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South Asia’s transport corridors can lead to prosperity

Martin Melecky's picture
 World Bank
Transport corridors offer enormous potential to boost South Asia’s economies, reduce poverty, and spur more and better jobs for local people, provided the new trade routes generate growth for all and limit their environmental impact. Credit: World Bank

This blog is based on the report The Web of Transport Corridors in South Asia -- jointly produced with the Asian Development Bank, the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development, and the Japan International Cooperation Agency

No doubt, South Asia’s prosperity was built along its trade routes.

One of the oldest, the Grand Trunk Road from the Mughal era still connects East and West and in the 17th century made Delhi, Kabul and Lahore wealthy cities with impressive civic buildings, monuments, and gardens.

Fast forward a few centuries and today, South Asia abounds with new proposals to build a vast network of transport corridors.
 
In India alone—and likely bolstered by the successful completion of the Golden Quadrilateral (GQ) highway system—several transport proposals extending beyond India’s borders are now under consideration. 
 
They include the International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC), linking India, Iran and Russia, the Asia-Africa Growth Corridor, and the Bangladesh, China, India, and Myanmar (BCIM) economic corridor.
 
The hope is that these transport corridors will turn into growth engines and create large economic surpluses that can spread throughout the economy and society.

Arguably, the transport corridor with the greatest economic potential is the surface link between Shanghai and Mumbai.
 
These two cities are the economic hubs of China and India respectively, two emerging global powers.
 
The distance between them, about 5,000 kilometers, is not much greater than the distance between New York and Los Angeles.
 
But instead of crossing a relatively empty continent, a corridor from Shanghai to Mumbai—via Kunming, Mandalay, Dhaka, and Kolkata—would go through some of the most densely populated and most dynamic areas in the world, stoking hopes of large economic spillovers along its alignment.
 
“Build and they will come” seems to be the logic underlying many massive transport investments around the world.
 
However, the reality is that not all these investments will generate the expected returns.
 
Worse, they can become wasteful white elephants—that is, transport infrastructure without much traffic—that would cost trillions of dollars at taxpayers’ expense.
 
So, how can South Asia develop transport corridors that have a positive impact on their economies and benefit all people along the corridor alignments and beyond?  
 
First, countries need to change the mindset that transport corridors are mere engineering feats designed to move along vehicles and commodities.
 
Second, sound economic analysis of how corridors can help spur urbanization and create local jobs while minimizing the disruptions to the natural environment, is key to developing successful investment programs.
 
Specifically, it is vital to ensure that local populations whose lives are disrupted by new infrastructure can reap equally the benefits from better transport connectivity.
 
The hard truth is that the development of corridor initiatives may involve difficult tradeoffs.
 
For instance, more educated and skilled people can migrate to obtain better jobs in growing urban areas that are benefiting from corridor connectivity, while unskilled workers may be left behind in depopulated rural areas with few economic prospects.
 
But while corridors can create both winners and losers, well-designed investment programs can alleviate potential adverse impacts and help local people share the benefits more widely.
 
In that vein, India’s Golden Quadrilateral, or GQ highway system, is a cautionary tale. 
 
No doubt, this corridor had a positive impact. 
 
Economic activity along the corridor increased and people, especially women, found better job opportunities beyond traditional farming.
 
But this success came at a cost as air pollution increased in the districts near the highway.
 
This is a major tradeoff and one that was documented before in Japan when levels of air pollution spiked during the development of its Pacific Ocean Belt several decades ago.
 
Another downside is that the economic benefits generated by the GQ highway were distributed unequally in neighboring communities.  

Cured Into Destitution: the risk of financial catastrophe after surgery

Kathryn Wall's picture

Low-income countries face the highest risk of financial catastrophe due to surgery and have made the slowest progress

Five billion people—two thirds of the world’s population—lack access to safe, timely, and affordable surgical, anesthesia, and obstetric (SAO) care, as World Bank Group President Dr. Jim Yong Kim stated. Of the myriad barriers to accessing SAO care—safety, for example, or the lack of a well-trained workforce—one of the largest is financial. For patients, surgery can be very expensive. Not only can the financial burden of seeking surgical care be a formidable obstacle to those who need surgery, it can also have a devastating impact on those who are able to receive it. Over two billion people cannot afford surgery if they needed it today, and, of those who get surgery every year, an estimated 33 million of them will undergo financial hardship from its direct costs—81 million when the ancillary costs of care like transportation and food are included.

Why strengthening land rights strengthens development

Mahmoud Mohieldin's picture
Aerial view of the landscape around Halimun Salak National Park, West Java, Indonesia.
© Kate Evans/CIFOR

This blog post was originally published on Project Syndicate.

Today, only 30% of the world’s population has legally registered rights to their land and home, with the poor and politically marginalized especially likely to suffer from insecure land tenure. Unless this changes, the 2015 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals will be impossible to achieve.

For most of the world’s poor and vulnerable people, secure property rights, including land tenure, are a rarely accessible luxury. Unless this changes, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) will be impossible to achieve.

Land tenure determines who can use land, for how long, and under what conditions. Tenure arrangements may be based both on official laws and policies, and on informal customs. If those arrangements are secure, users of land have an incentive not just to implement best practices for their use of it (paying attention to, say, environmental impacts), but also to invest more.

