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regional cooperation

Managing climate risks in South Asia: A “bottom up” approach

Poonam Pillai's picture
Surma river between Bangladesh and India
The Surma River that flows between Bangladesh and India. Photo Credit: Poonam Pillai

Being from Kolkata, I have always been used to floods. Prolonged flooding typically meant schools and offices closed, traffic jams and a much-needed respite from the tropical summer heat. However, it was during a field visit to the flood prone northeastern border of Bangladesh, where rivers from India flow downstream into Bangladesh, that I fully appreciated the importance of disaster early warning systems and regional collaboration in saving lives, property, enabling communities to evacuate and prepare for extreme weather events.

Disaster early warning systems, along with other information services based on weather, water and climate data (sometimes known as “hydromet” or “climate services”) play a key role in disaster preparedness and improving the productivity and performance of climate sensitive sectors such as agriculture.  Along with investments in resilient infrastructure, risk financing strategies and capacity building measures, they are a key part of a toolkit for strengthening disaster and climate resilience.  Research shows that for every dollar spent on disaster early warning systems, the benefits range from $2-10.  In South Asia, these are particularly important given the region’s extreme vulnerability to climate risks and staggering socio-economic costs arising from extreme weather events.

Encouraging more women to take part in regional trade

Mandakini Kaul's picture

Across South Asia, women represent a hugely underutilized source of growth. In fact, the South Asia region has some of the world’s lowest rates of female labor force participation - only 36%. Even where women work, they are mostly confined to less-remunerative low-skill jobs, and remain excluded from most trading activity. To make it easier for more women to work in all fields of endeavor, World Bank projects in the region have begun to look at development projects through a more gender-focused perspective.
 
One such area is regional trade and connectivity. After a long hiatus, the political momentum for cooperation within the eastern region is growing, especially in the Bangladesh Bhutan India Nepal (BBIN) corridor.  The Indian government’s Act East Policy, combined with the new Motor Vehicles Act that allows vehicles to cross the BBIN border with ease, represent a unique opportunity to reimagine inclusive growth by enabling more of the region’s women to benefit from this corridor.
 


Accordingly, the South Asia Regional Trade Facilitation Program (SARTFP), an Australian government-funded program being implemented by the World Bank, seeks to improve the conditions for women to trade between these nations and to create more remunerative livelihoods.

Regional cooperation in conservation: South Asia shows the way

Andrew Zakharenka's picture
Illegal trade in wildlife and conservation often were not considered high priority for countries of the South Asia Region. In the first ever attempt, the governments of Bangladesh, Nepal, and Bhutan joined forces to strengthen regional cooperation for wildlife conservation. And it was a successful one.

The regional project assisted the governments in building and enhancing shared capacity and institutions to tackle illegal wildlife trade across their borders and invest in habitat and wildlife conservation of critically endangered species. It was clear from the onset that these issues would require both national leadership and regional coordination.
 
Launched in 2011, the project initially had a delayed start. Yet, by December 2016, when the project ended, it became clear that governments coordinated efforts successfully. The three countries participated in regular joint action planning and practice-sharing meetings, signed protocols for and cooperated in transboundary actions, as well as held consultations and public events at the local, national, and international levels.
 
The project supported conservation programs of dozens of endangered species, including crocodiles being released here into the wild. Sundarban area, 2014

Rediscovering the Potential of the World’s Oldest Highways - Bangladesh Waterways

Diep Nguyen-Van Houtte's picture
River crossing in Bangladesh
Boat passengers in rural Bangladesh. Photo credit: Erik Nora

When my team and I saw this boat passing by us in July 2013 in rural Bangladesh, near the border with Mizoram, Northeast India, and Myanmar, I felt immediately empathic.

How many people are on that boat? Eighty? Does it have a motor? Can those people swim, especially the women? No lifejackets! I wondered how long their trip was, and then I thought: What if they needed a bathroom break? Memories of my family's escape from Vietnam by boat in 1981 flashed back—34 refugees jammed into a traditional fishing boat normally home to a family of seven, with no motor, no life jackets, and no toilets! We floated around the South China Sea and Pacific Ocean for 16 days. Most of us could not swim, certainly not the women and girls.

Why do smaller countries benefit from greater trade with their neighbors?

