This blog is the first of a series on how Bangladesh has become a leader in coastal resilience.
While flying along the coast of Bangladesh earlier this year, I saw from the sky a vast, serene delta landscape, crisscrossed by innumerable rivers and contoured paddy fields.
Nonetheless, I was aware that this apparent quietude might well be the calm before a storm.
Indeed. the magnitude of threats faced by Bangladesh is unprecedented in terms of risk, exposure and vulnerability. And with a population of 160 million, the country is one of the world’s most disaster prone and vulnerable to tropical cyclones, storm surges, floods, a changing climate and even earthquakes.
However, the story of Bangladesh is one of resilience.
After the deadly cyclones of 1970 and 1991, which together resulted in the loss of at least half a million lives, the government of Bangladesh instituted disaster risk reduction policies and invested in infrastructure and community-based early warning systems to reduce risks from coastal hazards.
Over the years, these investments in cyclone preparedness and flood management helped save lives, reduce economic losses, and protect developmental gains. As a result, the government’s actions are globally cited as being proactive in investing in disaster risk management.
The World Bank has been a longstanding partner of the government in investing for resilience.
How can a country vulnerable to natural disasters mitigate the effects of climate change? In Bangladesh, resilient communities have shown that by using local solutions it is possible to combat different types of climate change impacting different parts of the country.
Every year, flash floods and drought affect the north and north-west regions. Drinking water becomes scarce, land becomes barren and people struggle to find shelter for themselves and their livestock. In the coastal districts, excessive saline makes it impossible to farm and fish.
The Community Climate Change Project (CCCP) has awarded grants to around 41 NGOs to address salinity, flood and drought-prone areas. With the help from local NGOs, communities innovated simple solutions to cope up with changing climate and earn a better living benefiting at least 40,000 people in the most vulnerable districts.
Raising the plinths of their homes in clusters has helped more than 15,000 families escape floods, and they continued to earn their livelihoods by planting vegetables and rearing goats on raised ground. Vermicomposting has also helped to increase crop yields. In the saline affected areas, many farmers have started to cultivate salinity tolerant crabs with women raising their income level by earning an additional BDT 1500 a month from saline tolerant mud crab culture in high saline areas.
Watch how communities use these three solutions to tackle climate change impacts.
- Flood Risk
- disaster preparedness
- Disaster management
- Sustainable Communities
- land; Sustainable Communities
- drought; Sustainable Communities; Disaster Risk Management
- Migration and Remittances
- Social Development
- Public Sector and Governance
- Private Sector Development
- Climate Change
- Agriculture and Rural Development
- South Asia
Bangladesh has made remarkable progress toward ending poverty and sharing prosperity with more of its people. As recently as 2000, about one in three Bangladeshis lived in extreme poverty based on the national poverty line; today, this has fallen to 13 percent. The poorest 40 percent of the population also saw positive per person consumption growth. Like in most countries, a key reason was broad-based growth in earnings. With more than 20 million people still living in extreme poverty and many workers with insecure jobs, Bangladesh cannot be complacent. It needs faster economic growth that can deliver more and better jobs for everyone.
In a previous blog we related how South Asia as a whole had improved the performance of its container ports since 2000 but had still struggled to catch up with other developed and developing regions. But within that picture, some ports did better than others.
For example, Colombo in Sri Lanka, the fast-expanding Mundra and Jawaharlal Nehru Port in India and Port Qasim in Pakistan all improved the use of their facilities in the first decade of this century. India’s Mumbai and Tuticorin were among those that fell behind. Colombo also improved its operational performance by almost halving the share of idle time at berth, while Chittagong (Bangladesh) and Kolkata (India) had the longest vessel turnaround times in the region.
Knowing how specific ports perform and the characteristics of ports that perform well and those of ports that perform poorly helps policymakers design interventions to support underperforming ports.
In the report “Competitiveness of South Asia’s Container Ports” we identified three interrelated policies to improve the performance of the container ports, a key element in one of the world’s fast-growing regions: increasing private participation in ports, strengthening governance of port authorities and fostering competition between and within ports:
Going through the narrow streets of Savar, you are surrounded by homes and shops on both sides - doors opening for business, the smell of heated oil in the pan, and the wait for the morning rush hour to begin. Then you spot the uniformed children: in pairs, in threes or walking solo to school. Among them you see many self-assured young girls, equal in numbers, with their heavy bags and tight braids. Some are being escorted by their mothers and siblings, and some are being dropped off by a mode of transport. But everyone is excited to come to school.
As part of the government led Third Primary Education Development Program (PEDP3), the Dhorendra Government Primary School in Savar – about 2 hours from the nation’s capital – is an example of how Bangladesh has made remarkable gains in ensuring access to education in the past two decades. The program, initiated in 2011, covers Grades I through V and one year of pre-primary education. It aims to enhance the quality of education in Bangladesh, and reduce disparities in access and learning.
More than 70% of donor partner financing is linked to results achieved on the ground and disbursed after meeting program targets associated with a set of key indicators. These indicators represent critical reforms, and cover a subset of the government’s program for primary education. The program is a good example where the government and donor resources are well harmonized, according to co-Task Team Leader Saurav Dev Bhatta.
As a result, the country’s net enrollment rate at the primary school level has increased from 80 percent in 2000 to above 90 percent in 2015. Furthermore, the percentage of children completing primary school is close to 80 percent. With nearly 6.4 million girls in secondary school in 2015, Bangladesh is among the few countries to achieve gender parity in school enrollment, and have more girls than boys in the secondary schools.
