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.
“We want teachers to come to school and educate our children.”
“When the Anganwadi worker doesn’t turn up for work, we don’t pay her salary.”
“I have set up a grievance redressal mechanism to make public services accountable to villagers.”
These were some of the statements made to us by Anita, a once-diffident village woman in rural Jharkhand. What struck us most was the confidence and deep sense of empowerment with which Anita spoke to us. She had started out as a member of a village SHG and now headed the Masaniya village Gram Panchayat (local government) where she worked with other women members to protect the interests of her community.
We - a World Bank team led by Junaid Ahmad the India country director - were visiting rural Jharkhand, one of the poorest parts of the country, to see the work done under the Bank-supported National Rural Livelihood Project (NRLP). As we listened with rapt attention, the women poured out their stories, telling us how their lives had changed thanks to the resolve and positivity that the project had instilled within them. Time and again we heard how it was now possible for them to think of escaping the clutches of poverty and chart out a new future for themselves and their families.
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.
In several economic infrastructure sectors, India enjoyed a strong track record of harnessing Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs). Private sector investments in infrastructure more than tripled from the 10th Plan Period (2002-07; INR 2 trillion) to the 11th Plan (2007-12; INR 7.3 trillion). Between these plan periods, private sector share in infra investments increased from 22% to 38%. For a considerable period of time, on the score of mobilizing infrastructure investments through private participation among developing countries, India ranked 1st in Energy and Transport sectors and 2nd in Telecom (behind Brazil).
This erstwhile success of India’s PPP program is attributable to well-crafted reform efforts by the government, and ably executed by the private sector, banks and other financial intermediaries. Following the economic liberalization initiated in the early 1990s, the government has created an enabling environment for private participation through several sector-specific and cross-sectoral initiatives, e.g., relaxing entry norms, tax concessions, independent regulation in telecom and power, mobilization of additional revenues through tolls and cess on fuel, establishment of a viability gap fund mechanism and India Infrastructure Financing Company Limited, etc. The financial intermediaries, too, quickly moved up on a steep learning curve to cater to this new and challenging mode of delivering infrastructure services. Private sector responded enthusiastically and seized these opportunities to develop their own capabilities and progressively build larger and complex projects. Today, private sector operators are serving more than 90% of the mobile phone users, owning ~40% of the power generation capacity, built and operating a substantive portion of arterial network of national highways, besides world-class airports in four metros and container handling facilities at many ports.
Much more than just funding by the World Bank under its Technical Education Quality Improvement Project (TEQIP) has clearly helped COEP not just arrest the slide in academic standards but also reemerge among the top ranking engineering colleges in the country where both the faculty and the students take pride in being meritorious.
Trophies and certificates of merit can be seen displayed not just in COEP director Prof Bharatkumar B. Ahuja’s airy room in the restored heritage building, which houses the administrative office, but in many other workshops and main halls of the college. Prof Ahuja states with pride that after IITs, it is the first choice of students from the state.
In an environment where industry is known to be critical of most engineering colleges, COEP has received Rs. 1 crore worth scholarships for students this year. Many of the industries are coming forward to help the college set up labs for promoting innovation. Having got autonomy, a precondition under the World Bank project, COEP is striving to achieve university status to push ahead with its programme to introduce more specializations and research. It boasts of 118 PhDs among its 217 faculty members.
During a recent visit, unmindful of the high temperature in the tin roofed workshop of the yore, enthusiastic students could be seen engaged in club activities like robotics, racing car, 3D printing, etc. The college has over 30 clubs including a satellite club, where like in a relay race projects are started and taken forward by next batch of students. On the fourth floor of one of the buildings, in a makeshift station the satellite club members monitor and communicate daily with the communication polar satellite Swayam ( the fourth student satellite from India) when it passes over Pune. The club is now working on a new satellite - Solar Sail - with research funding from ISRO.
An Eggless Bakery in Sikkim
Tucked away behind the monastery at the popular Buddha Park, on one of South Sikkim’s many serene hilltops, stands the eggless Tatagatha Bakery. The bakery is run by a Self-Help Group of local village women with funding through a microcredit program supported by the NERLP. A bakery is an unusual, innovative idea for microcredit, but the Buddha Park attracts many pilgrims, and the bakery is always in demand. Going eggless and dairy free has meant it can better cater to its core clientele of monks, pilgrims and visitors; it has also reduced the need to transport perishable supplies up the steep hilltop.
