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October 17 is the international day to end poverty. There has been much progress toward this important milestone: the World Bank Group’s latest numbers show that since 1990 nearly 1.1 billion people have escaped extreme poverty. Between 2012 and 2013 alone, around 100 million people moved out of extreme poverty. That’s around a quarter of a million people every day. This is cause for optimism.
But extreme poverty and the wrenching circumstances that accompany it persist. Half the world's extreme poor now live in sub-Saharan Africa, and another third live in South Asia. Worldwide nearly 800 million people were still living on less than $1.90 a day in 2013, the latest year for which we have global numbers. Half of these are children. Most have nearly no education. Many of the world's poor are living in fragile and conflict afflicted countries. In a world in which so many have so much, it is unacceptable that so many have so little.
Judging by the number of views of the recent Facebook livestream event on intra-regional trade and investment in South Asia, there is significant interest in this topic. And there should be, given that there remain many important and untapped opportunities to use the power of trade and investment to enhance economic opportunities, including for lesser-skilled people and women in the region.
According to respondents of the Facebook poll conducted during the above event in May 2016, the most important policy to enhance intra-regional trade would be to invest in connectivity and border crossings. Policy makers seem to realize this as well. Over the last two years, new efforts to deepen South Asian cooperation in trade have focused almost exclusively on trade facilitation issues. Let me elaborate.
On a fine Tuesday morning Roghan Devi, a routine road maintenance worker from Dhanusha district visits the local branch of Mega Bank - a commercial bank in Nepal, to receive her monthly salary. She was notified about this through a text message in her mobile phone. Just a few years back, it was unimaginable for her, and for most of the women from her community, to have a personal bank account.
This initiative is part of a World Bank-supported Strengthening National Rural Transport Program (SNRTP) project that works in 33 districts employing over 1,800 routine maintenance workers- over 70% of them are women - to enhance the availability and reliability of transport connectivity for rural communities. To support this initiative, SNRTP forged a joint collaboration with the private sector.
Lahjung Bhotia is from Hatiya, Sankhuwasabha, a remote mountainous district in Eastern Nepal. She and her husband rent land and grow black cardamom with a third of the production going to the land owner. On the side, the couple runs a small tea shop, selling cold drinks, eggs and biscuits. She and her husband take turns working at the shop and the farm and she claims to be doing okay, not terribly good, but just okay. Her life’s singular objective is to educate her children well enough so that they can work in offices.
In Nepal, the Jagattradevi and Tulsibhanjyang areas of the Syangja District are rapidly emerging as leading producers of seed potatoes -- whole or parts of potatoes intended to be re-planted as seeds -- which have traditionally been imported, mostly from India, to meet growing local demand.
Importing seeds from India is costly and time consuming. Therefore, producing seeds domestically is not only a lucrative activity but also a necessity for Nepali farmers, who are also dedicated to growing high-quality seed potatoes.
The Irrigation and Water Resources Management Project (IWRMP) has helped kick start the sustainable production and supply of this important food and cash crop. Since 2008, IWRMP has benefitted about 1,100 households and contributed to improving agriculture productivity and management of selected irrigation schemes in Nepal.