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Voices of Youth: A Hope for One South Asia from Young Economists at Students' Meet

Nikita Singla's picture
Young economists from South Asia at South Asia Economics Students’ Meet (SAESM) 2018, Chittagong, Bangladesh
Young economists from South Asia at South Asia Economics Students’ Meet (SAESM) 2018, Chittagong, Bangladesh
Photo Credits: Nikita Singla/World Bank

At the 14th South Asia Economic Students’ Meet (SAESM), more than 100 top economics undergraduates and faculties from seven countries in South Asia convened in Chittagong, Bangladesh to discuss how greater regional integration in South Asia can help countries achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). As these young economists engaged in vigorous academic competitions and research presentations on South Asia’s development opportunities, they also created fond memories and built lifelong friendships. Was SAESM 2018 a new hope for #onesouthasia? Let’s hear it from the students themselves.

“With the momentum built up, the stage set, with a banner that in all its glory was decorated with the flags of the seven South Asian states, we sat in our respective country groups to embark on a three-day long journey that was to change my perception of South Asia forever. The dis-embarkment on this passage saw us divided by geographical boundaries, as India and Pakistan made sure to sit the farthest away from each other. The end to this voyage, however, painted a story not many foresaw – twenty Indians and Pakistanis crammed together in a single bus, discussing our common history with a fondness anew to most, accompanied by bursts of people from either side breaking into rounds of Antakshari. At that point, we were one!" – Alizeh Arif, Lahore School of Economics

رفاه در حوزه جنوب آسیا مستلزم سهم بیشتر زنان با پرداخت معاش کافی در نیروی کار

Annette Dixon's picture
Also available in: English

Women in the Work Force
جنوب آسیا شاهد رشد اقتصادی ٦ در صدی طی ٢٠ سال گذشته بوده، که این امر در نتیجه سبب کاهش فقر و بهبود در عرصه صحت و تعلیم و تربیه گردیده است. ما در حالیکه از این پیشرفتها در روز جهانی زن تجلیل می کنیم، بهتر میبود اگر زنان بیشتر با دریافت مزد کافی شامل نیروی کار میبودند. زنان در جنوب آسیا فقط ٢٨ درصد نیرو کار و یا انعده شان که در جستجوی کار هستند، را تشکیل میدهند. در مقایسه  با حوزه خاورمیانه و شمال آفریقا که در انجان ٢١ درصد نیرو کار را مردان تشکیل میدهند در حوزه جنوب اسیا مردان ٧٩ درصد نیرو کار هستند، که این دومین کمترین میزان در جهان است.
 نیروی بالقوه انکشاف  جنوب آسیا با بزرگترین جمعیت کار در حال رشد، در طبقه متوسط قرار دارد؛ اما کمبود زنان در مشاغل و مشارکت اقتصادی، منعکس دهنده فرصت های از دست رفته است. ده ها میلیون زن در هند و سریلانکا، در طول بیست سال گذشته از نیروی کار کنار رفته اند.
 از جمله بسیاری از عوامل باز دارنده، یکی هم بیسوادی است که تقریبا نیمی از زنان بالغ  در جنوب آسیا را دربر میگیرد که دخترانشان از بالاترین میزان سوء تغذی در جهان رنج می برند. میزان خشونت علیه زنان و مرگ و میر مادران در بالاترین میزان در جهان باقی مانده است. همه این عوامل مشارکت کم، بیکاری بیش از حد  و تفاوت های مزد مستمر برای زنان است، که در بازار کار را نشان می دهد.
 چه کاری می توانیم انجام دهیم تا به وجه احسن، زنان را تشویق کنیم تا در نیروی کار شرکت کنند؟ این کار، با شروع ارزش قایل شدن به ارزشهای دختران برابر فرزندان است - دسترسی آنها به غذاهای مغذی و سرمایه گذاری در آموزش و پرورش آنها برای دستیابی به توانایی هایشان فراهم می شود. بیایید علاقۀ دختران جوان را در موضوعاتی مثل علم و ریاضیات جلب کنیم و آنها را متقاعد سازیم که آنها به همان اندازه پسران توانایی دارند و میتوانند در مهندسی، تحقیقات علمی، فناوری اطلاعات و دیگر زمینه هایی که توسط کارفرمایان تقاضا می شود، شغل ایجاد کنند. ما همچنین باید توجه فرزندانمان را به احترام دختران و زنان افزایش دهیم و روشن کنیم که برای خشونت مبتنی بر جنسیت، هیچ مجال باقی نمانده است.

