It’s June 16th, 2013. When you walk through the desolate, empty streets of Kathmandu today, where the effects of another bandh (strike) are clearly visible, you can’t help but wonder: will we Nepalis ever stand up and speak out against any of the injustices we see in our society or will we silently trudge on as always?
Sitting in a conference room at the Trade Tower in Kathmandu, I feel enormous hope that yes, we will. It’s a room filled with more than a hundred young techies and gender activists, all of whom braved the monsoon and the bandh to be a part of the Violence Against Women (VAW) Hackathon – a platform to bring together diverse stakeholders to work on technology solutions to VAW issues.
There are thunderstorms. There is a strike. And there is the hackathon to end gender-based violence in Kathmandu, Nepal—all happening on the same day.
On a rainy Sunday, some participants woke up at 5 a.m. to walk more than 8 miles to get to Trade Tower Business Center, Thapathali—the site of the hackathon.
It’s inspiring and energizing.
“Young people ought not to be idle,” quipped Margaret Thatcher, “It is very bad for them.” That was twenty years ago. With over a million youth currently out of work in Britain today – 21% of the population – her words remain unfortunately prophetic. And it’s not just industrial countries that are in a funk. The “arc of unemployment” does not discriminate: it cuts across southern Europe through the Middle East to South Asia. Almost half of the world’s young people live along this arc, and it is a demographic dividend that is quickly becoming a demographic liability.
Consider South Asia: a region home to the largest proportion of unemployed and inactive youth in the developing world, a whopping 31%. Many attribute this to social norms, as many South Asian women do not work for cultural reasons. But with a growing middle class, gender norms are rapidly evolving.
Many regions and countries face urbanization challenges, South Asia is no exception. Although the region is currently the least urbanized region in the world, its urbanization rate is on par with Africa and East Asia with a projected influx of 315 million into urban areas by 2030. As such, the World Bank flagship program on urbanization strives to link key policymakers and practitioners to promote a more efficient urbanization process in South Asia through the exchange of experiences and ideas. The 3rd workshop in this series gathered over 80 professionals from 7 South Asian countries, the World Bank and the Korea Research Institute for Human Settlements in the beautiful city of Thimphu, Bhutan.
Let’s take a second and ponder over the word “Youth,” and play a game of word association. What comes to your mind? Given that I fall into the youth bucket, my list of associations is mostly positive, with a few exceptions. Yet, from a development perspective, youth can sometimes be perceived as the (excuse the word play) “problem child” demographic - What can we do with them, and how do we do it?
Did you know that approximately 1/5th of South Asia’s population lies between the ages 15 to 24? What is more, young adults also comprise 50% of the unemployed in the region. While many may view this as a sad state of affairs, Youth Solutions, the recent collaboration between Microsoft and the World Bank, viewed it as an opportunity for empowerment.
According to recent estimates, South Asia is facing a shortage of 38 million housing units, largely affecting low and middle-income households. It comes as no surprise that informal settlements, slums and squatters are growing in all major urban centers across Asia to supplement the demand from urban poor. India alone has 52,000 slums inhabited by 14 percent of its total urban population. Almost, 50 percent of total population in Karachi, i.e. 7.6 million persons, lives in Katchi-Abadis. Bangladesh has 2,100 slums and more than 2 million slum dwellers in Dhaka. Even in Afghanistan, 80 percent of residents in capital city, Kabul, live in informal settlements.
The latest science, described in the World Bank report “Turn Down the Heat,” indicates that we are heading toward a 4° C warmer world, with catastrophic consequences in this century. While carbon dioxide (CO2) is still the No. 1 threat, there is another category of warming agent called short-lived climate pollutants (SLCPs). Mitigating these pollutants is a must if we want to avoid the 4° C warmer future.
The main SLCPs are black carbon, methane, tropospheric ozone, and hydrofluorocarbons. They are potentially responsible for more than one-third of the current warming. Because SLCPs have a much shorter lifetime in the air than CO2; reducing their emissions can create almost immediate reduction of global/regional warming, which is not possible by reducing CO2 emissions alone. According to one U.N. report, full implementation of 16 identified measures to mitigate SLCPs would reduce future global warming by about 0.5˚C.
In this blog, we will focus on one SLCP – black carbon. Black carbon is a primary component of particulate matter (PM), the major environmental cause of premature deaths globally. As a climate pollutant, black carbon’s global warming effects are multi-faceted. It can warm the atmosphere directly by absorbing radiation. When deposited on ice and snow, black carbon reduces their reflecting power and increases their melting rate. At the regional level, it also influences cloud formation and impacts regional circulation and rainfall patterns such as the monsoon in South Asia.
You might be wondering how buses and social accountability are related. In Baglung, western region of Nepal, they are not just related - one is the direct result of the other.
Nepal, with its diverse topography has amazing landscapes for tourism but when it comes to accessible roads, it is one of the rural community’s biggest concerns. In the hilly or mountainous regions, the problem is severe; the same can be said about the remote regions of Baglung where people were not getting any bus service from the centre to the upper faraway villages (up to Kalimati). As their only other option, they had jeeps (people carrier) as substitutes for public transportation.
“Now, it’s become easier for us to go to the villages as the bus is cheaper – it’s less than half the price of what we pay for jeeps. The jeeps cost us NRs. 150 to 200 (US$ 1.75 to $2.35) while the bus is just NRs. 40 (US$ 0.50). I am happy that the bus is in operation now but what is more exciting is - the bus service started as the direct result of the public hearing we had with the municipality last year,” says Pingal Khadka GC, one of the PETS members set up by Deep Jyoti Youth Club in the municipality.
Under the Program for Accountability in Nepal (PRAN), Deepjyoti Youth Club (DYC) organised one of the most effective tools of Social Accountability: a public hearing in a remote village of Baglung. The turnover of more than 2,500 people from local communities not just made an arresting sight but yielded results in less than two weeks. During the summer last year, the citizens had the opportunity to ask questions to the municipal officers and one of the concerns was the bus service. The people were promised the service to start as soon as possible and it did. The commitment of the Local Development Officer (LDO) in front of the entire community made the bus service a reality.
Considering the costs, it was never obvious to me how investments in a national identity program might add development value in a resource-crunched country like Nepal with so many competing priorities. It clicked when a senior official at Pakistan’s National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA) said, “The national identity program has allowed us to construct one big family tree of all Pakistani nationals. It is helping Pakistan establish a relationship between each member of our extended family and to redefine our obligations to one another — state to citizen and citizen to citizen.”
All it took was an invitation to open the floodgates. More than 1,200 South Asian youth responded to our call to share ideas on how to end gender-based violence in the region. The judges had the difficult task of picking 10 winners from about 60 finalists, but there were many more great solutions submitted. Here are some of my personal favorites that were not selected.