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South Asia

Celebrating 40 years of engagement with Maldives

Idah Z. Pswarayi-Riddihough's picture
The World Bank Group (WBG) and Maldives have had a trusted partnership for the past 40 years, which has seen tremendous growth and development in the country.

Over this period, Maldives has transformed from being among the poorest countries in the world to having a per capita GDP of over $10,000 and boasts impressive human development achievements, with a life expectancy of over 77 years and nearly 100% literacy.

However, vulnerability to environmental sustainability and climate change are among the challenges that the country faces. 

To help respond to them, the WBG continues to work closely with Maldives to help realize the aspirations of its people through enhancing employment and economic opportunities, strengthening natural resources management and climate resilience, while improving public financial management and policy-making through strengthening institutions.

Here are five milestones of our engagement:

1. Joining the World Bank
Maldives joins World Bank
Photo Credit: World Bank Group Archives
On January 13, 1978, Maldives became the 131st member of the World Bank and the International Development Association (IDA), the fund that helps the poorest countries through interest-free credits.

The Articles of Agreements were signed by His Excellency Fathulla Jameel, Permanent Representative of the Republic of Maldives to the United Nations. At that time, Maldives had a GDP per capita of just over $200 and had achieved independence only 13 years prior.

2. First project signing
Maldives 1st Project Signing
Photo Credit: World Bank Group Archives

 Maldives signed its first project to help increase fisheries production with the World Bank on June 4, 1979.

The project helped mechanize fishing craft, established repair centers, and installed navigational aids to increase the safety of fishing operations.

Those present for the signing from left to right, Said El-Naggar, Executive Director of the World Bank for Maldives, His Excellency Ahamed Zaki, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Maldives to the United Nations, and Robert Picciottto, Projects Director for South Asia.

South Asia: A bright spot in darkening economic skies?

Hartwig Schafer's picture
South Asia is set to remain relatively insulated from some of the rising uncertainties that are looming large on the global economic horizon. The region will retain its top spot as the world’s fastest-growing region. The Siddhirganj Power Project in Bangladesh. Credit: Ismail Ferdous/World Bank

If, like me, you’re a firm believer in New Year’s resolutions, early January ushers in the prospect of renewed energy and exciting opportunities. And as tradition has it, it’s also a time to enter the prediction game.
 
Sadly, when it comes to the global economy, this year’s outlook is taking a somber turn.
 
In the aptly titled Darkening Skies, the World Bank’s new edition of its twice-a-year Global Economic Prospects report shows that risks are looming large on the economic horizon.
 
To sum up:  In emerging market and developing economies, the lingering effects of recent financial market stress on several large economies, a further deceleration in commodity exporters are likely to stall growth at a weaker-than-expected 4.2 percent this year.
 
On a positive note, South Asia is set to remain relatively insulated from some of these rising global uncertainties and will retain its top spot as the world’s fastest-growing region.
 
Bucking the global decelerating trend, growth in South Asia is expected to accelerate to 7.1 percent in 2019 from 6.9 percent in the year just ended, bolstered in part by stronger investments and robust consumption.  

Among the region’s largest economies, India is forecast to grow at 7.5 percent in fiscal year 2019-20 while Bangladesh is expected to moderate to 7 percent in fiscal year 2018-19. Sri Lanka is seen speeding up slightly to 4 percent in 2019.
 
Notably, and despite increasing conflicts and growing fragility, Afghanistan is expected to increase its growth to  2.7 percent rate this year.

In this otherwise positive outlook, Pakistan’s growth is projected to slow to 3.7 percent in fiscal year 2018-19 as the country is tightening its financial conditions to help counter rising inflation and external vulnerabilities.

However, activity is projected to rebound and average 4.6 percent over the medium term.

Half of the world’s poor live in just 5 countries

Roy Katayama's picture

Of the world’s 736 million extreme poor in 2015, 368 million—half of the total—lived in just 5 countries. The 5 countries with the highest number of extreme poor are (in descending order): India, Nigeria, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, and Bangladesh. They also happen to be the most populous countries of South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa, the two regions that together account for 85 percent (629 million) of the world’s poor. Therefore, to make significant continued progress towards the global target of reducing extreme poverty (those living on less than $1.90 a day) to less than 3 percent by 2030, large reductions in poverty in these five countries will be crucial.

Women and migration: Exploring the data

Eliana Rubiano-Matulevich's picture

International Migrants Day is a call to disseminate information on international migration and look toward further understanding its intersection with economic growth and socioeconomic wellbeing. Here we draw on data from the World Bank Gender Data Portal to highlight four big facts about women AND international migration. We focus on the “international migrant stock” which is the number of people born in a country other than that in which they live. Women, men, boys and girls experience migration differently. Accurate and timely sex-disaggregated data on international migration is critical for uncovering the specific needs and vulnerabilities of women and men and for shaping migration policy.

