South Asia can now reap the benefits of greater regional integration it once enjoyed before its partition into various countries. But first, the region must break down the barriers that impede its intra-regional trade.
You don’t have to be a number-cruncher to enjoy this challenge:
1, 5, 200, and 2,800,000. Close your eyes after reading these numbers. Can you recite them in the right order?
Intrigued? If you’re interested in the development of South Asia, these four numbers will resonate with you. They represent four areas of opportunity for the region to further integrate and thrive economically.
Last month, prior to the South Asia Economic Conclave #SAEC15, Sanjay met with 30 Indian graduate students holding or currently pursuing advanced degrees in history, economics, and South Asia studies. He shared the 4 numbers with them and observed their responses. Here’s an overview of the conversation:
Urbanization provides the countries of South Asia with the opportunity to transform their economies to join the ranks of richer nations. But to reap the benefits of urbanization, nations must address the challenges it poses. Growing urban populations put pressure on a city’s infrastructure; they increase the demand for basic services, land and housing, and they add stress to the environment.
Of all these congestion forces, one of the most serious for health and human welfare is ambient air pollution from vehicle emissions and the burning of fossil fuels by industry and households, according to the World Bank report, “Leveraging Urbanization in South Asia: Managing Spatial Transformation for Prosperity and Livability.”
Particularly harmful are high concentrations of fine particulate matter, especially that of 2.5 microns or less in diameter (PM2.5). They can penetrate deep into the lungs, increasing the likelihood of asthma, lung cancer, severe respiratory illness, and heart disease.
Data released by the World Health Organization (WHO) in May 2014 shows Delhi to have the most polluted air of any city in the world, with an annual mean concentration of PM2.5 of 152.6 μg/m3 . That is more than 15 times greater than the WHO’s guideline value and high enough to make Beijing’s air—known for its bad quality—look comparatively clean.
But Delhi is far from unique among South Asia’s cities.
Need to know how sustained infrastructure investments could boost Bangladesh’s economy? How the delay in implementing key reforms on the domestic front, a weak trade performance and the recent slowdown in rural wage growth pose risks to growth in India? Or how Pakistan could achieve sustained and inclusive growth through reforms in energy and taxation, and increasing investment?
There is a one-stop place to find out what the World Bank is doing in your country and what it thinks about economic prospects there.
Halfway across the globe, in the South Asia region, another ice-snow regime is under threat, and although less scrutinized by the media, has the potential to trigger catastrophic economic and social consequences.
The Hindu Kush-Himalayan region is widely called the third pole and in this ice-snow regime of the third pole are the origins of three mighty rivers – Ganges, Brahmaputra and the Indus that indirectly support over 700 million people across South Asia.
The ice and snow regime is among the most fragile earth systems that will be impacted massively by a changing climate and the melting and disappearing of the three poles (the Antarctic, Arctic and high-altitude mountain glaciers) will in turn exacerbate sea level rise and extreme weather patterns.
In the second in this series of blogs, we highlighted the need to introduce adaptive delta management to the Bangladesh delta. The reason—to manage the long-term risks facing the Delta by investing in adaptive and flexible, short-term activities. The most striking need for this approach is climate change, which unchecked will undermine Bangladesh’s many development gains.
Robert Solow once said: “Livability is not a middle-class luxury, it is an economic imperative.” But how related are livability and economic development? Furthermore, how can we define and measure livability?
Recently as part of the South Asia Urbanization Flagship Report, Leveraging Urbanization in South Asia: Managing Spatial Transformation for Prosperity and Livability, our team compared a sample of South Asian cities with peers from around the world. The report’s framework considered livability (along with prosperity) as being a key outcome of urbanization.
We wanted to highlight that while urbanization has undoubtedly contributed to economic growth in South Asia, its impact on livability is more complex. As they have grown, South Asian cities have faced challenges arising from the pressure of their populations on basic services, infrastructure, land, housing, and the environment. This has helped to give rise to what the report terms “messy” urbanization, characterized by slums and sprawl, not to mention levels of ambient outdoor air pollution that rank amongst the highest across cities globally.
The report suggests that to have a full understanding of the urbanization process in South Asia, it is necessary to discuss not only the positive productivity benefits that are associated with urban size and density, but also the negative “congestion” forces. How successfully South Asian cities manage these forces will help to determine the quality of life not only of the region’s current half a billion urban residents, but also of the additional 250 million that will be added over the next 15 years.
The effects of migration are not only on consumables, but also have begun to rub off on and complement social and developmental dimensions, including higher expenditure on children’s education, improved savings and investments, enhanced contribution to community development and social work amongst others.
A staggering 9.5 million Bangladeshi migrants, mostly semi-skilled workers providing manual labor, work abroad as of 2015. Remittance inflow, representing roughly a tenth of the country’s GDP, had skyrocketed to over US$15 billion by 2014, almost 20 times the inflow in 1990.
Even with the smiling faces of many migrants and their families, stories of failed migration attempts, endless suffering and exploitation run parallel. We are quick to judge aspiring migrants for their choice of informal channels of migration as soon as we come across a heart wrenching ordeal featured on television and newspapers. Unscrupulous middlemen are often the first to blame and can be the main cause of migrants’ distress and even fatalities especially as one-third of migration attempts fail. However, sometimes, aspiring migrants have few other options in remote villages that are underserved or out of reach by formal channels.
South Asia’s urbanization has been described as “messy, hidden and underleveraged." A lot has to do with how South Asian countries manage their cities’ spatial development.
Having visited many cities in South Asia, the sight of the built environment in the region is a familiar one–a rapid expansion of built-up areas and an accompanying low-density sprawl that has, all too often, gone hand-in-hand with poorly managed transportation systems, planning constraints, underutilized land, and a lack of institutional capacity and resources. These forces result in high land and rental costs that make it extremely challenging for cities to support affordable housing and commercial space, and to maintain a livable public realm.
South Asia can become a powerful locomotive of global development but it could just as easily regress into becoming the crucible for global instability and insecurity
This blog is part of the series #OneSouthAsia exploring how South Asia can become a more integrated, thus more economically dynamic region. The blog series is a lead up to the South Asia Economic Conclave, an event dedicated to deepening existing economic links through policy and investments in regional businesses.
SAARC countries need to think of pragmatic approaches and reimagine regional cooperation. One can conceive of SAARC as comprising three sub-regions within the larger South Asian landscape namely: the eastern sub-region of Bangladesh, Bhutan, India and Nepal (BBIN); the southern sub -region of India, Maldives and Sri Lanka (IMS); and the western sub -region of Afghanistan, India and Pakistan (AIP).