Home to Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka, South Asia is one of the fastest growing regions in the world and yet one of the least integrated. Intra-regional trade accounts for only 5% of South Asia’s GDP, compared to 25% of East Asia’s. Meanwhile, with a population of 1.6 billion, South Asia hosts one of the largest untapped talent pools.
To encourage young researchers in the region who aspire to use their research to inform policy making, the World Bank Group calls for research proposals on South Asia regional integration. Proposals will be carefully reviewed and the most suitable proposals (no more than five overall) will be awarded with a grant based on criteria listed below. An experienced researcher from the World Bank’s research department or an external academic will mentor and guide the young researcher in the implementation of the research.
The world economy today presents itself as a diverse canvas full of challenges and opportunities. Advanced economies continue to struggle towards recovery, with the US on its way to tighten monetary policy as the economy picks up while a still weak Eurozone awaits quantitative easing to kick in. At the same time, plunging oil prices have set in motion significant real income shifts from exporters to importers of oil. Astonishingly, amidst all this turmoil, South Asia has emerged as the fastest growing region in the world over the second half of 2014. Led by a strong India, South Asia is set to further accelerate from 7 percent real growth in 2015 to 7.6 percent by 2017, leaving behind a slowing East Asia gradually landed in second spot by China.
While bolstered by record low inflation and strong external positions across the region, the biggest question yet to be addressed by policy makers in South Asia will be how to make the most of cheap oil.
All countries are net oil importers as well as large providers of fuel and related food subsidies, therefore bound to benefit from low oil prices. However, the biggest oil price dividend to be cashed in by South Asia is one yet to be earned, and not one that will automatically transit through government or consumer accounts. The current constellation of macroeconomic tailwinds provides a unique opportunity for policy makers to rationalize energy prices and to improve fiscal policy. Decoupling external oil prices from fiscal deficits may decrease vulnerability to future oil price hikes – something that may very well happen in the medium term. Furthermore, cheap oil offers a great opportunity to introduce carbon taxation and address the negative externalities from the use of fossil fuels.
The World Bank’s latest South Asia Economic Focus (April 2015) titled “Making the most of cheap oil” provides deeper insights regarding South Asia’s diverse policy challenges and opportunities stemming from cheap oil.
A first major realization is that the pass through from oil prices to domestic South Asian economies is as diverse as the countries themselves, thanks to a variety of different policy environments across countries and oil products. This is also reflected in recent dynamics, seeing India taking determined action towards rationalizing fuel and energy prices, even introducing a de facto carbon tax and beginning to reap fiscal and environmental benefits. Other countries have so far shown less or no enthusiasm towards reform, in spite of significant and/or increasing oil dependency (particularly in electricity generation, one of the region’s weak spots).
- Urban Development
- Social Development
- Public Sector and Governance
- Information and Communication Technologies
- Global Economy
- Financial Sector
- Climate Change
- Agriculture and Rural Development
- South Asia
- East Asia and Pacific
- Sri Lanka
Encouraging healthy habits to reduce the risk of non-communicable diseases
Each time I visit local hospitals in Sri Lanka, my confidence in the public health service is renewed. I see a selfless commitment by both doctors and nursing staff towards their patients, often going beyond their call of duty. I wonder if it is their religious faith of caring for the sick which is considered a meritorious act, that make them go that extra mile.
My visit to the Base Hospital in Horana, in the Kalutara District reinforced this belief. My colleague and I learned first-hand about systems and processes in place to encourage behavioral change to reduce the Non Communicable Disease (NCD) burden that is becoming a silent killer. The fact that seventy percent of the deaths in Sri Lanka are due to NCDs is scary; especially when a sizable portion of the deaths are under sixty five. As the country transitions into a more affluent society, poor food choices and less active lifestyles are exacerbating the situation. Most Chronic NCDs are preventable and if not, its onset can be delayed if risk factors such as smoking, alcohol, chewing beetle leaves, obesity, unhealthy diet, high salt, sugar, trans fats, processed foods and sedentary lifestyles are addressed.
We often think of amenities such as quality streets, squares, waterfronts, public buildings, and other well-designed public spaces as luxury amenities for affluent communities. However, research increasingly suggests that they are even more critical to well-being of the poor and the development of their communities, who often do not have spacious homes and gardens to retreat to.
Living in a confined room without adequate space and sunlight increases the likelihood of health problems, restricts interaction and other productive activities. Public spaces are the living rooms, gardens and corridors of urban areas. They serve to extend small living spaces and providing areas for social interaction and economic activities, which improves the development and desirability of a community. This increases productivity and attracts human capital while providing an improved quality of life as highlighted in the upcoming Urbanization in South Asia report.
Despite their importance, public spaces are often poorly integrated or neglected in planning and urban development. However, more and more research suggests that investing in them can create prosperous, livable, and equitable cities in developing countries. UN-Habitat has studied the contribution of streets as public spaces on the prosperity of cities, which finds a correlation between expansive street grids and prosperity as well as developing a public space toolkit.
We must continue to empower women. Women continue to face disadvantages in almost all spheres. But if we want a gender equitable society, empowering women is not enough.
We must also 'Empower Men'
We must also empower men. Of course, not in the conventional sense by giving men more power over women. Rather, by empowering men to challenge prevailing norms and change their behaviors. This is logical even though it has not been the prevailing approach. Gender is a "system" and both women and men are integral parts of this system. If we want to see meaningful change, both men and women are implicated. It is not enough to enlighten and empower women and expect men to follow.
This is not an easy thing. Men are critically judged and assessed - by themselves, by their peers, by their elders and by most women themselves - based on the dominant ideals of manhood. And across many societies, this still means exercising control over women, being tough, being strong. It also means achieving something, as terms such as "man-up" suggest, and many men, including low-income men struggle with this societal expectation. If men can't achieve and don't conform to these societal expectations, they are often socially sanctioned, belittled or ridiculed.
Challenging norms and behaviors is thus a collective challenge for men. It is also a challenge for women, who consciously or unconsciously often perpetuate these same social norms in the way they raise their sons or interact with men.
Make Available Resource for Men
Most gender initiatives continue to focus on women. This is understandable. But as we argue, we need interventions targeting and supporting men for change.
The largest and most extensive resource available for men is MenEngage, a global alliance made up of dozens of country networks spread across many regions of the world, hundreds of non-governmental organizations, and UN partners, that provides a collective voice to engage men and boys on gender issues. There are also other smaller more localized interventions, with the most innovative programming coming from the fields of HIV/AIDS, reproductive health and family planning, parenting, and domestic violence.
But we need to do much more.
Central to this premise of engaging and empowering men for change is understanding and unbundling this homogenous term called 'men'. In the case of gender-based violence for example, we identified five groups of men, each with different needs and potential roles:
Men who are victims of violence: need to break their silence and seek help
Men who use violence: need to seek help
Men who are silence spectators: need to speak out
Men who speak out: need to become agents of change
Men who are agents of change: need to continue to speak out and mobilize others
In coming up with a typology, we see how acute the needs are in supporting men. For example, how many hotlines are out there to support the men that need help? There is much work to do.
Empower Women by Empowering Men
As we just celebrated International Women's Day, let us continue to recognize women for all the advances and contributions they have made. But let us also 'empower women by empowering men' and recognize that we need new approaches and huge efforts to achieve this objective.
For more information how to get involved in the WEvolve campaign visit the website http://www.wevolveglobal.org.