Many countries, developed and developing, that want to become more competitive in global markets tend to jump to a quick conclusion that they need to invest more in infrastructure, particularly in transport sectors like ports. But while many regions, including South Asia, do face important infrastructure gaps, massive new investment is not the only way to improve regional competitiveness. Countries should realize that they also have significant potential to make more efficient use of the infrastructure they already have.
Building megaports all along the coast might reduce a country’s trade costs, but it also requires hundreds of millions of dollars in investment. Improving the performance of existing ports, enabling them to handle higher levels of cargo with the same facilities and in a shorter time, can be a far more cost-effective approach to reducing transport and trade costs. Closing the infrastructure gap does not just require more infrastructure, but also better infrastructure, and better use of existing infrastructure.
The report Competitiveness of South Asia’s Container Ports, which we launched today, provides the first comprehensive look at the 14 largest container ports in South Asia, which handle 98 percent of the region’s container traffic. It focuses on port performance, drivers, and costs.
The World Bank is releasing its first-ever comprehensive study of container ports in South Asia, examining the competitiveness of major ports across the region and suggesting ways they can work more efficiently to boost trade.
The report, to be formally launched on April 27, examines the performance of the ports, which handle about 75 percent of the region’s trade by value, and assesses the role that the private sector, governance, and competition have played in their development.
Trade has been key to South Asia’s remarkable economic average annual growth rate of about 6.7 percent since the beginning of the century, the second-highest in the world after East Asia.
By improving the transport infrastructure, including ports, and easing bottlenecks that hinder the flow of goods, the World Bank is helping South Asia lower its high logistics costs, capture a bigger share of the global market and create more jobs, supporting its progress toward becoming a middle-income region.
How does a poor woman in rural Bangladesh make use of her business acumen if she lacks education, lacks opportunities to learn new skills, no assets of her own, a husband who earns just enough for the family to survive from day to day, children to look after and a society that had traditionally disapproved of women working outside the home?
The story of Hafiza Begum offers one answer. We interviewed her as part of our on-going research in Bangladesh, which sets out to understand its female labor force participation rates. This phenomenon of lower than expected female labor force participation appears to characterize the wider South Asia and MENA regions, despite their positive growth rates. What are some of the reasons?
Hafiza was born into a family too poor to educate her and she was married off at an early age. Her husband worked for daily wages wherever he could find it. Their two young daughters went to school in the local madrassa because it was free. She emerged from our interview as a woman who was determined, within the social norms of her society, to combine caring for her family with finding the resources she needed to build up her own business.
She told her husband early in their marriage how she planned to do this. “Suppose you buy me a kilogram of onions to cook our meals with. If I use 2 onions in a meal, you won’t be able to tell. Even if I use half an onion for a meal, you still won’t be any the wiser. Yet if I use just half an onion every time I cook, our supply of onions will last longer and we will save money.”
This thrifty attitude had been the hallmark of her housekeeping throughout her marriage. She boasted to us that when her husband recently went away to work in a brickfield, she managed to save Rs.400 out of the Rs.500 he gave her to run the house. How did she do it? She went to the marshes near their house to catch fish, keeping some to eat and selling the rest to her neighbors. She supplemented the vegetables she planted on their homestead plot with edible greens that grew wild near their house. She spent money only on what she could not produce herself.
Considering Bangladesh’s lack of development and a predominantly rural context, it would have been difficult to imagine even a few years ago that an elderly widow living in a remote corner of this impoverished South Asian country could be receiving money from her son living in Dubai sitting right at home or making petty payments through her mobile phone. Not any more, though.
Bangladesh has recently emerged as a curious case of digital innovation to widen coverage and reach remote pockets. The country reached the lower middle income country status in 2015, and has showcased the potential of combating rural poverty through inclusive digital financial services.
This has proved to be an effective weapon to eliminate poverty and secure the sustainable development goals (SDGs) while the country advances towards Vision 2021 — lifting millions of Bangladeshis out of poverty. Innovation and digitization will surely set Bangladesh firmly on the path to becoming a middle-income country. Although ambitious, it is exactly what both the government and private sector are working towards.
Access to the formal financial system remains a challenge for the rural poor in Bangladesh even though the central bank announced a plan for inclusive digital financial programmes in 2015.
Last week, I took a journey on Mumbai’s suburban train system, which carries a staggering 8 million women and men, equivalent to the entire population of Switzerland, every day to where they live, work, and spend time with family and friends. Although stretched, the system has reduced mobility constraints and increased independence for millions of women who rely on safe transport to access education and job opportunities; contributing to the city’s dynamism and growth. There are similarly inspiring examples from all countries in South Asia.
As we mark International Women’s Day, we celebrate the progress made in improving women’s inclusion and empowerment, while seeking to better address continuing challenges, which are estimated to cost South Asian economies $888 billion, through devising and implementing solutions that will bridge remaining gaps.
Much to be proud of—a lot more remains to be done
South Asian countries have seen encouraging increases in greater access and gender parity in education. At the same time, the region has achieved substantial decreases in maternal and child mortality. Countries have made great strides in healthcare access through training more female healthcare workers while providing affordable care for mothers and children. The region also boasts many inspiring female leaders and role models, as well as the countless individuals positively contributing to their communities and societies against difficult odds.
However, much more needs to be done in order to nurture all women and men to realize their potential. As South Asian countries become more prosperous, their growth trajectory will be less assured if hundreds of millions of women remain excluded from education and employment opportunities. South Asian countries will need to substantially expand their workforce in order to meet their economic growth goals and, at the same time, adequately support their increasingly large populations. Studies show that only around 1 out of 4 women in South Asia participate in the labor force, about half of what is typical in middle-income countries in other regions. Too many women face restrictions in decision-making, mobility, public safety; and far too many experience gender-based violence—the most egregious cases making headlines around the world. What can help bridge these gaps?