Many countries, developed and developing, that want to become more competitive in global markets tend to jump to a quick conclusion that they need to invest more in infrastructure, particularly in transport sectors like ports. But while many regions, including South Asia, do face important infrastructure gaps, massive new investment is not the only way to improve regional competitiveness. Countries should realize that they also have significant potential to make more efficient use of the infrastructure they already have.
Building megaports all along the coast might reduce a country’s trade costs, but it also requires hundreds of millions of dollars in investment. Improving the performance of existing ports, enabling them to handle higher levels of cargo with the same facilities and in a shorter time, can be a far more cost-effective approach to reducing transport and trade costs. Closing the infrastructure gap does not just require more infrastructure, but also better infrastructure, and better use of existing infrastructure.
The report Competitiveness of South Asia’s Container Ports, which we launched today, provides the first comprehensive look at the 14 largest container ports in South Asia, which handle 98 percent of the region’s container traffic. It focuses on port performance, drivers, and costs.
The World Bank is releasing its first-ever comprehensive study of container ports in South Asia, examining the competitiveness of major ports across the region and suggesting ways they can work more efficiently to boost trade.
The report, to be formally launched on April 27, examines the performance of the ports, which handle about 75 percent of the region’s trade by value, and assesses the role that the private sector, governance, and competition have played in their development.
Trade has been key to South Asia’s remarkable economic average annual growth rate of about 6.7 percent since the beginning of the century, the second-highest in the world after East Asia.
By improving the transport infrastructure, including ports, and easing bottlenecks that hinder the flow of goods, the World Bank is helping South Asia lower its high logistics costs, capture a bigger share of the global market and create more jobs, supporting its progress toward becoming a middle-income region.
Happy New Year to all our Sri Lankan friends and colleagues celebrating the Sinhala and Tamil New Year this month; and Happy Easter to those celebrating it.
This is my first opportunity to celebrate these various holidays in my adopted country. I love the energy, the buzz of excitement everywhere and the decorations coming up in many of the commercial districts. I have been asking so many questions about the importance of the New Year holiday; and at the same time enjoying the preparations for the festivities, the anticipation of the big day as well as the serious messages.
I have learnt that the Sinhala and Tamil New Year, also known as 'Aluth Avurudda' (in Sinhala) and 'Puthandu' (in Tamil) is very important to all Sri Lankans and it celebrates the traditional Lunar New Year. It is celebrated by most Sri Lankans – a point of Unity and a Joyful occasion.
Even more importantly the holiday coincides with the New Year celebrations of many traditional calendars of South and South East Asia – a regional point of unity! Above all, this is also known as the month of prosperity.
So what does the holiday mean to you as a Sri Lankan, or maybe you are someone like me who may not be Sri Lankan but loves the country and its people?
At the World Bank Group, promoting shared prosperity and increasing the incomes of the poorest 40 percent of people in every country we work in is part of our mission. The first goal is to end extreme poverty or reduce the share of the global population that lives in extreme poverty to 3 percent by 2030.
Last week, I took a journey on Mumbai’s suburban train system, which carries a staggering 8 million women and men, equivalent to the entire population of Switzerland, every day to where they live, work, and spend time with family and friends. Although stretched, the system has reduced mobility constraints and increased independence for millions of women who rely on safe transport to access education and job opportunities; contributing to the city’s dynamism and growth. There are similarly inspiring examples from all countries in South Asia.
As we mark International Women’s Day, we celebrate the progress made in improving women’s inclusion and empowerment, while seeking to better address continuing challenges, which are estimated to cost South Asian economies $888 billion, through devising and implementing solutions that will bridge remaining gaps.
Much to be proud of—a lot more remains to be done
South Asian countries have seen encouraging increases in greater access and gender parity in education. At the same time, the region has achieved substantial decreases in maternal and child mortality. Countries have made great strides in healthcare access through training more female healthcare workers while providing affordable care for mothers and children. The region also boasts many inspiring female leaders and role models, as well as the countless individuals positively contributing to their communities and societies against difficult odds.