Globally, women are on the move: they comprise slightly less than half of all international, global migrants. In fact, the share of women among global, international migrants has only fallen slightly during the last three decades, from 49 percent in 1990 to 47 percent in 2017.

Japan’s new immigration policy may be a development game changer for South Asia

Supriyo De's picture
In observance of the International Migrants Day, Dec 18 

Japan has embarked on a major migration policy shift with a new law that passed the Upper House of the Diet in December 2018. Starting in April 2019, the new law will allow inflows of two types of foreign workers: (i) low-skilled foreign workers who would reside in Japan for up to five years and work in 14 specific sectors, including farming, construction, hospitality and shipbuilding sectors, but shall not be allowed to bring their family members, and (ii) foreign workers with a higher level of skills who would be allowed to bring their family members and could be allowed to live in Japan indefinitely (see Migration and Development Brief 30). According to news reports, Japan plans to induct 340,000 migrant workers over the next five years, though this may not be sufficient to compensate for a declining population which fell by 373,000 in 2017.

South Asia's new superfood or just fishy business?

Pawan Patil's picture
Across South Asia, four known species of indigenous, fully mature, small food-fish – now dubbed ‘NutriFish’ have nutritional and health benefits for pregnant and lactating women and young children when consumed over the first one thousand days. Here, children from Kothi, Odisha in India show their curiosity and share their excitement with a new kind of harvest happening in their village. Credit: Arun Padiyar
Kale, Kefir, and Quinoa have now joined the ranks of better-known foods like Blueberries, Orange Sweet Potato, and Salmon on family dinner tables across the world.

Considered superior for their health and nutrition benefits, these so-called ‘Superfoods’, often considered “new” by the public are now ever-popularized by celebrity chefs and have become all the rage of foodies from San Francisco to Singapore.   

We live in a world of paradox, where old world and almost forgotten food like Quinoa (which dates back as a staple food over three thousand years to Andean civilization but largely disappeared with the arrival of the Spanish) is now back on the menu.  

Salmon, a staple part of Nordic diets from paleolithic times and woven into the culture of native populations across northwestern Canada and many other superfoods share comparable stories.

And, there are many other old world foods, indigenously known, disappearing but not fully forgotten, yet to be re-discovered.

Food is also now advancing to the front-line of the war on poverty

A health and human capital crisis is now sweeping the world, and a lack of diverse, accessible, affordable, and available nourishing foods is increasingly blamed.  

For example, obesity, from poor diet and poor exercise has tripled since 1975 to almost two billion people today.  

Undernutrition contributes to 45 percent of all deaths of children under five years old (3.5 million each year), much of it avoidable, but difficult to detect as it remains “hidden.”  

Policy makers and stewards of national economies are starting to wake up to the fact that poor nutrition has massive economic implications too, reducing GDP by 3-11 percent, depending on the country. 

While economies such as Bangladesh, India, and Pakistan may look strong, just as bellies look full, critical micronutrients and vitamins, essential for healthy physical and cognitive development over the first 1,000 days of life are largely missing from diets of many developing countries and are a proven drag to educational attainment and economic prosperity.  

And parents, from both rich and poor nations alike, seem to know something is not quite right. 

If healthier food choices that are accessible, affordable, and readily available are better known, would parents purchase such food from the market for their families?     

With a small grant from the World Bank-administered South Asia Food and Nutrition Initiative (SAFANSI) supported by the EU and the United Kingdom, a partnership with WorldFish was established to test this premise.  

A 60 second TV spot, a collaboration between scientists, economists, a private sector digital media company, broadcasters and the Government of Bangladesh, was created and broadcast across the nation on two occasions and watched by over 25 million people.  

A parallel radio program was also developed and aired reaching millions more, particularly the rural poor and marginalized communities.
 
NutriFish1000 TV

 

Building safer roads through better design and better contracts

Pratap Tvgssshrk's picture
Photo: Simply CVR/Flickr
As part of the World Bank’s continued commitment to road safety, all Bank-financed road projects must now include specific measures to enhance safety standards and protect all road users—motorists, two-wheelers, pedestrians.
 
In that context. our ongoing road sector project in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu shows how relatively simple and affordable design improvements can make roads significantly safer, and bring other important benefits such as enhanced drainage and water conservation.
 
To illustrate this, let’s take a look at 10 key design features that have been included in the project.

Our infrastructure projects can help build many things—including stronger institutions

Pratap Tvgssshrk's picture
Photo: Frederick Noronha/Flickr
Working to finance major infrastructure projects, World Bank teams have seen time and again that the sustainability of investments depends ultimately on the efficiency and capacity of the agencies that manage them. 
 
