On the second day of the three day regional workshop on affordable land and housing in Thimphu, Bhutan, country representatives continued to share policies and projects that their countries have devised and implemented and with that, the ideas that have or have not worked. One common theme was the interest in the development of secondary cities either around the periphery of rapidly urbanizing growth centers or as growth nodes strategically located along infrastructure such as regional transportation networks to create a ‘system of cities’. These growth centers often present a wealth of opportunities for the poor who flock to the cities from villages with the aspirations of a better life. However, this influx often strains the city’s services and infrastructure at an unsustainable rate.
“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.
Violence against women is a pervasive problem worldwide, causing the deaths of more women between the ages of 19 and 44 than wars, cancer, or car accidents. In South Asia, gender violence is widespread and persists in many forms, as the statistics below demonstrate:
- Every week in Bangladesh, more than ten women suffer from an acid attack
- In India, 22 women are killed every day in dowry-related murders
- In Sri Lanka, 60 percent of women report having suffered physical abuse
- In Pakistan, more than 450 women and girls die every year in so-called “honor killings”
- And in Nepal, the practice of enslaving young girls, whereby parents sell their young daughters – typically age 6-7 – to be girl servants is still widely practiced
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.
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.
Une simple invitation a suffi à provoquer une avalanche de réactions. Plus de 1 200 jeunes d’Asie du Sud ont répondu à notre appel, en nous faisant part de leurs solutions pour lutter contre les violences sexistes dans leur région. Le jury a eu la tâche délicate de désigner 10 lauréats parmi les quelque 60 finalistes, mais bien d’autres propositions de qualité ont été soumises. Voici quelques-uns des messages qui m’ont le plus touchée, mais qui n’ont pas été retenus.