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South Asia

SACOSAN VI: An opportunity for South Asian leaders to focus on sanitation and the Sustainable Development Goals

Junaid Kamal Ahmad's picture

The text below originally appeared in The Daily Star as part of the SACOSAN VI Supplement. The Daily Star is an English newspaper of Bangladesh.

SACOSAN VIThe 6th South Asian Conference on Sanitation (SACOSAN VI) is a historic milestone for South Asian governments. The conference reflects the efforts South Asia has made towards safe sanitation for all, but importantly, it signals the Region’s commitment to shift from the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) to the more challenging platform of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). This shift will require even greater leadership from the governments, more sustained partnership from the development community, and greater grass-root innovation. SACOSAN VI is the right moment for South Asia to concretely signal its commitment towards achieving SDG 6 – the Water and Sanitation Goals.

When the emperor reaches out to the citizen, that’s new

Julia Oliver's picture



If you want a passport in Pakistan, you wait in line – possibly for hours. You might get to the passport office at the crack of dawn to avoid the queue. The process might be unclear, and there might be people – “agents” – waiting outside the office, offering to help: “For a few hundred rupees, I can fast-track your application.”
 
The government of Pakistan is trying to fix these problems, including the requests for bribes, rude treatment, and inefficient processing. Their approach is simple and creative and made possible because there are an estimated 123 million mobile phone users in the South Asian nation – about 64 percent of the population, according to the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority.
 
Beginning this fall, staff at each of the passport office’s 95 locations began collecting the cell phone numbers of all passport applicants. Shortly after each visit, the central headquarters sends the applicant a text message: “Did you face any problem or did someone ask you for money?”

Rediscovering the Potential of the World’s Oldest Highways - Bangladesh Waterways

Diep Nguyen-Van Houtte's picture
River crossing in Bangladesh
Boat passengers in rural Bangladesh. Photo credit: Erik Nora

When my team and I saw this boat passing by us in July 2013 in rural Bangladesh, near the border with Mizoram, Northeast India, and Myanmar, I felt immediately empathic.

How many people are on that boat? Eighty? Does it have a motor? Can those people swim, especially the women? No lifejackets! I wondered how long their trip was, and then I thought: What if they needed a bathroom break? Memories of my family's escape from Vietnam by boat in 1981 flashed back—34 refugees jammed into a traditional fishing boat normally home to a family of seven, with no motor, no life jackets, and no toilets! We floated around the South China Sea and Pacific Ocean for 16 days. Most of us could not swim, certainly not the women and girls.

What does “Good Governance” really mean in higher education?

Jessica Lee's picture
Photo: WorldSkills (under Creative Commons)


Visiting a technical institution (one that is focused on science and engineering) in India can be a mixed experience. I have been to campuses that have state-of-the-art lab equipment with dedicated staff, and I have also been to others that barely have enough textbooks in their libraries and lab equipment from the 1960s.

Regardless of the type of institution, one thing is certain – even if the buildings are brand new and WiFi abundant, without good governance practices technical institutions in India would be less able to provide good higher education services to students.

To provide some more practical advice on how to embody good governance in the higher education sector, I visited seven institutions in two different states (Maharashtra and Karnataka) to explore best practices, which are summarized below:  

A straightforward way for local governments to engage more with their citizens

Ravi Kumar's picture
​​Photo: © Jonathan Ernst/World Bank


A neighborhood road a minute walk away from my house in the southern plains of Nepal used to be paved. When I was a kid, it was usable during all seasons. Not anymore.
 
A few years ago, I’m told, residents worked with the municipal officials to get drinking water to their houses. Officials broke the road so they can connect drinking water pipes from the nearby main highway to neighborhood homes.
 
That road has yet to be repaired. When I asked my parents and neighbors why it has taken so long for the road to be repaired, they responded by saying the municipality officials have ignored it.
 
The town’s municipal officials said locals haven’t contacted them yet about that road and there are other projects the municipality is working on. The broken road in my neighborhood isn’t one of those projects. To put it gently, public services in my hometown remain in dire condition.
 