Better data sharing to improve the lives of Afghan refugees

Shubham Chaudhuri's picture
A bus with returnees from Pakistan at the IOM Screening center on Turkham border in Nangarhar province
A bus with returnees from Pakistan at the IOM Screening center on Turkham border in Nangarhar province. Photo Credit: IOM Afghanistan / E. Schwoerer

Four decades of conflict, violence and uncertainty has made Afghans the world’s largest protracted refugee population and among the largest group of returnees in the past few decades. Each year as many as 100,000s Afghans are on the move.

Since 2002, some 5.8 million Afghan refugees and several million more undocumented Afghans have returned to Afghanistan. More than two million of these refugees and undocumented returnees have returned since 2015. Recent surges in returns such as the 2016 spike of over 600,000 returnees from Pakistan were recorded in just six months.
 
Most returnees relocate to urban and peri-urban areas where they find limited job opportunities and inadequate access to essential services, thus jeopardizing their reintegration prospects and fueling secondary displacement. Therefore, it is imperative that joint initiatives between international organizations and Afghan government ministries help support both returnees and the host communities in which they relocate.
 
To that end, the World Bank and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) today signed a data sharing agreement (DSA), which formalizes an existing partnership between the two organizations in Afghanistan.

5 inspirational youth you should follow this #YouthDay 

Bassam Sebti's picture
Refugees take wood working courses at the Kalobeyei Youth Training Center in Kalobeyei, Kenya.
© Dominic Chavez/International Finance Corporation

Youth are the engine of change. Empowering them and providing them with the right opportunities can create an endless array of possibilities. But what happens when young people under 25—who make up 42% of the world’s population – lack safe spaces in which they can thrive?
 
According to the United Nations, one in 10 children in the world live in conflict zones and 24 million of them are out of school. Political instability, labor market challenges, and limited space for political and civic participation have led to increasing isolation of youth. 
 
That's why the United Nations theme for International Youth Day this year focuses on “Safe Spaces for Youth.” These are spaces where young people can safely engage in governance issues, participate in sports and other leisure activities, interact virtually with anyone in the world, and find a haven, especially for the most vulnerable.

How innovative financing can support entrepreneurship and sustainable livelihoods

Michelle Kaffenberger's picture
A fruit and vegetable stand in Kampala. Photo: Arne Hoel / World Bank

According to The Africa Competitiveness Report 2017, Africa is forecasted to produce just 100 million new jobs by 2035, while the working age population is projected to grow by more than 450 million. The fastest population growth will occur in the 15 to 35-year-old demographic.  This growing working-age population presents both an opportunity and a potential risk to Africa’s future prosperity. To ensure these new workers engage in productive livelihoods and prevent significant increases in extreme poverty and civil unrest, governments will need to enable job creation, including scaling cost-effective livelihood development programs targeting the extreme poor. Described below is a cost-effective approach which is yielding promising results and scaling through results-based financing.

IDA 18: Off to a strong start, as demand continues to grow

Axel van Trotsenburg's picture


We are now a year into implementation of IDA18, the three-year funding cycle for IDA, the arm of the World Bank Group that provides financing to the poorest countries. And IDA is off to a strong start. Total commitments reached $24.0 billion this year, more than double the average of the first year in IDA15 and IDA14. This is also over 40% higher than the average volume we saw for the first year of IDA16 and IDA17.

Part of the growth springs from how we set up IDA18, in response to calls from the G20 and international community for the World Bank Group to innovate in every way we can to help achieve the world’s Sustainable Development Goals for 2030.  And despite extraordinary global challenges, our donors agreed to provide $27 billion in grant contributions to support IDA18’s $75 billion financing to client countries. 

Introducing two new dashboards in the Health, Nutrition and Population data portal

Haruna Kashiwase's picture

We’re pleased to launch new dashboards in the Health, Nutrition and Population Portal, following the portal’s revamp last year. The renewed HNP portal has two main dashboards covering Population and Health. Both dashboards are designed to be interactive data visualization tools where users can see various population and health indicators. Users can access various charts and maps by selecting specific time, country or region and indicators. We have added new indicators, charts and new health topics such as Universal Health Coverage and Surgery and Anesthesia. Below are some examples of stories gleaned from our dashboards.

India’s population is projected to surpass that of China around 2022

China, with 1.4 billion people, is the most populous country in the world in 2017. However, India, the second most populous country with 1.3 billion people, is projected to surpass China’s population by 2022. China’s total fertility rate (the number of children per woman) has also declined sharply since the 1970s.

Five new insights on how agriculture can help reduce poverty

Luc Christiaensen's picture
Also available in: Français 
A Cambodian farmer
A Cambodian farmer - Photo: Chor Sokunthea / World Bank

The view that a productive agriculture is critical for employment creation and poverty reduction is now widely shared within the development community. Yet, this has not always been the case. In the run up to the 2008 world food price crisis, many development practitioners, government officials and economists doubted whether agriculture could still play this role, especially in Africa. Agro-pessimism had set in during the 1990s and 2000s, with a decline in policy attention and agricultural investment.  The food price spikes of 2008 brought a realization that more needed to be done to strengthen agriculture in developing countries.

Unveiling new paths to create more Jobs for the Poor

Maria Laura Sanchez Puerta's picture
Also available in: Français
Onion field in Northern Côte d’Ivoire - Photo by Raphaela Karlen / World Bank

One out of ten people in the world —around 766 million people— still lived below the extreme poverty line in 2013. Most of them, 80 percent, live in rural areas and have very low productivity jobs. Improving jobs and earnings opportunities for these poor and vulnerable workers is at the core of the World Bank Group agenda and it requires holistic economic inclusion initiatives to move them into sustainable livelihoods.


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