For a number of years, a majority of South Asians have been painfully aware that climate change is real and, if left unfettered, has the potential to reverse the significant gains the region has made on poverty reduction and other Millennium Development Goals.
In 2009, the government of the Maldives held a Cabinet meeting underwater to remind the world that the country – which is on average 2.7 meters above sea level – will be completely wiped out if oceans rise.
Nepal’s government held a Cabinet meeting at the base of Mount Everest – at an altitude of 5,242 meters above sea level – to stress that 1.3 billion Asians depend on the seven major rivers with headwaters originating from the vulnerable Himalayan glaciers for their livelihoods.
As the World Bank Group, we are dedicated to a world free of poverty. Poverty has many manifestations, of course, but few are sadder than child hunger and malnutrition. It is not just the heart-rending pangs of hunger or the susceptibility of a malnourished infant or child to ailments and diseases. The persistent effects are even more troubling. Poor nutrition impairs physical and mental development so that children benefit less from education and are less productive as adults. It leads to increased morbidity and mortality, causing output losses and increased spending on health and social support. Long ago William Blake wrote "some are born to endless night," poignantly capturing the tragedy of lives blighted by childhood deprivation.
If the extent of hungry children in the world – more than 350 million – is an inconvenient truth, their numbers in the South Asia region are acutely embarrassing.
Like a Bollywood dance sequence, South Asia’s growth numbers tend to dazzle. It is the second-fastest-growing region in the world after East Asia. But behind the glamour lies a paradox. Despite robust economic growth, the total number of people living in poverty in South Asia has not fallen fast enough. Today, there are more poor people living under $1.25 a day in South Asia than in Sub-Saharan Africa.
Social indicators are lagging as well. South Asia has the highest rates of malnutrition in the world, with 250 million children undernourished. More than 30 million children still do not go to school. Gender discrimination remains a scar. Women’s labor-force participation in the region is among the world’s lowest, boys outnumber girls in school enrollment, and legal and judicial systems still do not address systemic gender violence.
Last week a group of Bank staff joined our clients from the South Asia region for an Urbanization Knowledge Platform event on green cities. The event was held in Seoul and Daegu, respectively the largest and third-largest cities in Korea. It was hosted by the Korea Research Institute for Human Settlements (KRIHS), Korea’s premier institute responsible for urban, regional, infrastructure, land, and housing planning and research. The idea was for clients and Bank staff to learn firsthand about green city development as it happens on the ground in Korea. The following are my six takeaways from the workshops and field visits during the week.
"It's Possible!" read the roadside sign as our bus pulled into Sejong, the Republic of Korea’s future face to the world. We soon understood why Sejong is being billed as "Asia’s Green Metropolis of the Future" and Korea's new growth engine.
Our trip to Sejong this week was organized by the Korea Research Institute for Human Settlements (KRIHS), a partner with the World Bank’s flagship program on urbanization in South Asia. The program has formed a network of city leaders, policy makers, urban planners and practitioners from across the region to put the world’s best knowledge and data in their hands, and to harness urban growth for faster poverty alleviation and better development outcomes. The idea behind the trip was to take inspiration from Korea’s vision of becoming one of five top-ranked Green Economies by 2050 and to learn from cutting-edge Korean examples in green urban development for possible application in South Asian cities as they grow in size and numbers.
Over the last quarter-century, the number of urban dwellers in South Asia has more than doubled to almost 500 million. In India alone, the number of city dwellers has grown by 122 million. Delhi, Karachi, Kolkata and Dhaka have all joined Mumbai in the league of mega-cities. And yet, urbanization in South Asia has barely begun. With about 30% of its population living in cities, South Asia is the least urbanized in the world. But in the 20 years to come, South Asia will urbanize faster than any other region of the world, with the exception of East Asia. This rapid urbanization can be a powerful engine in accelerating poverty alleviation. But most cities in the region are struggling to cope with even the current level of urbanization. Can South Asian cities support the growing urban economy and population and become centers of shared prosperity, or will they become centers of grief?
HYDERABAD, India — It feels like a foreign land. Well, it is India, but that's not what I mean. Here I am, an infrastructure guy at the U.N. Convention on Biological Diversity's Conference of the Parties. What I am seeing in real time is global architecture at work on finding ways to protect the planet's natural resources in the face of manmade problems and changing climatic conditions. It is important work, and almost every country is laboring to find solutions that fit its unique needs. But you can imagine that common ground is not easily come by.
Ulrich Bartsch, the World Bank's outgoing senior country economist for India, will lead a 24-hour live chat on the World Bank India Facebook page. He and other experts will be discussing the Bank's latest India Economic Update. The chat will begin Wednesday, Oct. 10, at 4:30 p.m. India Standard Time (7 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time in the United States). Here, he provides a sneak preview.
India’s economic growth has slowed to a pace not seen since the beginning of the 2000s. At the same time, the current account deficit has reached a record high. We project growth in the current fiscal year to reach around 6%, a slowdown from the already low 6.5% growth in the previous year. This growth projection is predicated on an improving domestic and external environment, but the risks for a worse outcome are high.
Introduction by Kalpana Kochhar, chief economist of the South Asia Region
This summer, I wrote about keeping India’s promise alive and realizing its great potential. As I said then, energy reforms are crucial if the country is to boost growth. In the wake of the world’s largest blackout, which left 600 million people in India without power, two World Bank colleagues have written an op-ed about examples India can turn to, at home and abroad, as it seeks to tackle seemingly insurmountable power issues. Ashish Khanna is a senior energy specialist in the Bank’s New Delhi office, and Jyoti Shukla is energy sector manager for the South Asia region. Here are excerpts from their article, which appeared in the Hindustan Times:
India today is the fourth largest economy in the world. But for the country to sustain a growth rate of close to 6%, it remains vulnerable to the vicissitudes of global investors. It’s time to ponder: why it is not the other way round? How can India reach a position where we not only follow the rise and fall of global economic forces but also lead the way in sustaining the global economy? This is my dream.
Improving Ongoing Flagship Programs:
-The monitoring of all flagship projects should be improved right from the Gram Panchayat level to the state and central level.
-Models need to be developed for every flagship program, success factors studied, and implementation aligned with the specific needs of each state.
-All program implementation officers should be trained by those who have worked in successful programs. Pay should be linked with performance.
-Resource reallocation should depend on progress and work load.
-All unsuccessful programs should be analyzed to understand the main causes for failure and alternatives planned.
-Benchmark studies should be conducted to identify critical indicators for development in education, health and infrastructure and year on year progress checked.