However, much more needs to be done in order to nurture all women and men to realize their potential. As South Asian countries become more prosperous, their growth trajectory will be less assured if hundreds of millions of women remain excluded from education and employment opportunities. South Asian countries will need to substantially expand their workforce in order to meet their economic growth goals and, at the same time, adequately support their increasingly large populations. Studies show that only around 1 out of 4 women in South Asia participate in the labor force, about half of what is typical in middle-income countries in other regions. Too many women face restrictions in decision-making, mobility, public safety; and far too many experience gender-based violence—the most egregious cases making headlines around the world. What can help bridge these gaps?
Over the past several years, innovations in information and communication technologies have fundamentally changed the nature of work.
This has created new opportunities in digital employment for workers and employers in South Asia and beyond.
So what are the pathways to this new employment?
During a recent Facebook live chat on digital jobs, we explored three themes related to the digital jobs of the future. First, we discussed where the digital jobs of the future are. Second, we discussed how South Asia is uniquely positioned to benefit from the growth of these jobs. And finally, we discussed how to get started in the digital economy by finding relevant training and learning opportunities.
Here’s an overview of our discussion in five points:
Digital jobs fall into two categories: jobs within the IT or digital industries, and what are termed digital society jobs. Digital industry jobs include those such as computer programmer, mobile app developer, graphic designer and other jobs where information and communication technologies are the core tool to perform the job functions. However, technology is also changing what we call digital society jobs, where technology is maybe not core to the job functions, but makes more you more efficient and productive, and improves access to markets and networks.
2. What is driving the emergence of these new digital jobs?
The rapid rise in connectivity that is linking more and more people to the internet is changing employment. Today, many jobs can be performed through computers, with workers telecommuting from almost anywhere in the world. Many business processes are being broken down into task based work, and which can be farmed out to people with the skills to do them, anywhere the world. Some of these tasks need higher-level skills, and can pay well – especially compared with many developing countries’ wage levels. But there are also simpler tasks that many more people, even those with limited skills, can do. This mix creates the opportunity to include more people in the global digital economy, while also creating pathways towards better paying and higher quality work for those who perform well and pick up in-demand skills.
Last November, when the SAARC summit that was supposed to be held in Pakistan was canceled, I thought regional cooperation in South Asia would lose its momentum. Tensions between members not only postponed the SAARC Summit, but also hampered the South Asian Economics Students (SAESM) meet. SAESM was scheduled to be held in India in December where I was supposed to be a participant. I started believing in news, media and opinion pieces that said ‘there’s no future for South Asian integration as there is so much mistrust in the region.
After a concerted effort from the economics professors from across South Asia with the support of the World Bank, the 13th SAESM of economics students (selected based on top paper submissions) was successfully held in Kathmandu last week. The meet brings together students to share their research, learn from one another, participate in academic competition, and make friends from across the region. Despite regional dynamics, SAESM has never missed any year since its inception in 2004, and it may well be unique in that respect in South Asia.
Jeyaranjini lives near Kilinochchi in Northern Sri Lanka with her husband and daughter. They have been rebuilding their lives through the North East Local Services Improvement Project (NELSIP), which uses a Community Driven Development (CDD) approach to tailor projects based on community needs in this conflict affected region.
The project has helped build 611 km of roads, 23 km of storm drains, 400 community public spaces such as markets, parks, and playgrounds, as well providing improved access to water and electricity across Sri Lanka.
“Each community member used to be alone, but now we learn, exchange ideas, and make decisions together,” she said.
South Asia has a strong tradition of local participation
Let me offer a couple of other examples: Nepal’s Self Governance Act in 1999 decentralized services delivery to villages and districts. In Afghanistan, Community Development Councils (CDCs) receive funds, in which they then manage to support their villages.
In post-disaster contexts, CDD has shown to be fast, flexible and effective at re-establishing basic services. In fragile or conflict-affected states (FCS), the approach has also helped rebuild trust within communities, and between communities and governments.
Projects incorporating CDD approaches give control over planning and investments to community groups, and aim to empower communities to deliver services to the poor and vulnerable.
