South Asia’s Commerce Ministers meet in Thimphu on July 24. Getting there would not have been easy for many of them, with no direct flights between Thimphu and four of the seven capitals. In June, when some of us convened for a regional meeting in Kathmandu, our Pakistani colleagues had to take a 20 hour flight from Karachi to Dubai in order to get to Kathmandu! This is symptomatic of the overall state of economic engagement within South Asia—in trade in goods and services, foreign direct investment and tourism.
South Asian countries’ trade policies remain inward-looking compared to other regions, and there are even bigger barriers to trade within the region. Today, South Asia today is less economically integrated than it was 50 years ago. Figure 1 below shows that intra-regional trade in South Asia accounts for less than 5 percent of total trade, lower than any other region.
At the secondary level, the performance of students from the Middle East and North Africa in international tests such as TIMS is significantly below the developing country average.
At the tertiary level, universities are chronically underfunded and not training students for jobs that the market is demanding - reminiscent of the Woody Allen line, "The food in this restaurant is terrible and the portions are too small."
Nearly a quarter of the world’s population today is made up of young people between the ages of 10-24 years. How can young people more effectively voice their opinions and ensure they are heard?
UNFPA’s mandate states that a safe passage from adolescence into adulthood is the right of every child. This right can only be fulfilled if focused investments are made to create opportunities to help them reach their full potential. This year’s theme for World Population Day, “Investing in young people” should be used to increase awareness and drive home this point.
In Sri Lanka, 15.6% of the total population is aged between 15- 24 years. Statistics show that this generation of youth is the most inter-connected in the world’s history. 61% of young people today possess mobile phones in Sri Lanka and this number is continuing to rise. ICT is changing the way the youth communicate and how they access knowledge and share resources.
A few years ago, I met a woman in Ampara, who receives benefits from the Re-awakening Project that I manage which provides financial support to those rebuilding their lives in the north and east. Through tireless efforts and support by the project, she’s able to make a steady income from selling produce from her garden and milk from her own cows. I was stunned.
However, she does not provide her children with the nutritious milk and vegetables she grows, purchasing powered milk instead. To empower residents with more knowledge, public health staff started with education, encouraging parents to give their children more milk and teaching children the importance of eating more fruits and vegetables and even gardening skills. To allow for more milk to be collected and last longer for the children, new cows brought in through the project produce 14 liters of milk a day compared to 4 liters before. In addition, we supported a milk cooling facility with the United Nations Development Program (UNDP).