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Poverty

Undernutrition in South Asia: Persistent and emerging challenges

Ashi Kathuria's picture
Indian Bengali tribal mother is feeding her baby on her lap in a rural background. Indian rural lifestyle
Indian Bengali tribal mother is feeding her baby on her lap in a rural background. Credit: Abir Bhattacharya/ Shutterstock

Childhood stunting—or being too short for one’s age—is one of the most significant barriers to human development and affects about 162 million children under five across the world.

The good news is that several countries in the region, Nepal, India and Sri Lanka, are progressing towards meeting the 2025 World Health Assembly target of reducing the number of stunted children.

But overall, South Asia remains home to about 62 million stunted children.

In this context, it’s critical to confront failures that impede progress toward better health and nutrition in the region. Even more so since some undernutrition challenges persist, and new ones are emerging.

One persistent challenge is the inadequate diets young children receive, especially in their first two years.

This starts early in a child’s life as breastfeeding rates remain low. Though early initiation of breastfeeding has more than doubled to 40 percent between 2000 and 2016, more than 20 million infants are still not being breastfed within the first hour of birth.

Progress is also uneven across the region: breastfeeding initiation ranges from 18 percent in Pakistan to about 90 percent in Sri Lanka.

Also worrisome is that exclusive breastfeeding in the first six months of life has improved by a mere five percentage points to 52 percent across South Asia.

Further to that, the diets of infants over six months continue to be one of South Asia’s biggest and most persistent challenges.  

Only 12 percent of South Asian children receive the minimally acceptable diet they need to grow healthy.

Nepal’s promise and opportunities

Hartwig Schafer's picture
Nepal is in many ways emerging from that disaster as a new country
Photo: World Bank

Nepal is on the brink of a new era. Four years ago this April, the powerful Gorkha earthquake devasted parts of Nepal and shook Kathmandu to the core.

Today, Nepal is in many ways emerging from that disaster as a new country: It is young, with more than 40 percent of Nepalis in the 16-40 age group.  It is ambitious, with plans for new highways, new mass transit infrastructure, new airports, more trade, more energy, and growth.

And it is resilient. Last November, I watched people literally building back their lives from the ruins in Ramechhap, one of the earthquake’s hardest-hit districts. Much has been said about the strength of the Nepali people. I’m humbled to have witnessed it firsthand.

With each visit to Kathmandu, I’m increasingly impressed by the dynamism of the city and the aspirations of Nepal’s young people. They are eager for education, for opportunity. They shouldn’t have to leave Nepal to get it.

As investors gather for the Nepal Investment Summit, this is the perfect time for Nepal to send a message to the world -- that Nepal is back on its feet and looking ahead to a more prosperous future.

With a stable government and an ambitious economic plan, Nepal is, for the first time in decades, in a position to dream big and to carry out a long-term vision that includes more and better services and opportunities for people.

Things are moving in the right direction. Extreme poverty is expected to decline from 15 percent in 2010 to a 10 percent in 2019, based on a poverty line of $1.90 a day. Economic growth in the last three years has been robust

The goal of becoming a middle-income country by 2030 -- in just 11 years – is possible.

South Asia can get more women to work

Hiska Reyes's picture
 World Bank
South Asian countries are making progress in clearing the way for women to get jobs and creating a safer work environment for them. Yet, too many women across South Asia are left out of the workforce—and that despite booming economic growth. Credit: World Bank

This blog is part of a series examining women’s economic empowerment in South Asia. Starting today on International Women's Day and over the next few weeks, we will be exploring successful interventions, research, and experience to improve gender equality across the region. 

Meet Fazeela Dharmaratne from Sri Lanka.
 
Her story, like that of millions of other women in South Asia, is one of struggle between family and work and a story worth telling as we mark International Women’s Day.
 
Unlike too many of her female peers, Fazeela was able to reinvent herself professionally.
 
As a young woman, straight out of school, she joined a bank in Colombo as a banking assistant. In 17 years, she climbed up the corporate ladder to become regional manager—a position she later quit to care for her children.
 
Unfazed, Fazeela started her own small home-based daycare business in 2012, initially serving only 4-5 children. Today, Fazeela is the director of the CeeBees pre-school and childcare centers serving several corporate clients in Colombo.
 
Fazeela’s success belies the fact that across South Asia too many women are left out of the workforce—and that despite booming economic growth.
 
And while employment rates have gone down across the region, women account for most of this decline.
 
Between 2005 and 2015, women’s employment declined by 5 percent a year in India, 3 percent a year in Bhutan, and 1 percent a year in Sri Lanka.
 
These numbers are worrying because a drop in female employment has important social costs.
 
First, when women control a greater share of household incomes, children are healthier and do better in school.
 
Second, when women work for pay, they have a greater voice in their households, in their communities, and society.
 
Conversely, the economic gains from women participating equally in the labor market are sizable.
 
A recent study by the International Monetary Fund estimated that closing gender gaps in employment and entrepreneurship in South Asia would help grow the economy by about 25 percent. 
 
The good news is that South Asian countries are making progress in clearing the way for women to get jobs and creating a safer work environment for them.  

Sri Lanka’s women want to work—and thrive in the workplace

Idah Z. Pswarayi-Riddihough's picture
A woman hand painting fabric in a local Batik fabric factory
A Sri Lankan woman is hand painting fabric in a local Batik fabric factory. Matale, Sri Lanka. Credit: Shutterstock. January 3, 2017.

It’s International Women’s Day today, and there is a lot to celebrate in Sri Lanka and beyond.

