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Bhutan

A revolution in connectivity for education coming your way

Michael Foley's picture
Photo Courtesy of Dante

When Jim Wolfensohn, then President of the World Bank, sent me to Kabul in early 2002, just after the fall of the Taliban, in order to set up the first GDLN center in Afghanistan, the main challenge was to find decent Internet connectivity. In the end we had to set up our own satellite connection back to the World Bank in Washington DC. The same happened in Sri Lanka. How things have changed in South Asia.

For a long time, universities in the region had to rely on high cost, low speed, satellite based services to bring Internet access to its faculty and students, but that situation is changing rapidly. Led by the Higher Education Commission (HEC) in Pakistan and more recently by the National Knowledge Commission in India, and by a host of other programs in other countries, educational institutions across the region are building or rebuilding their networks, connecting to each other and to global networks with high speed fiber optic links that are set to revolutionize how we share knowledge and collaborate in research.

Food Prices and the Inflation Tax

Eliana Cardoso's picture

Oscar Wilde, suspecting that the relationship between price and value hides reasons that reason itself ignores, observes in the Lady Windermere’s Fan that a cynic is “a man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing”. The economist will laugh at Wilde’s one-liner. But after a brief moment, she would protest. Theory tells her that value and price is one and the same thing. And she will insist that what matters for South Asians today is the difference between an increase in the price level and an increase in the inflation rate.

The price level increases when there is a supply shock, such as an increase in food and fuel prices. The initial increase in the price level tends to transmit itself to other prices when the economy operates close to capacity. If the price increase is accommodated by monetary policy, the supply shock transforms itself in a spiral of prices and wages and inflation goes up. Monetary authorities do right by not tightening monetary policy in response to the primary impact of supply shocks, but have to be attentive in case the increase in food prices begins to encourage secondary inflationary effects.

The Poor and the Middle Class

Eliana Cardoso's picture

Start counting the poor in India and you are bound to get into controversy. In “A Comparative Perspective on Poverty Reduction in Brazil, China and India,” Martin Ravallion (October 2009) calculates that 42% of the population in India in 2005 lived in households with income per person below US$1.25 a day (converted using purchasing power parity exchange rates for consumption in 2005). But he finds only 20% of the population under the US$1.25 poverty line when using a different method as a sensitivity test. The difference is huge. One number is twice the other and corresponds to two hundred million people (more than the whole population of Brazil!).

Ravallion repeats the exercise and finds that in Brazil, in 2005, the population who lived in households with income per person below US$1.25 a day (converted using purchasing power parity exchange rates for consumption in 2005) is 8%. When using the alternative sensitivity test method, it is 10%. Compared to India, the difference is small (2% of the population) between the two measures.

I suspect that instead of trying to calculate the number of people with less than US$ 1.25 a day, policies for poverty reduction should focus on the bottom quintile of the population: the 20% poorest group in the country.

One of my reasons is that inequality matters. Think of poverty as a relationship.

Integrating the Two South Asias

Ejaz Ghani's picture

Regional Cooperation can be the key instrument to promote increased market integration in South Asia through greater flow of goods, services, capital, and ideas. This is appropriate for a region which is the least integrated region in the world, although many countries share analogous cultures and histories, as well as a passion for cricket and curry.

It is also very timely given the global downturn and the slowdown in global trade. Increased regional trade could more than compensate for the potential loss in global trade. It is estimated that increased intra-regional trade could add two percentage points to South Asia's GDP growth. This could raise South Asia's real GDP growth from 6% to 8% in 2010. Unlike fiscal stimulus, increased market integration and regional trade could add to GDP growth, without increasing public debt. It is the most efficient and cost effective instrument for South Asia to cope with the global downturn.

Bang for the Buck, Changing Attitudes Toward People with Disabilities

Susan Hirshberg's picture

"Just like the Other Kids" could reach 300,000 first and second graders this year.

We like to think that our value added is our strong intellect and analytical skills combined with the ability to provide additional resources to tackle development issues. But for South Asia’s efforts in disability, it has sometimes been the smallest amounts of money and the least ‘Bank-like’ activities that have been creating the greatest awareness on the subject. I wanted to highlight some of the very exciting initiatives that we have been working on marking the International Day of Persons with Disabilities today. Three such activities have been the development of a children’s book on inclusion in Pakistan, coverage by an Indian newspaper of a one-page analysis of Bollywood’s depiction of disability in films in the report Disability in India: from Commitment to Actions, and a Small Grants Award Ceremony in Sri Lanka.

“Just like the Other Kids” is a book by young people between the ages of 12 to 18 with and without disabilities financed for $22,000 by the South Asia Youth Innovation Fund and the Pakistan Small Grants Program. Its intent is to introduce first and second graders to characters with disabilities in a friendly, inclusive way. Three out of five of the characters have a disability, but all the characters have strong abilities (and some weaknesses).