Sanjay Kathuria's picture
Quay cranes on docks Sri Lanka. Dominic Sansoni/World Bank

The real end winner of NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) is going to be Mexico […]” said then Mexican president Vicente Fox, in 2001. He was referring to Mexico’s gains from trade integration with the USA through NAFTA.

Vicente Fox was right. Mexico has continued to make sustained gains in trade over a 20 year period after signing NAFTA in 1994 with the US, its much larger partner (figure 1).



​Opening up trade is not easy because losses can be immediate, while gains, despite being potentially much larger and more widespread, are often dispersed over time. Producers that may sustain losses from more open imports are often well organized and can hold up reforms quite effectively. Moreover, when one of the countries involved in mutual trade liberalization is disproportionately large, it enables the smaller country lobbies to raise the specter of being swamped by imports from its larger partner.

In the case of South Asia, a history of political differences further complicates deeper trade and economic cooperation within the region. Under these circumstances, opening up trade to neighbors requires strong leadership and a bold vision about the role of trade and regional integration in economic development.

Global Supply Chain Barriers: The Lowest-Hanging Fruit?

Mabruk Kabir's picture

"Semiconductor Co." is a global microprocessor and chipset manufacturer, with production facilities, suppliers, and customers around the world. However, all markets are not created equal. Some customers are easier to reach than others. When it comes to exporting to India, for instance, its products are frequently held at customs for weeks, and sometimes even pilfered from warehouses monitored by customs.

According to the World Bank’s Doing Business report, it takes 32 days on average to complete trade-related procedures in South Asia, among the highest in the world. Nearly 70% of the time is spent on assembling and processing an odious number of documents.

South Asian Artists Show the Way

Elena Grant's picture

When the winners of the World Bank’s "Imagining Our Future Together" art competition first met last fall, the atmosphere was very much like the first day of school: Everyone was new, excited to meet others, and optimistic about possibilities ahead. As the exhibition of their art comes to World Bank headquarters next week and the 25 young artists prepare for their third and final meeting, their collaboration has accomplished more than we organizers ever imagined.

Indeed, their experience of working together across borders shows in microcosm what the countries of South Asia can hope to achieve through greater cooperation and integration.

“Imagining our Future Together”: Young Artists’ Perspectives on South Asia

Onno Ruhl's picture

“The World Bank is organizing an art show?” My neighbor seemed stunned. He has just got to know me, since I moved to India only in early September. To him I am the economist who moved to India from Washington. Quite possibly, he thinks I have come to India to try and tell the government what to do.

“Why?” He asked. I told him it was because we wanted to stimulate thinking about South Asia’s common future. “Why?” he insisted. I told him many other regions in the world have discovered that a common future brings better lives to citizens than separate futures. “Aha!” he said, “you want to promote free trade”. He thought he had recognized me again.

It was a most interesting conversation to me. The art show had not been my idea, but it felt very natural to me. After all, my wife is a painter and photographer, and I have therefore helped organize many art shows in the past. But this one is very different. It's a group exhibit by the winners of a competition we launched in all countries of South Asia.

Make Trade, Not War in South Asia: Toward Regional Integration

Elizabeth Howton's picture

Can economics trump politics in South Asia, a region fragmented by decades of strife? Will greater regional cooperation and lowering barriers to trade bring harmony along with economic growth?

Those were the questions on the table Thursday as a panel from across the region discussed “Breaking Down Barriers: A New Dawn in Trade and Regional Cooperation in South Asia.”

Most panelists expressed optimism about trade’s pacifying abilities. Moderator Barkha Dutt, an Indian television journalist, opined that “What trade does, in its very ordinariness, is modulate the emotions.” Teresita Schaffer, former U.S. ambassador to Sri Lanka, agreed that “Trade can provide another conversation… and provide reasons why rivalries should not be allowed to get out of hand.”

But which comes first, the chicken or the egg? asked another panelist, Nepali journalist Kanak Dixit. Clearly, he said, it’s the chicken (commerce), because other things have been tried and have not worked. He said that “chicken” will lay two “eggs”: peace and prosperity.

Beggar thine own people?

Shanta Devarajan's picture

First the good news. The Indian government has agreed to sell the originally-agreed 400,000 tons of non-basmati rice to the Government of Bangladesh at a price of $430 per ton. On March 30th, the Government of Bangladesh’s Purchase Committee approved the Indian offer of procuring the 400,000 tons of rice at $430 per ton by ship.

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