As the local mirab - “water master” and I walked along the high-elevation canal, high winds blew sand in our mouths and eyes. The elevation canal in Herat province is famous for its “120 days of wind.” Located in the far west of Afghanistan, Herat is home to the Hari Rud River basin, giving the province the potential to be an agricultural heartland. But the area I walked was not green and lush, rather, it looked like desert.
Herati farmers cultivate wheat, barley, and vegetables, but also face severe water shortages and irrigation issues. “Poor people cultivate wheat as a major crop to have at least something to eat,” said a local villager. “Most years, the flood flushes away our soil bags and we cannot divert water into the canal.”
The water shortages are not due to the lack of water, but rather the lack of efficient water management. As Regional Manager of the On-Farm Water Management Project (OFWMP) in Herat, I was there to visit sites for potential irrigation projects in three villages: Kushk-e-Baad Saba village in Injil district, and Deh Surkh and Deh Pada villages in Zenda Jan district. Through these projects, we could work with local villagers to transform this dusty desert into fruitful farmland.
In 2003, Meiko Nishimizu, the World Bank Vice President for South Asia at the time, referred to Kathmandu as “an island of prosperity in a sea of poverty that is Nepal”. This was a time when the country was besieged with a violent conflict, with the state struggling to keep control of urban areas while rebels and security forces locked horns in the countryside. Her invocation of Martin Luther King Jr’s quote that “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere” must have resonated deeply with those in Kathmandu, especially those that may have associated inequality with the rise of the conflict.
Thirteen years on, as we think about Nepal’s progress on poverty reduction since then, it is appropriate to reflect on inequality and how it has evolved during this period. Has every Nepali benefitted from the living standards improvements that have been realized in the country? Or have some been left behind?
The year 2015 was rough on Nepal. The catastrophic earthquakes that struck the country in April/May caused widespread destruction of life and property and was followed by disruptions in the south that brought cross-border trade with India to a complete standstill for 4 months. As dramatic as these recent shocks have been, Nepal is no stranger to conflict and fragility. A 10-year violent Maoist conflict ended in 2006 but the ensuing years of drafting a new constitution were turbulent; politics often dominating the discourse as opposed to economics. But despite these unfavorable odds, Nepal made rather surprising progress on improving living standards and reducing poverty.
Between 1995 and 2010, absolute poverty – measured as the proportion of people living below the national poverty line of Rs.19,261 per person per year – declined steadily by around 2.2 percentage points a year. This helped the country meet the MDG target of halving income poverty by 2015 quite comfortably. Living standards improvements were realized not just based on income or consumption but also along multidimensional measures of well-being that take into account access to essential services such as education, health and drinking water and sanitation. What was behind this progress on poverty reduction Nepal achieved amidst a violent conflict and a tumultuous post-conflict recovery?
- 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
Over 80 percent of Pakistanis consistently report that their economic wellbeing has either deteriorated or remained the same. Only 20 percent, disproportionately concentrated in the very top of the distribution, feel that they are better off and similarly small numbers believe that economic conditions have improved for their locality. If we took a poll today, it is possible that many of you would say that extreme poverty has risen rather than fallen.
But in fact, the national data tells a completely different story! According to the national poverty line set in 2001, Moreover, these gains were not concentrated among those close to the poverty line. Even the poorest 5 percent of the population saw an improvement in living standards.
Today I joined leaders and representatives from 70 countries and 20 international organizations and agencies at the Brussels Conference on Afghanistan. Together with its development partners, the World Bank Group pledged its continued support to the Afghan people and outlined a course of action to help all Afghans realize their dream of living in peace and prosperity.
Afghanistan has come a long way since 2001 and has made much progress under extremely challenging circumstances: life expectancy has increased from 44 to 60 years, maternal mortality has decreased by more than three quarters and, from almost none in 2001, the country now counts 18 million mobile phone subscribers.
Yet, enormous challenges remain as nearly 40 percent of Afghans live in poverty and almost 70 percent of the population is illiterate. This is made worse by growing insecurity and the return of 5.8 million refugees and 1.2 million internally displaced people. Much also remains to create jobs for the nearly 400,000 people entering the labor market each year.
To that end, here are five priorities we need to address to ensure a more prosperous and more secure future for all Afghans:
Sri Lanka amazes me in many ways, with its smiling faces among a rich tapestry of cultures, diversity, and natural wonders. On this fourth visit and first time in the Northern Province, I once again found a resilient and industrious people eager to build their lives and advance the country together.
As Sri Lanka recovers from an almost three-decade long conflict, much progress has been made. I am proud that the World Bank Group has been a close and trusted partner with the country to help restore lives, livelihoods, and unlocking the potential of all of its people, inclusive of men and women, diverse geographic locations, as well as different ethnic and religious backgrounds.