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
October 17 is the international day to end poverty. There has been much progress toward this important milestone: the World Bank Group’s latest numbers show that since 1990 nearly 1.1 billion people have escaped extreme poverty. Between 2012 and 2013 alone, around 100 million people moved out of extreme poverty. That’s around a quarter of a million people every day. This is cause for optimism.
But extreme poverty and the wrenching circumstances that accompany it persist. Half the world's extreme poor now live in sub-Saharan Africa, and another third live in South Asia. Worldwide nearly 800 million people were still living on less than $1.90 a day in 2013, the latest year for which we have global numbers. Half of these are children. Most have nearly no education. Many of the world's poor are living in fragile and conflict afflicted countries. In a world in which so many have so much, it is unacceptable that so many have so little.
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.
There is a lot for Bangladesh to celebrate in the latest World Bank research on global poverty and inequality.
The new report, entitled “Poverty and Shared Prosperity 2016: Taking on Inequality”, uses revised data to give a more accurate estimate of how many poor people live in Bangladesh. What the report shows is that 18.5 percent of the population was poor in 2010 compared with 44.2 percent in 1991.
This is a major achievement that will receive global recognition on October 17 when the World Bank Group marks End Poverty Day with the Bangladesh people at an event in Dhaka.
This achievement means that . It means that Bangladesh beat the deadline by an impressive five years in achieving Millennium Development Goal number 1, an internationally recognized target to cut extreme poverty rates by half by 2015.
It is worth remembering how far Bangladesh has come.
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:
There is now a huge window of opportunity for South Asia to create more apparel jobs, as rising wages in China compel buyers to look to other sourcing destinations. Our new report – Stitches to Riches?: Apparel Employment, Trade, and Economic Development in South Asia – estimates that the region could create 1.5 million new apparel jobs, of which half a million would be for women. And these jobs would be good for development, because they employ low-skilled workers in large numbers, bring women into the workforce (which benefits their families and society), and facilitate knowledge spillovers that benefit the economy as a whole.
But for these jobs to be created, our report finds that apparel producers will need to become more competitive – chiefly by (i) strengthening links between the apparel and textile sectors; (ii) moving into design, marketing, and branding; and (iii) shifting from a concentration on cotton products to including those made from man-made fibers (MMFs) – now discouraged by high tariffs and import barriers. These suggestions recently drew strong support from panels of academics and representatives from the private sector and government when the report was launched mid-year in Colombo, Delhi, Dhaka, and Islamabad. South Asia is now moving on some of these fronts but a lot more could be done.
Moving up the apparel value chain
Stitches to Riches? finds that South Asia’s abundant low-cost labor supply makes it extremely cost competitive (except for possibly Sri Lanka). But rapidly rising living costs in apparel manufacturing hubs, coupled with international scrutiny, are increasing pressure on producers to raise wages. Plus, countries like Ethiopia and Kenya, who enjoy a similar cost advantage, are entering the fray, and some East Asian countries already pose a big challenge. The good news is that the policy reforms needed to keep the apparel sector competitive would likely benefit other export industries and transform economies (view end of the blog).
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.
The China sourcing conundrum
In conversations with U.S. and European retailers and brands, ELEVATE – a company formed in 2013 to support corporate social responsibility – finds that apparel buyers rate diversifying away from China as one of their top three sourcing goals.
This is not to suggest that there is a desire to exit China – which currently holds by far the largest share of global apparel trade, at 41 percent – but rather a need to significantly reduce dependence on product from China, owing to rising costs, factory closures, unenthusiastic second generation family ownership, new attitudes about working in factories, and a perception that China wants to move to higher-value manufacturing. Sourcing and procurement organizations feel uncertain, and uncertainty is not a friend of supply chains.
The problem is that for all its uncertainty, China still has a huge base of factories, a well-developed transport infrastructure, and a comprehensive eco-system that supplies cut-and-sew operations, and management that has matured with years of experience. Even if a buyer would like to give another country an opportunity, many corporate risk managers view certain countries or regions as quite challenging for doing business.
South Asia could seize this opportunity by better meeting requirements – besides competitive costs – that are vital to global buyers. These include: (i) quality, which is influenced by the raw materials used, skill level of the sewing machine operator, and thoroughness of the quality control team; (ii) lead time and reliability, which are greatly affected by the efficiency and availability of transportation networks and customs procedures; and (iii) social compliance and sustainability, which has become central to buyers’ sourcing decisions in response to pressure from corporate social responsibility campaigns by non-governmental organizations, compliance-conscious consumers, and, more recently, the increased number of safety incidents in apparel factories.
Surveys of global buyers show that East Asian apparel manufacturers rank well above South Asian firms along these key dimensions, as noted in a new World Bank report on apparel, jobs, trade, and economic development in South Asia, Stitches to Riches (see table). So, what can South Asia, which now accounts for only 12 percent of global apparel trade, do to become a bigger player? An encouraging recent development is that buyers have started collaborating to facilitate new sourcing possibilities – as the case of Bangladesh illustrates.