Zafar is among millions of Pakistanis who do not give up hope in the face of adversity, and the harder the challenge, the more resolute they become in overcoming it. Zafar belongs to Utror, a back-of-beyond place in Pakistan’s north-west. Situated in one of the more inaccessible valleys of Swat in the Kyber Pakhtunkhwa province, the inhabitants of Utror could only dream of having electricity till Zafar, one of their own, returned home with skills of an electrician honed in Punjab where he had gone in search of education.
Bangladesh can be described as “ground zero” at the intersection of climate change and food security.
The country is widely recognized as one of the places most vulnerable to the effects of a changing climate, which strains food systems alongside rapidly growing and urbanizing populations. Yet, despite these dual challenges, the World Bank expects Bangladesh will meet its Millennium Development Goal (MDG) of halving the number of people living in extreme poverty by 2015.
Given the impact of the global food crisis and numerous natural disasters, how is Bangladesh managing this feat? And can we map the country’s progress?
My entry last week gave a quick profile of the South Asian overseas workers and discussed the crucial role of remittances received from the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries (Saudi Arabia, the U.A.E, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain and Oman) for South Asian economies. Today I’d like to discuss whether changes in the labor market policies of the GCC countries could jeopardize job prospects for South Asian migrant workers.
Creating jobs for GCC citizens is already on the top of the agenda in some of these countries and is bound to gain more momentum with the youth bulge. Efforts to create jobs for nationals through the “nationalization of the labor market” have been further intensified as a response to the recent events in the Middle East. Across the GCC, additional policy measures are being announced highlighting the need to replace expats with nationals in private and public sector. These messages have been the strongest in Saudi Arabia, but also in the U.A.E. and Kuwait.
Projects supported by results-based loans—of the breed of the current projects in education in Pakistan and counterparts in the Latin American and Caribbean region—are increasingly seen as a promising way for raising the effectiveness of Bank lending. In a seminar recently organized by the South Asia region, a proposal that such projects should be set as the default choice and quickly become the lion’s share in the region’s lending portfolio resonated widely with the participants.
While, in principle, linking loan disbursements to the achievement of results seems desirable, this step by itself may not be enough for project success. In this entry, and ones to follow, learning from the Pakistan results-based projects in education, I provide some insights on considerations that may increase the likelihood that such projects succeed. Some of these insights may also be relevant for other types of projects.
For countries with substantial numbers of workers in the Middle East, recent events have not only raised concerns for the repatriation and welfare of their citizens, but have also raised fears of a possible slowdown in remittances. Will remittance flows noticeably decrease due to recent events in Egypt, Libya, and Tunisia?
For South Asian countries, remittances are among the largest and most stable sources of foreign exchange and their developmental impact have been remarkable. For example, in Nepal national poverty level has come down from 42% to 31% during 1996 to 2004, and to 21% today, largely on the account of remittances which finance household consumption as well as education and health expenditures. Nepal, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka, were among the top 15 remittance recipients in 2009—with inflows being equivalent to 24% of the GDP in Nepal, 12% in Bangladesh, 8% in Sri Lanka, 5% in Pakistan and 4% in India.
Gulf States employ more than 11 million expatriate workers, an estimated 8 million or more from South and East Asian countries. Saudi Arabia, the U.A.E, and Qatar are top destination for South Asian migrants and are main sources of remittance inflows. The table as well as the country profiles below demonstrates the sheer magnitude of migrant workers in the Arab Gulf countries and their contributions to the labor force; sometimes greater in overall numbers and proportion than the respective labor force in the countries.
Lives no longer interrupted by the setting sun…
We were walking towards the small bridge over the canal. The sun had already set and dusk was gradually fading into darkness. The winter air was quiet and still. Approaching the highest point of the bridge, I could sense the excitement in our quickening footsteps - we were almost there.
The project officials had told us that we could see it all, if we stood and looked out from the highest point of the bridge. So we leaned over the railings and waited, straining to see. But there was nothing – just the fuzzy darkness, gradually thickening and settling quietly on the land. I was left wondering whether we were just on a wild goose chase.
Then down below, a faint light suddenly flickered to life. A bulb was turned on in the darkness. Then another glowed – and yet another! In a few minutes, the area lying below us was glimmering with the tiny dots of faint white light bulbs. And from our high vantage point we could clearly see that the sleepy little rural marketplace - Garjon Bunia Bazaar – had woken up; ready for another evening.
The Padma Bridge is expected to unlock the potential and transform the lives of nearly 30 million Bangladeshis living in the country's Southwest region. By reducing distances to major urban centers like Dhaka by almost 100km, the bridge will facilitate regional trade, reduce poverty while accelerating growth and development in the country as a whole.
“The construction of the bridge would fulfill the long-standing dream of the people of the Southwest region to have a permanent crossing over the Padma River,” said World Bank South Asia Vice President Isabel Guerrero.
The Karnataka Watershed Development project - also known as Sujala - has increased the availability of water in seven drought-prone districts of northern Karnataka. Treatments on the upper and lower reaches of watersheds have helped raise water tables, brought degraded lands under cultivation, enabled farmers to diversify into higher value crops and horticulture, and raised agricultural productivity. State of the art remote sensing has been used to monitor impacts. Incomes for both the landed and landless poor have increased.
Talking to a Sri Lankan friend about his 80-year old mother, who has been living alone ever since his father passed away 4 years back, brought back memories of my own mother who passed away at the age of 76 in 2008. As my Sri Lankan friend was worried about his mother’s living arrangements (he is happy to have her move in with him, but she prefers to stay alone in the house that has been her home for 46 years), I began to muse about my own father who lives alone at 85 years. He is in reasonable health for his age, and is largely independent, except that he needs oxygen support every night while sleeping as his lungs have lost significant capacity due to fibrosis, and his eyesight has deteriorated considerably. I was feeling guilty for not taking care of him in his old age. Again, it is his decision not to move in with any of his children, as he wants to stay in the apartment which he is familiar with and to be ‘independent’. We have appointed a care-taker who stays with him all day, while my sister and brother-in-law who live just a kilometer away give him company in the nights. Still the guilt feeling is no less.
The business case for low-balance savings is tough, as the margin on float may not amount to much. In much of South Asia, the economics of savings for the poor has been buttressed by microcredit – the notion that the account anchors the customer relationship and the loan gives it profitability. But financial inclusion premised on credit is always going to leave some people behind: those who do not feel like credit is the right financial tool for them or who simply do not have the ability to commit to future payment streams.
A new vision is emerging around integrating the savings proposition into a broader payments network. Offering “connected savings” accounts rather than stand-alone accounts helps the economics of low-balance savings in three ways: