first casualty. Schools do not run, dispensaries do not open and PDS shops remain closed.”
Reducing conflict and violence is a prerequisite to political stability, which, in turn, is the prerequisite for implementing pro growth policies. Even in a best-case scenario, the presence of low-level conflict constrains the policies governments can implement to promote growth. Policy makers in South Asia have tried various policies to reduce conflict.
After Iraq, South Asia is the second most violent place on earth. Conflict has increased in South Asia during the last decade. Where is conflict concentrated? What can be done about it?
Conflict is a very broad term, which is often defined differently in different contexts and data sets. We can, however, consider two broad classes of conflict. The first category includes conflict against the State. Examples of this include civil war or terrorism, which is an extreme manifestation of conflict, and it reflects a certain degree of organization of conflict. It is carried out by a relatively organized group of non-state actors, and directed against the State. Some researchers choose to focus on terrorism as a measure of conflict, because it has implications for the overall stability of the state itself, and therefore its ability to implement any developmental policy. The second category includes people-to-people conflict, rather than directed against the State. Examples of this include localized land conflicts, religious riots, homicides or other crimes. They too have adverse implications for development, but are probably less severe, compared to terrorism.
In the book, The Idea of Justice, Amartya Sen motivates the discussion on the importance of processes and responsibilities by relying on an example. In the Gita (part of the Mahabharata), on the eve of the crucial battle episode in the epic, Arjuna expresses his doubts about leading the fight which will result in so much killing. Lord Krishna, tells him that he, Arjuna, must perform his duty, that is, to fight. And to fight, irrespective of the consequences.
Krishna’s blessing of the demands of duty is meant to win the argument from a religious perspective. But most of us would share Arjuna’s concerns about the fact that, if the war were to occur, with him leading the charge on the side of justice and propriety, many people would get killed. He himself would be doing a lot of the killing, often of people for whom he had affection.
We are unstoppable when it comes to communicating. “Communicate” means “to share” and it comes as second nature (it’s socially addictive in fact). The 300 million of us blogging can rarely be silenced. A comment on a Minister’s blog can provoke a policy change. A micro-blog can influence a legal challenge (the Trafigura/Carter Ruck affair) or inspire masses (the Iranian elections were the top news story on Twitter last year). And a social network group like Facebook can undermine an X-Factor winner’s success (a winner ironically chosen by “the people” by telephone vote). It is the public, not governments that are beginning to drive change. But whether we like it or not it’s still mainstream media that is being listened to most – TV, radio and most powerful of all – the old fashioned newspaper read out loud. It’s more coherent, more organised, and usually better written than the complex voice of the masses. Big media still counts.
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.