Life and Death in South Asia

Eliana Cardoso's picture

In the film, Venus, an old and frail Peter O’Toole discovers the Greek goddess in the guise of his best friend’s niece. The ironic and good humored story explores the theme of the games played in a mutual seduction between the older man with experience, money and a nostalgic yearning for carnal desire and the young woman who soon finds out the power she wields and negotiates three kisses in return for a pair of earrings. In the final scene, wearing only one of his boots on a cold beach, O’Toole feels the caress of the sea’s salty foam with the sole of his foot and smiles. His face expresses the happiness of someone who knows the joys of being alive.

It is impossible to weigh up Peter O’Toole’s smile, measuring the degree of his happiness or comparing it to what you would feel if walking barefoot in the sand. But, the idea that his feelings can be measured as a metric has become fashionable, ever since the King of Bhutan decided that GDP fails to portray the well-being of his subjects and summoned a team to create the Gross National Happiness index.

How Will Changes in Globalization Impact South Asia?

Ejaz Ghani's picture

Globalization has accelerated global growth and global poverty reduction. But it has also raised concerns. The current global crisis may change globalization itself, as both developed and developing countries adjust to global imbalances that contributed to the crisis. Will these changes help or hinder economic recovery and growth in South Asia?

There are three models of globalization. These include (a) trade flows (exchange of goods), (b) capital flows (exchange of money), and (c) macroeconomic management. These three models of globalization may not be the same in the future. Changes in globalization could change the composition of trade flows, capital flows, and economic management, which in turn, could accelerate or restrain growth. So how will changes in these three models of globalization impact economic recovery and growth in South Asia?

South Asia as a region is peculiar. Its trade, capital flows, and economic management differ from other regions in how the region has globalized, although it must be mentioned that there is a lot of diversity within the region.

First Month on the Job in Bhutan: Trial by Earthquake

Mark LaPrairie's picture

As the newly appointed (and first) World Bank Representative to Bhutan, my first month on the job has been challenging. A magnitude 6.3 earthquake with an epicenter in eastern Bhutan struck on September 21. There were 12 fatalities, including a mother breast-feeding her infant daughter by the hearth in their stone-walled kitchen. While there was fortunately relatively little loss of life, there was considerable damage to houses, schools, health clinics, temples, religious monuments and roads. In Bhutan's mountainous terrain, many affected villages are several hours walk away, so the provision of relief supplies and carrying out reconstruction is difficult.

In collaboration with the Office of the UN Resident Coordinator in Bhutan, Claire Van der Vaeren, who took up her assignment in Bhutan in June, the World Bank fielded a team of disaster experts. Claire and I accompanied the team of six (four from the UN, two from the Bank) to the eastern districts ("dzongkhags") of Mongar and Tashigang. The drive from Thimphu -- Bhutan's capital city of 100,000 people -- to the affected villages in Mongar takes two days.

First Month on the Job in Bhutan: Trial by Fire

Mark LaPrairie's picture

After our rest at the Home Minister, Lyonpo Minjur’s rural ancestral home, the team embarked on the long journey back to Thimphu the next day -- only a couple hundred miles as the crow flies (if even that), yet a two day adventure across high mountain passes and along narrow endlessly winding roads with precipitous drops below. We reached the Swiss Guest House in Bumthang around 7pm, looking forward to hot showers and a meal.

Upon pulling up to the lodge, I received a call on my mobile from my friend Tashi, who was recently appointed by His Majesty to serve on the National Council (senate). Tashi was in eastern Bhutan to support earthquake relief efforts on the part of the National Council. Tashi called to inform me that, Wamrong, the town I lived in 21 years ago when I first came to Bhutan as a volunteer teacher, had mostly burned to the ground that afternoon.

Gross Domestic Product Not Sole Indicator of Progress

Joe Qian's picture

What is Happiness? Many of us equate it with money. However, since 1972, the kingdom of Bhutan under the leadership of its former King, Jigme Singye Wangchuck has measured its developmental success not solely through the economic lens of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) but also through a more complete approach known as Gross National Happiness (GNH). Its laurels were based upon the original four pillars of sustainable development, preservation and promotion of cultural values, conservation of the natural environment, and good governance.

These indicators have become increasingly important over the last three decades as it became apparent that blindly pursuing economic expansion has created growing pains in a number of countries. GNH has appeared to be very successful in Bhutan, a nation the size of Switzerland with a population of around 700,000. With initiatives such as maintaining at least 60% (currently 72%) of the land for forests and conservation, while maintaining 165 indigenous mammal species such as the rare snow leopard, Bhutan also has a fast growing economy.

Government spending on health and education is the highest in the region at 18% and Bhutan boasts a GDP growth rate of 21.4% and a per capita income level that is almost twice as much as much as India’s, although it was much poorer as recently as the 1980’s. Independent sources also seem to echo these sentiments as Business Week magazine rated Bhutan the world’s 8th happiest country.

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