World Bank Open Forum: On October 7-8, the world's financial leaders will be in Washington, D.C., working together to find solutions to the most pressing issues in the wake of the financial crisis. You're invited to join this online event featuring live-webcasts of expert discussions, special announcements, and a 24-hour global chat forum on three key issues: open data and development solutions, global job creation, and major development challenges.
Disasters seemingly have become so commonplace lately that many of us have become desensitized to them. Watching disaster unfold has become like hearing a cacophony of voices on a busy street but not really listening or paying attention to your surroundings. Take a second, and think of the millions that are in need and suffering, and imagine if you were in their shoes, another person’s suffering becoming a part of your own.
In Pakistan, about a month ago a natural catastrophe took place, a disaster so massive that a fifth of the country was inundated with water affecting 20 million people, a sizeable death toll, and with long lasting implications. I joined on a volunteer mission with Dr. Ahmad Nakshabendi, who had much experience with aiding victims of the 2005 earthquake, and embarked on a mission to assist based on our expertise.
There are two ‘coming of age’ tests for bold new ideas. The first, still in the realm of the market for ideas, occurs when the concepts become entrenched as conventional wisdoms, when you no longer need to justify them as ideas. The second is when they gain traction in the marketplace, when you no longer need to justify them as a business proposition.
The ground has shifted massively on both counts since I wrote about the opportunities from branchless banking in this blog more than two years ago. Few now would dispute that a key step to achieve much broader financial inclusion is to take banking transactions outside of banking halls and into everyday retail establishments that exist in every village and every neighborhood, and that financial service providers need to put technology in the hands of customers (in the form of cards or, better still, mobile phones) to increase the convenience and security of those transactions.
Pakistan’s deadly floods have affected more than 14 million people, with some estimates putting the figure considerably higher. The affected area covers 132,421 km, including 1.4 million acres of cropped land. Continuing rains have caused additional flooding and hindered relief activities.
|UN Photo/WFP/Amjad Jamal|
A World Bank report released on July 30 finds that poverty in Pakistan fell by an impressive 17.3 percentage points between 2001 and 2008 (from 34.5 percent in 2001-02 to 17.2 percent in 2007-08). Three out of Pakistan’s four major provinces – Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (formerly NWFP), Punjab, and Sindh – saw significant declines in poverty during this period. The largest fall in poverty was in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP). According to the Bank report “high level of remittances, both foreign and domestic, seem to have facilitated” the decline in poverty in KP.
Pakistan saw migrant remittances reach a record $ 8.9 billion in fiscal year 2010, an increase of 14 percent compared to the 2009 fiscal year despite the global economic crisis (Pakistan’s fiscal year runs from July to June). The World Bank report says “Continued strong growth in worker’s remittances in the past few years has also contributed to improvements in the external current account balance” and “have facilitated improvement in the country’s external position”.
The food, fuel, and financial crises during the last three years sent shockwaves throughout the world and its effects rippled across South Asia. It impacted growth, causing a reduction of growth by nearly 3% from the peak of 8.9% in 2007 to 6.3% in 2009, led to job losses, declines in stock market value, decreases in tourism, and increasing pressures on already weak fiscal, balance of payments, reserves and exchange rates.
I was based in New Delhi during the crisis, and the effects were palpable. For a moment, it looked as if confidence was ebbing---the construction cranes in Gurgaon (the fastest-growing township around Delhi) became silent, a young scholar at Delhi University ran a survey of what graduates might do as job markets became difficult, airlines ran half-empty and racked-up massive losses, jobs were lost heavily in diamond-cutting in Gujarat and IT firms stopped hiring in Bangalore, and people paused to consider the implications of such a dramatic change from the accelerating and heady growth of the previous years. But despite the circumstances, and thanks to strong and prompt government actions, confidence has swiftly returned, the region has proven to be quite resilient and a noticeable resurgence has taken hold.
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One could say that by being connected to the rest of the academic world through an NREN your isolation from research projects, high cost lab equipment, and world-class leading edge knowledge will disappear. If you are a physicist you can contemplate joining research teams using the Large Halidron Collider in CERN in Switzerland, an astronomer can manipulate in real time a telescope in Chile or access the data from radio telescopes, a medic can join in high definition seminars on advanced techniques in surgery or remote diagnostics, climate specialists can access and provide data to disaster management databases, an economist can access and contribute to economic modeling resources, and everyone can gain access to the thousands of on-line specialist journals.
I had the opportunity to be a part of the launch of "Economic Challenges to Make South Asia Free from Poverty and Deprivation" in Washington and was truly inspired by the talent and knowledge of the students and the ideas and enthusiasm generated by the event across the region.
The event, coordinated across the region through video conference was moderated by Economic Adviser Shekhar Shah, who authored the foreward, and was exceptionally encouraging of the students and the issues discussed in the volume and organized by Hema Balasubramanian who heads the Public Information Center in New Delhi.
The unique student initiative that created the book, South Asia Economics Students’ Meet (SAESM), edited by Meeta Kumar and Mihir Pandey promotes budding economists to foster intellectual discourse with other students from the region. The annual conference, since 2004, has provided an opportunity for exceptional economic students to write, present, and share their academic papers on economic issues critical to the region.
With deep azure skies, bountiful sunshine, and a crisp but mild breeze today, spring is by far my favorite season in Washington. Today marks the 40th year since the advent of Earth Day, an occasion to create awareness and appreciation of the Earth’s environment that we all share in and enjoy. The event is now celebrated around the world as resources are increasingly stretched and environmental issues becoming more pertinent in our everyday lives.
I wanted to give an overview of some Earth Day related events happening in South Asia to mark the occasion.
National Saplings in Kabul: Green coverage has been reduced from 14 million hectares to 1 million hectare in Afghanistan.
Fundamental rights in most South Asian countries include freedom of movement – you can go where you want, when you want within a country. But for the majority of South Asian girls and women the reality is very different – they need permission to go almost anywhere. Now, does this stem from norms of patriarchal control or a rational response to threat of physical harm? I like to believe the two are mutually reinforcing. When families are afraid of what will happen to their daughters when they go out alone, they tend to be over-protective or over-controlling. This is certainly what happened to me and my peers as we grew up in Delhi in the 70s and 80s. While many more women are out in public spaces now, the very fact of this visibility is often a trigger for violence. Fewer than half of married women surveyed in Pakistan or Bangladesh feel safe moving alone outside their village or settlement, even during the day (World Bank 2006, 2008).
Safety and security of women in public spaces is seen often as a right, which indeed it is, but, lack of it is also a huge impediment to accessing a range of services and markets – for instance, health care, education and employment. In Pakistan and India, one of the reasons why girls drop out of school after puberty and especially when secondary schools are located a long walk away, is the fear of violence en route.