Would things have been different if residents of my hometown engaged more with their local government? Maybe.

Six stories show renewable energy underpins a climate-friendly future

Andy Shuai Liu's picture

Also available in: Arabic | French | Spanish


In 2015 the world saw great momentum for climate action, culminating in a historic agreement in December to cut carbon emissions and contain global warming. It was also a year of continued transformation for the energy sector. For the first time in history, a global sustainable development goal was adopted solely for energy, aiming for: access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all.
 
To turn this objective into reality while mitigating climate change impacts, more countries are upping their game and going further with solar, wind, geothermal and other sources of renewable energy. As we usher in 2016, these stories from around the world present a flavor of how they are leading the charge toward a climate-friendly future.  
 
 World Bank Group

1: Morocco is rising to be a “solar superpower.” On the edge of the Sahara desert, the Middle East’s top energy-importing country is building one of the world’s largest concentrated solar power plants. When fully operational, the Noor-Ouarzazate power complex will produce enough energy for more than one million Moroccans and reduce the country’s dependence on fossil fuels by 2.5 million tons of oil.

Top World Bank EduTech blog posts of 2015

Michael Trucano's picture
take your pick -- some are rather yummy!
take your pick -- some are rather yummy!

For the past seven years the World Bank's EduTech blog has sought to "explore issues related to the use of information and communications technologies (ICTs) to benefit education in developing countries".

While there are plenty of sources for news, information and perspectives on the uses (and misuses) of educational technologies in the so-called 'highly industrialized' countries of North America, Europe, East Asia and Australia/New Zealand, regular comparative discussions and explorations of what is happening with the uses of ICTs in middle and low income (i.e. so-called 'developing') countries around the world can be harder to find, which is why this remains the focus of the EduTech blog.

The term 'developing countries' is employed here as convenient (if regrettable) shorthand in an attempt to reinforce the context in which the comments and questions explored on the blog are considered, and as a signal about its intended (or at least hoped for) audience. That said, given how much we still don't know and the fact that things continue to change so rapidly, when it comes to technology use in education, as a practical matter we all live in 'developing countries'.

When speaking about some of the early EduTech blog posts, one rather prominent and outspoken commenter (rather comfortably ensconced at an elite U.S. research university, for what that might be worth) said basically that 'there is nothing new here, we've been aware of all of these issues for some time'.

This might possibly be true – if you are a tenured professor sitting in Cambridge, perhaps, or a technology developer working out of Helsinki, Mountain View or Redmond.

(One could nonetheless note that being aware of something, and doing something useful and impactful as a result of this awareness, are not necessarily the same thing, a lesson that seems to need to be learned and re-learned again and again, often quite painfully and expensively, as 'innovations' from 'advanced' places are exported to other 'less advanced' places around the world with results that can at times be rather difficult to determine. It is also perhaps worth briefly recalling the insightful, if ungrammatical, words of the U.S. humorist Mark Twain, who observed back in the 19th century that, "It ain't what you don't know that gets you into trouble. It's what you know for sure that just ain't so.")

However, these are often relatively new discussions – and often very different discussions, it should be noted! – in other, less 'economically privileged' parts of the world. As computing devices and connectivity continue to proliferate, practical knowledge and know-how about what works, and what doesn't, when it comes to technology use in education is increasingly to be found in such places. It is to participate in, learn from and help catalyze related discussions that the EduTech blog was conceived and continues to operate.

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While the posts in 2015 were published less frequently, they were on average much longer than in the past ("too long!", some might say) and largely explored themes (e.g. 'tablets', 'teachers', 'coding') drawing on experiences across multiple countries, rather than profiling specific individual projects or activities in one place, which was often the case in previous years.

It perhaps shouldn't need to be said (but I'll say it anyway, as I am obliged to do) that, whether taken individually or collectively, nothing here was or is meant to be definitive, exhaustive or 'official' in its consideration of a particular topic or activity. The EduTech blog serves essentially as a written excerpt of various ongoing conversations with a wide variety of groups and people around the world and as a mechanism for 'thinking aloud in public' about these conversations. Nothing is formally 'peer-reviewed' before it appears online, and the views expressed are those of the author(s) alone, and not the World Bank. (If you find a mistake, or just really disagree with something that appears on the EduTech blog, please feel free to blame the guy who writes this stuff, and not his bosses or the institution which employs him).