CDD principles can contribute to the realization of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), a roadmap for the international development community to promote sustainable economic, social, and environmental development by 2030.
Currently, the World Bank has 41 active CDD projects worth $6.1 billion in South Asia, including 21 projects in India worth $4.2 billion.
Running a preschool in one of Colombo’s biggest slums isn't easy, but head teacher R. A. Shalika Sajeevani exudes positivity. “The children don’t always bring snacks, so once a week, I make lunch for all of them at my home. It’s not a big deal – I cook for my own two sons anyway, I just put in a little extra for them,” she says.
The students are supposed to pay LKR 500 ($3.40) per month as school fees, but most are only occasionally able to do so. In spite of this, Sajeevani ensures that the preschool doors are open to all children in the neighborhood as many parents in this underserved community cannot afford to pay.
She pays her assistant and covers other expenses from the money collected and retains the rest as salary, a meagre amount of LKR 5,000 ($34) a month. Though this is barely enough to survive in Sri Lanka’s fast growing capital, she has come to work everyday for the last ten years.
Challenges in Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE):
In a country with a well-structured free education system covering primary, secondary, and tertiary education, the state has traditionally provided little in terms of preschool education and care. However, evidence and experience has shown that ECCE improves school readiness and learning outcomes, which ultimately translates into better occupational status and earnings and yields much higher rates of return on investment.
According to the recent report, “Laying the Foundation for Early Childhood Education in Sri Lanka: Investing Early, Investing Smartly, and Investing for All”, Sri Lanka’s public spending on education as a percentage of its economy was the lowest in South Asia and its spending on early childhood education (ECE) is significantly lower than the global average.
While the country boasts of a near universal primary school enrollment rate, only about half of its 3 to 5 year-olds are enrolled in preschools which are not primarily covered by the state. Around 60 percent of preschools are run by the private sector and 24 percent by the other organizations and religious groups.
Income and location are found to be among the key determinants of access to ECCE. Children from the richest 20 percent of the population are 17 percent more likely to be enrolled in preschools than children from the poorest 20 percent. Enrollment rates in urban areas is 10 percent higher than enrollment in rural or estate areas. Many centers in the country do not have adequate learning materials and quality teachers, coupled with the lack of standardized curricula and teaching facilities. Many teachers to their credit, have to depend on their own creativity to develop activities and teaching methods.
A 90 day reflection of the new Country Director of the World Bank
I take this opportunity to thank all the Sri Lankans that opened their minds and hearts to help me understand the country context and constraints. During my first 90 days in Sri Lanka my colleagues and our clients gave me a warm welcome. I first met our core counterparts in the Government of Sri Lanka when I visited in July 2016. I have since travelled outside of Colombo several times, and I have met with many of our clients, development partners and stakeholders. I have also had the privilege to meet with our friends from the media, civil society groups, academia and private sector to better understand the current operating environment and discuss solutions to issues of common interest.
Cricket in Sri Lanka is followed with so much passion and enthusiasm. This thrilled me as it is the same in my home country, Zimbabwe. Many things about Sri Lanka and its people and culture bring back fond memories from home. Sri Lanka to me now is a second home so I am often torn with who to support when Sri Lanka plays Zimbabwe. It’s even harder to know how to react when Sri Lanka beat Zimbabwe recently.
I recently read an article by Kumar Sangakkara on the Spirit of Cricket. What an apt article. It just demonstrated so much what one can do when they find a common thread that they are all passionate about. Sri Lanka has many lessons to teach and to learn from the game of cricket.
I join my view into that of the article, that all Sri Lankans will need to work together regardless of location, gender, ethnicity, religion, political affiliation and social status. The focus should be on Sri Lanka’s priorities for development and how the Sri Lankan people can work together to win the match of ending poverty and sharing prosperity.
- Urban Development
- Social Development
- Public Sector and Governance
- Private Sector Development
- Law and Regulation
- Financial Sector
- Climate Change
- Agriculture and Rural Development
- South Asia
- Sri Lanka