South Asia’s prosperity will require more women to work for pay

Annette Dixon's picture
Also available in: دری

Women in the Work Force

South Asia has enjoyed a growth rate of 6 percent a year over the past 20 years. This has translated into declining poverty and improvements in health and education. While worthy of celebration as we mark International Women's Day, the success could have been more dramatic if more women worked for pay. Only 28 percent of women in South Asia have a job or are looking for one, compared to 79 percent of men. This is the second lowest in the world, after the Middle East and North Africa region at 21 percent.

With the largest working-age population and growing middle class, South Asia’s development potential is vast. But the lack of women in employment and economic participation reflects lost potential. In India and Sri Lanka, tens of millions of women have dropped out of the work force over the last twenty years.

Many factors are holding them back. Almost half of South Asia’s adult women are illiterate and its girls suffer from the highest malnutrition rates in the world. Rates of violence against women and maternal mortality remain among the highest in the world. All these factors translate into a labor market characterized by low participation, high unemployment and persistent wage gaps for women.

What can be done to better prepare and encourage women to participate in the work force? It starts with valuing our daughters as much as our sons – providing them with the same access to nutritious foods and investing in their education for them to reach their potential. Let’s spark the interest of young girls in subjects like science and mathematics, and convince them that they are just as capable as boys –that they too can build careers in engineering, scientific research, IT, and other fields that are in demand by employers. We must also raise our sons to respect girls and women, and make it clear that there is zero-tolerance for gender-based violence.

Addressing violence against women in Pakistan: time to act now

Uzma Quresh's picture
Pakistan women gbv
The time is right to act on this issue in Pakistan. If we do not address violence against women and girls, sustainable growth will remain elusive.

Almost one in three married Pakistani women report facing physical violence from their husbands. The informal estimates are much higher. Such violence is not only widespread, it is also normalized. According to Bureau of Statistics, more than half of the women respondents in one province believe that it is ok for a husband to beat his wife under certain circumstances; and these attitudes are not much different in the rest of the country.
This violence also has serious implications on economic growth. Only 22% of women are formally reported to participate in the Pakistani workforce. Yet working is often not a choice and comes with risks.

This means some women face the risk of being sexually harassed, and assaulted by men outside their home if they choose to work. However, studies indicate that some women may also face violence within their households because of perceived dishonor and a threat to masculinity when they work outside the home. Intimate partner violence is expensive, in terms of medical cost, and missed days of work. However, what is harder to cost for is the psychological trauma due to violence that prevents women from achieving their full potential.

Climate-smart agriculture is “common-sense agriculture”

Martien van Nieuwkoop's picture
 Neil Palmer / CIAT
Climate-smart agriculture profiles for Bhutan, Pakistan and Nepal provide an important step forward in creating a sustainable food system in South Asia. Photo: Neil Palmer / CIAT

According to a recent study published in Science Advances, climate change is projected to hit South Asia especially hard.
Impacts will be particularly intense in the food and agriculture sector. A region inhabited by about one-fifth of the world’s people, South Asia and its densely populated agricultural areas face unique and severe natural hazards. Its food system is particularly vulnerable. Climate-smart agriculture (CSA)-- which is an integrated approach to managing landscapes that is focused on increasing agricultural productivity, improving resilience to climate change, and reducing agricultural greenhouse gas emissions—is part of the solution.
The World Bank is working to mainstream climate smart agriculture in South Asia with a series of Climate-Smart Agriculture or “CSA” Country Profiles for Bhutan, Nepal and Pakistan, that were launched recently in collaboration with Governments and relevant stakeholders. The findings in the profiles are specific to national contexts, but there is a common thread.  We learned that for South Asia, climate change adaptation and mitigation pose major challenges and opportunities for agriculture sector investment and growth.  
The farmers, Government representatives and other stakeholders I met during the CSA Country Profile launches expressed huge interest in learning how they can put CSA into practice.  Farmers especially were interested in making CSA part of their daily farming routines.  As interest grows, so does momentum to take the CSA agenda forward, from research institutions and high level gatherings into farmer’s fields. As one farmer I met in Pakistan said, “Climate-smart agriculture is Common-sense agriculture.
Climate change is already impacting Pakistan, which often experiences periods of severe droughts, followed by devastating floods. In the aftermath of the 2010 floods, one fifth of the country’s land area was submerged, damaging the economy, infrastructure and livelihoods, and leaving 90 million people without proper access to food. Moving forward, changes in monsoons and increased temperatures will further challenge the agricultural sector, particularly northern Pakistan where vulnerability to climate change is already high.
At the same time, CSA offers attractive opportunities for strengthening Pakistan’s agricultural sector. Innovative, technological practices like laser land leveling and solar powered irrigation systems and management changes like crop diversification, proper cropping patterns and optimized planting dates could put Pakistan’s food system onto a more climate-smart path. Investments in research to develop high-yielding, heat-resistant, drought-tolerant, and pest-resistant crop varieties as well as livestock breeds could also make a difference.