The project team mobilized a veteran baker from the rail head town of Siliguri to train the local women initially. The project ran into teething problems early on: a single SHG was rallied, but not all members were equally committed, which saw high dropouts after training. The team changed tack, and elicited individual interest regardless of membership. Twenty women have now been trained. Uptake by SHGs has undoubtedly been gradual, but it is early days yet – the bakery only opened in May 2016. These women see the bakery’s potential and are willing to bet on its success, accepting lower wages for now.
On February 1st, India’s finance minister presented the Union Budget for 2017-2018, and announced the government’s plan to eliminate tuberculosis (TB) by 2025. This is a welcome move. While ridding people of the burden of any disease is a worthy goal by itself, TB elimination provides perhaps one of the strongest cases for public intervention from an economic point of view.
All communicable diseases present what economists call externalities: infectious people can infect other people who in turn infect others and so on. In fact, economist Phillip Musgrove used TB in particular to illustrate this: “no victim of tuberculosis is likely to ignore the disease, so there is no problem of people undervaluing the private benefits of treatment. Rather, the cost of treatment--and the fact that they may feel better even though the disease has not been cured-- may lead people to abandon treatment prematurely, with bad consequences not only for themselves but for others. The rest of society therefore has an interest in treating those with tuberculosis, and assuming at least part of the cost.” Reducing TB incidence could generate benefits of $33 per dollar spent, prompting The Economist to put TB among their list of ‘no-brainers’. According to the Stop TB Partnership, ending TB globally could yield US$ 1.2 trillion overall economic return on investment.
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?
Over the past several years, innovations in information and communication technologies have fundamentally changed the nature of work.
This has created new opportunities in digital employment for workers and employers in South Asia and beyond.
So what are the pathways to this new employment?
During a recent Facebook live chat on digital jobs, we explored three themes related to the digital jobs of the future. First, we discussed where the digital jobs of the future are. Second, we discussed how South Asia is uniquely positioned to benefit from the growth of these jobs. And finally, we discussed how to get started in the digital economy by finding relevant training and learning opportunities.
Here’s an overview of our discussion in five points:
Digital jobs fall into two categories: jobs within the IT or digital industries, and what are termed digital society jobs. Digital industry jobs include those such as computer programmer, mobile app developer, graphic designer and other jobs where information and communication technologies are the core tool to perform the job functions. However, technology is also changing what we call digital society jobs, where technology is maybe not core to the job functions, but makes more you more efficient and productive, and improves access to markets and networks.
2. What is driving the emergence of these new digital jobs?
The rapid rise in connectivity that is linking more and more people to the internet is changing employment. Today, many jobs can be performed through computers, with workers telecommuting from almost anywhere in the world. Many business processes are being broken down into task based work, and which can be farmed out to people with the skills to do them, anywhere the world. Some of these tasks need higher-level skills, and can pay well – especially compared with many developing countries’ wage levels. But there are also simpler tasks that many more people, even those with limited skills, can do. This mix creates the opportunity to include more people in the global digital economy, while also creating pathways towards better paying and higher quality work for those who perform well and pick up in-demand skills.
The state of Madhya Pradesh in India is largely vegetarian with limited consumption of eggs and meat.
While these dietary preferences are commonplace in other Indian states, Madhya Pradesh is facing a protein deficiency epidemic which threatens the long term health of its population.
How did it get there?
In 2015 I spent five weeks in rural and tribal areas of Madhya Pradesh evaluating the World Bank’s Madhya Pradesh District Poverty Intervention Project (MPDPIP II), with the support of the South Asia Food and Nutrition Security Initiative (SAFANSI)
Across the 8 districts I visited, families shared how they had improved their agricultural productivity, started backyard kitchen gardening, and supplemented their income through dairy and poultry farming, collective procurement and small scale enterprises.
As I examined local village level health records, Anganwadi Center (AWC) registers, Auxiliary Nurse and Midwife (ANM) registers and Primary Health Center (PHC) documents, I noticed a reduction in severe malnutrition and severe anemia among pregnant women and under 5-year-old children.
However, this decrease did not extend to moderate or mild malnutrition and anemia.