With those introductory comments out of the way, here are the ...

Top World Bank EduTech Blog Posts of 2015

In rural Nepal, tying micro hydropower plants to the main grid brings electricity for all

Bhupendra Shakya's picture
Talti village in Dhading district in Nepal where a MHP scheme has made it possible to open an agro-processing plant
Talti village in Dhading district in Nepal: A new micro hydropower plant has made it possible to open
an agro-processing plant. Credit: The World Bank

Fifteen years ago, I started a new job in the Sindhupalchowk district in Central Nepal. I was working in the rural energy development section of the District Development Committee and supervised technical support for micro hydropower plants (MHPs) in the area.

My job also entailed reaching out to local communities and ensuring they were deeply involved, from installation to maintenance, in bringing micro hydro to their villages.

During my time in Sindhupalchowk, I witnessed firsthand the dramatic and positive changes  hydro-powered electricity brought to people’s lives: houses lit up, radio and television sets came to life, mobile phones were easier to use, schools could run computer classes, small-scale enterprises flourished, and shops stayed open longer and offered more products. Moreover, the newly generated power contributed to improving the working conditions of women employed in local agro-processing mills as mechanical automation replaced labour-intensive manual processing.

For remote rural households not connected to the grid, MHPs have provided ready access to electricity. Still, as the national grid was gradually deployed into rural areas – albeit with little coordination between the Nepal Electricity Authority (NEA) and the Alternative Energy Promotion Centre (AEPC), respectively responsible for the national grid and alternative energy promotion -- villages with both existing MHPs and a new grid connection faced an entirely novel problem.
 
In places like Bhuktangle, Parbat and Righa, Baglung, detailed feasibility studies and construction of MHPs had already been completed when the grid was extended to these areas. As a result, more than 50% of existing customers switched from their MHP-generated electricity services and the ensuing lower electricity usage made it difficult to pay off the loan that was taken out for the building of the plant.  Ten districts in 2010 showed similar patterns as about 11% of MHPs are now competing with the national grid.
 

Local elections in Pakistan: A chance to improve public services

Ming Zhang's picture
Discussing public services in Pakistan
Discussing public services in Pakistan. Credit: GSP/MDTF/2013
I arrived in Pakistan right after the third round of local elections held in most provinces on December 5.

​This was the first local election in 10 years in most places of the country. Voters elected council members of three tiers of local governments: district, urban councils, and union council/ward.

How will these elections impact the lives of average citizens?

International experiences have shown that the main benefit of elected local bodies is their closeness to citizens, which allows them to be much more responsive – although with sustained hard work -- to improving local services such as waste, water, sewerage and transportation.

In a report about managing spatial transformation in South Asia launched at the 3rd Pakistan Urban Forum, we highlighted that passing reforms aimed at revitalizing urban governance is critical to make South Asia cities more livable and prosperous (see chapter 3 of the report).

To that end, we identified three closely related "deficits" -- empowerment, resource, and accountability -- which, if tackled properly, could lead to improved local urban governance.

The recent local elections in Pakistan are important steps toward reducing these three deficits. The new local government laws, which were enacted in most provinces in 2013, started to re-empower local governments after the expiration of the earlier 2001 Local Government Act.
 

Supporting India’s next generation of bright tech and science minds

Jessica Lee's picture
Ajay (third from right) was a Mitacs Globalink research intern at the University of Toronto.


With the Indian economy poised to be among the fastest growing economies in the world, there is great demand for world-class engineers to drive domestic value-addition, innovation and make the economy even more competitive globally. In this context, the Indian government’s Technical/Engineering Education Quality Improvement Project (TEQIP), supported by the World Bank, has been working with engineering colleges across the country to make them more responsive to a rapidly changing technical environment.


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