Exploding population: choice not destiny - capturing Pakistan’s demographic dividend

Inaam Ul Haq's picture


Blog in Urdu

Family planning in Pakistan
This blog is certainly not about exploding mangoes but about the exploding Pakistani populace. The recent reactions of surprise on results of the census seems bewildering. Pakistan’s population is now over 207 million with a growth rate of 2.4 percent per year since the last census in 1998. The results were predictable and expected, as Pakistan has not implemented any large-scale population related interventions for over a decade. We should not be expecting results because inaction does not usually deliver them.
Pakistan’s efforts to reduce fertility and population growth were transformed during the 1990s. The period between 1990-2006 saw effective policy making under the Social Action Program with multiple interventions e.g. expansion of public sector provision, large scale private sector participation including social marketing innovations, improving access to women through community based providers. All the right things that delivered huge results. Fertility declined from around seven to four children per woman, and contraceptives use increased from 10% to over 30% - a 300% increase. Appropriate actions delivered results and some still can be photocopied and expanded on scale for making progress.

Five myths about water in Pakistan

William Young's picture

Persistent myths, which can misguide policy, are barriers to improving water security for the people of Pakistan. Here are five:

First, this problem of water security is often presented as one of water scarcity. But Pakistan is a water-rich country – only 35 countries have more renewable water. It is true that measured for each person, Pakistan is approaching a widely recognized scarcity level of 1000 cubic meters each year. But there are 32 countries that have less water for each person and most of these countries are much wealthier and use less water for each person. Pakistan needs to shift its focus from scarcity to managing water demand and producing more from each drop of water. It needs to make water allocation more efficient and fair, and offer incentives that reflect how scarce water is to encourage wise use.

Measuring South Asia’s economy from outer space

Martin Rama's picture
New technologies offer an opportunity to strengthen economic measurement. Evening luminosity observed from satellites has been shown to be a good proxy for economic activity.
New technologies offer an opportunity to strengthen economic measurement. Evening luminosity observed from satellites has been shown to be a good proxy for economic activity.
Economic growth is a key concern for economists, political leaders, and the broader population.

But how confident are we that the available data on economic activity paints an accurate picture of a country’s performance?

Measuring Gross Domestic Product (GDP), the most standard measure of economic activity, is especially challenging in developing countries, where the informal sector is large and institutional constraints can be severe.

In addition, many countries only provide GDP measures annually and at the national level. Not surprisingly, GDP growth estimates are often met with skepticism.
New technologies offer an opportunity to strengthen economic measurement. Evening luminosity observed from satellites has been shown to be a good proxy for economic activity.

As shown in Figure 1, there is a strong correlation between nightlight intensity and GDP levels in South Asia: the higher the nightlight intensity on the horizontal axis, the stronger the economic activity on the vertical axis.
Figure 1 Nightlight intensity increases with economic activity
Figure 1 Nightlight intensity increases with economic activity

However, measuring nightlight is challenging and comes with a few caveats. Clouds, moonlight, and radiance from the sun can affect measurement accuracy, which then requires filtering and standardizing.

On the other hand, nighlight data has a lot advantages like being available in high-frequency and with a very high spatial resolution. In the latest edition of South Asia Economic Focus, we use variations in nightlight intensity to analyze economic trends and illustrate how this data can help predict GDP over time and across space.