For that reason, our interventions often have a dual goal: supporting high quality infrastructure, and, at the same time, supporting institutions’ efforts to modernize and become more efficient. That institutional development sometimes comes in the form of stand-alone project components that focus on modernizing processes, governance, and skills. But in other cases, infrastructure investment projects can also provide opportunities to initiate important institutional changes.
 
This is often the case with civil works contracts, and the Tamil Nadu State Road Sector project in India is illustrative of how contracting strategies implemented with Bank support helped a highway agency enhance its implementation capacity, the efficiency of its expenditure, quality of infrastructure, and system sustainability through significantly improved asset management.

What’s keeping Pakistan in the dark?

Fan Zhang's picture
 $18 billion in fiscal year 2015—that is 6.5 percent of the country’s economy.
Nearly  50 million Pakistanis still lack access to grid electricity. Power distortions cost Pakistan’s economy much more than previously estimated: $18 billion in fiscal year 2015—that is 6.5 percent of the country’s economy. Credit: Curt Carnemark/ World Bank

From 1990 to 2010, 91 million people In Pakistan received electricity for the first time.
 
And power outages across the country have gone down drastically over the past few years.
 
Clearly, Pakistan has achieved much progress in expanding its electricity access and production in recent decades.
 
However, nearly  50 million Pakistanis still lack access to grid electricity and the country ranks 115th among 137 economies for reliable power.
 
After peaking in 2006, per capita electricity consumption failed to grow for almost a decade, remaining only one-fifth the average for other middle-income countries in 2014.
 
To boost sustainable energy supply, Pakistan’s power sector needs urgent investments and reforms to target inefficiencies in the entire electricity supply chain.
 
Fittingly, my new report In the Dark analyzes what lies behind these inefficiencies and suggests relevant actions to improve the operation of power plants, cut down on waste and costs, and increase electricity supply in a cost-effective manner.
 
The study sheds new light on the overall societal costs — not merely the fiscal costs as in previous research — of subsidies, blackouts and other distortions in the power sector.
 
To that end, my team and I surveyed Pakistan's entire supply chain from upstream fuel supply to electricity generation, transmission and distribution, and eventually, down to consumers.
 
Put simply, the numbers we found are dire.
 
Power distortions cost Pakistan’s economy much more than previously estimated: $18 billion in fiscal year 2015—that is 6.5 percent of the country’s economy.
 
Problems begin upstream, where gas underpricing encourages waste and reduces incentives for gas production and exploration.
 
And with no recent significant gas discoveries, higher gas usage has widened the gap between growing demand and low domestic supply.
 
On top of that, the volume of gas lost before reaching consumers reached 14.3 percent in fiscal year 2015. By comparison, this number is about 1 to 2 percent in advanced economies.
 
Public power plants use 20 percent more gas per unit of electricity produced than private producers.
 
Poor transmission contributed to 29 percent of the electricity shortfall in fiscal year 2015, while weak infrastructure, faulty metering and theft cause the loss of almost a fifth of generated electricity.
 
Electricity underpricing and failure to collect electricity bills have triggered a vicious “circular debt” problem, leading to power outages.
 
A lack of grid electricity also leads to greater use of kerosene lamps that cause indoor air pollution and its associated respiratory infections and tuberculosis risks.
 
Lack of access to reliable electricity also adversely impact children’s study time at night, women’s labor force participation, and gender equality.
 
Connecting all of Pakistan’s population to the grid and increasing the supply of electricity to 24 hours a day would increase total household income by at least $4.5 billion a year and avoid $8.4 billion in business losses.

New year with a fresh start: Addressing urban poverty in Bangladesh

Wameq Azfar Raza's picture


Although Bangladesh has achieved much in the way of poverty reduction and human development, progress has been slower in some urban areas.

Issues such as slow-down of quality job growth, low levels of educational attainment (notably among the youth), and lack of social protection measures have taken the wind out of the proverbial urban reduction “sail.” As the country starts fresh in the new year, it is an opportune time to reflect on some of the key issues affecting urban poverty.

Despite the steady growth in Gross Domestic Product (GDP), successive Household Income and Expenditure Surveys (2005 to 2010 and 2010 to 2016) suggest that the rate of poverty reduction has been slowing down while the absolute number of extreme poor have been increasing in urban Bangladesh. Given the accelerating rate of urbanization, it suggests that more people live in extreme poverty in 2016 than they did in 2010. With nearly 44% of the country’s population projected to be living in an urban setting by 2050, this issue is only likely to intensify.  

Several factors may be driving this trend. Absence of education and skills dampen labor market participation and productivity. Among those who participate in the labor-force in urban areas, 19% of men and 28% of women are illiterate. For those who received at least some training, a recent study shows that only 51% of eighth-grade students met equivalent competency in the native language subject (Bangla). The figures were markedly lower for other subjects. Similar trends carry through to technical diploma and tertiary level institutes. As a result, many prospective employers report reluctance to hiring fresh graduates.


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