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Private Sector Development

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.  

Three ways governments can create the conditions for successful PPPs

Lincoln Flor's picture
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A healthy Public-Private Partnership (PPP) has several defining features: strong competition, bankability with low financial costs, lower risk of renegotiations, secure value for money, and efficiency gains.

What does it take for countries to develop PPPs that can fit this description? Why is it that some countries such as India, Colombia, Turkey, and Egypt have been able to develop strong and successful PPP programs while others have not been able to award any projects under special-purpose PPP legislations? 

Our experience with infrastructure PPPs across the globe suggests that three institutional pillars are needed to increase the probability of PPP success.

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 Technology Centers can help clients meet the challenges of Industry 4.0

Justin Hill's picture

The Picard leather goods factory in Dhaka, Bangladesh produces bags, purses and wallets that are sold in upmarket stores throughout the developed world under various well-known brand names, and in their own chain of stores in Germany.  The factory is clean, efficient and goods are produced under all the relevant international standards.  

Picard leather factory
But Picard are a rarity, and most Bangladeshi manufacturing looks just like it did 50 years ago.  They produce cheap goods for the local market, but are a huge distance from producing at global standards.  Unfortunately, this is also the case with most manufacturers in emerging economies. And all manufacturing is being changed by a range of new technologies known as Industry 4.0, with manufacturing becoming more global, more automated, more highly skilled, more infused with technology and more integrated with services. Whole manufacturing sectors, but in particular Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) face real challenges if they are to adapt rather than be left behind. 

Your summer reading list: PPPs, human capital, and lessons from Iceland’s national soccer coach

Geoffrey Keele's picture


Juan Salamanca | Pexels

It’s hard to believe summer is already half over. I am sure many of you, like me, have been stuck at your desks for most of July, but here’s hoping we all get out in the sun in August. But before you go, make note of these really interesting articles that have come out over the last few months that might just make the perfect porch reading for those looking to tune out, but still stay engaged.
 
The Road
The Globe & Mail
 
Highway BR-163 cuts a rough path through Brazil’s conflicting ambitions: to transform itself into an economic powerhouse and to preserve the Amazon as a bulwark against climate change. This beautifully presented story takes you along the 2,000-kilometer BR-163 corridor in Brazil’s Amazon region to look at the competing needs of those living along this important national artery. It’s not just about a road, but about development itself, and why balancing the economic and social needs of a nation and its people is no simple task.

How Can MENA Escape the Middle-Income Trap?

Ferid Belhaj's picture

 
For developing countries, achieving middle-income status is both a blessing and a curse. While extreme poverty and deprivation have been overcome, what typically follows is a growth slowdown that, historically, has made further progress toward high-income levels exceedingly rare. That has certainly been the case for the largely middle-income countries of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). But is there a way out?

The future of public procurement in the era of digitalization

Yolanda Tayler's picture
Photo: World Bank

Why digitize public procurement?

Many countries have an opportunity to digitally transform public procurement systems to achieve enhanced efficiency, accountability, transparency, and participation of small and medium enterprises (SMEs). Digitally transforming public procurement would also accelerate national development objectives, such as enhancing public service delivery, developing human capital and the private sector, and gender empowerment.

How can Indonesia achieve a more sustainable transport system?

Tomás Herrero Diez's picture
Photo: UN Women/Flickr
Indonesia, a vast archipelago of more than 17,500 islands, is the fourth most populous country in the world, with 261 million inhabitants, and the largest economy in Southeast Asia, with a nominal Gross Domestic Product of $933 billion.

Central government spending on transport increased by threefold between 2010-2016. This has enabled the country to extend its transport network capacity and improve access to some of the most remote areas across the archipelago.

The country has a road network of about 538,000 km, of which about 47,000 km are national roads, and 1,000 km are expressways. Heavy congestion and low traffic speeds translate into excessively long journey times. In fact, traveling a mere 100 km can take 2.5 to 4 hours. The country relies heavily on waterborne transport and has about 1,500 ports, with most facilities approaching their capacity limits, especially in Eastern Indonesia. Connectivity between ports and land infrastructure is limited or non-existent. The rail network is limited (6,500 km across the islands of Java and Sumatra) and poorly maintained. The country’s 39 international and 191 domestic airports mainly provide passenger services, and many are also reaching their capacity limits.

Exposure of Belt & Road Economies to China Trade Shocks

Paulo Bastos's picture
The Belt and Road (B&R) Initiative seeks to deepen regional integration by improving infrastructure and strengthening trade and investment linkages along the old Silk Road, from China to Europe. With several infrastructure projects already ongoing, the initiative is expected to progressively reduce trade costs over the coming decades, and hence generate long-run economic gains for B&R economies.
 
Photo: Rob Beechey / World Bank

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