Fresh thinking on economic cooperation in South Asia

Nikita Singla's picture
 Aamir Khan/ Pakistan, Sreerupa Sengupta/ India, Sanjay Kathuria/ World Bank, Mahfuz Kabir & Surendar Singh/ Bangladesh) Photo By: Marcio De La Cruz/ World Bank
Young Economists sharing the stage with Sanjay Kathuria, Lead Economist and Coordinator, Regional Integration (Left to Right: Aamir Khan/ Pakistan, Sreerupa Sengupta/ India, Sanjay Kathuria/ World Bank, Mahfuz Kabir/Bangladesh & Surendar Singh/ India). Photo by: Marcio De La Cruz/ World Bank

That regional cooperation in South Asia is lower than optimal levels is well accepted. It is usually ascribed to – the asymmetry in size between India and the rest, conflicts and historical political tensions, a trust deficit, limited transport connectivity, and onerous logistics, among many other factors.

Deepening regional integration requires sufficient policy-relevant analytical work on the costs and benefits of both intra-regional trade and investment. An effective cross-border network of young professionals can contribute to fresh thinking on emerging economic cooperation issues in South Asia.

Against this background, the World Bank Group sponsored a competitive request for proposals.  Awardees from Bangladesh, India, and Pakistan, after being actively mentored by seasoned World Bank staff over a period of two years, convened in Washington DC to present their new and exciting research. Research areas included regional value chains, production sharing and the impact assessment of alternative preferential trade agreements in the region.

Young Economists offer fresh thoughts on economic cooperation in South Asia

Mahfuz Kabir, Acting Research Director, Bangladesh Institute of International and Strategic Studies and Surendar Singh, Policy Analyst, Consumer Unity Trust Society (CUTS International) presented their research: Of Streams and Tides, India-Bangladesh Value Chains in Textiles and Clothing (T&C). They focus on how to tackle three main trade barriers for T&C: a) high tariffs for selected, but important goods for the industries of both countries; b) inefficient customs procedures and c) divergent criteria for rules of origin classification.

Sreerupa Sengupta, Ph.D. Scholar at Centre for Economic Studies and Planning, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi discussed Trade Cooperation and Production Sharing in South Asia – An Indian Perspective. Reviewing the pattern of Indian exports and imports in the last twenty years, her research focuses on comparing the Global Value Chain (GVC) participation rate of India with East Asian and ASEAN economies. Barriers to higher participation include a) lack of openness in the FDI sector; b) lack of adequate port infrastructure, and long port dwell times; and c) lack of Mutual Recognition Agreements (MRAs).

Aamir Khan, Assistant Professor, Department of Management Sciences, COMSATS Institute of Information Technology, Islamabad presented his work on Economy Wide Impact of Regional Integration in South Asia - Options for Pakistan. His research analyzes the reasons for Pakistan not being able to take full advantage of its Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with China, and finds that the granting of ASEAN-type concessions to Pakistan in its FTA with China would be more beneficial than the current FTA arrangement. The work also draws lessons for FTAs that are currently being negotiated by South Asian countries.

World Bank guarantees help Pakistan get cheaper, longer term loans from international market

Enrique Blanco Armas's picture
Photo Credit: Pakistan's Water and Power Development Authority (WAPDA)

Compared to their investment needs, developing countries have very limited concessional financing available to them. International commercial banks are constrained in terms of the size and tenors of credits to Emerging Markets and Developing Economies. A key challenge therefore, is to channel large savings and capital into productive investments in developing countries, partly by ‘de-risking’ investments and borrowings.  Pakistan is at the forefront of these efforts, recently making use of two World Bank guarantees to access over 1 billion US dollars in two international commercial loan financings.

A $420 million IBRD Policy Based Guarantee (PBG) was approved by the World Bank Board alongside a $500 million IDA credit in June 2016. The PBG guarantee partially takes over the risk of a commercial bank’s loan to a government. The PBG and the IDA credit supported a program of reforms including the adoption of a new and more inclusive poverty line, efforts to broaden the tax base, enhanced transparency of State Owned Enterprises, improved debt management and a significant overhaul of the regulatory framework of the financial sector.  Improved access to international financing through the PBG will reduce the government’s dependence on domestic financing and free up resources for private sector investment. The guarantee also signals the World Bank’s confidence in Pakistan’s economic reforms program – a signal that is particularly important after the successful completion of the IMF program. The government used the US$420 million PBG to partly guarantee a 10-year US$700 million loan, extending tenor significantly and achieving cost savings.