Being a woman, mother, sister, aunt – name it, it’s something women wake up to daily and they love it.  None of them question about being enumerated for these roles.  We marvel and revel in the roles. 

But make no mistake. Women are also very capable breadwinners, contributors to the economies, innovators and entrepreneurs amongst many other roles.

Women want to work, and they want to stay in the workplace. 

What they seek is balance: a gender-balanced workplace, a gender-balanced management, and more gender-balance in sharing wealth and prosperity. 

In that sense, it’s heartening to see some of the proposals put forth in the government of Sri Lanka’s budget: more daycare centers, flexible work hours, and incentives to promote maternity leave. 

These are very welcome changes to think equal, build smart, innovate for change—the 2019 International Women's Day campaign theme—and we encourage those with jobs to implement these policy changes. 

This year, let me share with you a quick analysis of five laws that Sri Lankan women and their advocates have identified as constraining for joining the workforce and staying there! 

Applauding the women leaders in South Asia

Hartwig Schafer's picture

I just ended my first round of country visits as the World Bank’s Vice President for the South Asia Region.  Over and above all, I have been immensely impressed by the resilience, determination, commitment and innovation of the women leaders that I had the privilege to meet during my visits.

These women are succeeding in a region where it is hard for women to realize their career dreams. In South Asia, only 28 percent of women ages 15+ are employed, compared to 48 percent worldwide.

What better opportunity than International Women’s Day to give a huge shout-out and applaud those women who are role models, entrepreneurs, and leaders in the eight countries of South Asia.

Neha Sharma, the district magistrate in Baghai village and Hart Schafer in India
Baghai village in Firozabad district, Uttar Pradesh, India. Photo: World Bank

In India, more exports can create better jobs and higher wages

Hartwig Schafer's picture
Exports to Jobs: Boosting the Gains from Trade in South Asia


South Asia has grown strongly to reduce poverty and create jobs, but the region remains a development paradox. Despite strong growth, job creation remains weak and is often of poor quality.

This is especially true for India, which grew at a rate of 7.2 percent in 2017 and which managed to reduce the number of poor people considerably.

But the growth of new job opportunities is below what many had hoped for; most Indians still lack a regular job in the formal economy, and huge differences in pay exist among workers. Strong population growth also puts pressure on labor markets, with millions of Indians entering the job market every year.

Employment creation is failing to keep up with labor force growth. And those who work often do so only in the informal sector, which is larger than in any other region in the world. Some groups, like women or workers in rural areas, are at particularly high risk of having to work in the informal economy, where wages are often lower.

Meanwhile, trade in goods as a share of the economy is much lower than in other regions. The trends in India and much of South Asia differ from other regions, where trade, growth, and jobs are directly connected and go hand in hand.

This South Asian paradox raises the question of how governments can boost job growth, and how to raise the quality of new jobs so that economic development brings more shared prosperity.

A new report by the World Bank and the International Labour Organization (ILO) finds that increasing exports through globalization has the potential to contribute to a broader strategy for promoting growth, job creation and shared prosperity.

Expand exports to resolve the South Asian paradox

Hartwig Schafer's picture
South Asia has grown strongly to reduce poverty and create jobs, but the region remains a development paradox


South Asia has grown strongly to reduce poverty and create jobs, but the region remains a development paradox: Despite strong growth job creation remains weak and is often of poor quality.

Sri Lanka grew at an average rate of 5.8 percent from 2010-2017 but the growth of new job opportunities is below what many had hoped for. Most Sri Lankans still lack a regular job in the formal economy, and huge differences in pay among workers exist.

Meanwhile, trade in goods as a share of the economy is much lower than in other regions. The trends in Sri Lanka and much of South Asia differ from other regions, where trade, growth and jobs are directly connected and go hand in hand. This South Asian paradox raises the question of how governments can boost job growth, and how to raise the quality of new jobs so that economic development brings more shared prosperity.

A new report by the World Bank and the International Labour Organization (ILO) finds that increasing exports has the potential to contribute to a broader strategy for promoting growth, job creation and shared prosperity.

Titled “Exports to Jobs: Realizing the Gains from Trade,” the report shows how higher exports can translate into benefits for workers across the country, and it therefore recommends policies to expand exports together with policies that help sharing these benefits more widely, for example through measures that help workers get the skills needed to compete for new formal-sector jobs.

The rise of India’s rural women entrepreneurs

Balakrishnan Madhavan Kutty's picture
Women at the custard apple collection centre
Women at the custard apple collection center. Photo credit: Rajasthan Grameen Aajeevika Vikas Parishad (RGAVP), Govt. of Rajasthan

Pehle mein apne ghar ka paanch hazaar (rupaye) mein bhi kharcha nahi chala paati thi, abh mein pandrah hazaar rupaye mein ghar ka kharcha chalati hu.

“Earlier I was not able to contribute even Rs. 5,000 ($69) to run my house. Today, I contribute Rs. 15,000 ($208),” beams Lakshmi Amol Shinde from Wardha Lakshmi as she recalls the harsh financial conditions she and her family faced after her husband lost his job.

This unexpected event motivated her to join a self-help group (SHG) and take out a loan to start a small snack (papad) business.

Initially, she sold her food delicacies in her village. Later, she expanded her business and catered to shops in Nagpur, Maharashtra’s winter capital.

Her hard work paid off, and eleven women from her group joined Lakshmi’s flourishing business.

Thanks to business and marketing training, the women’s business has grown and is now processing the famous turmeric from Waigaon, another town in the district.

How has Citizens’ Charter brought positive change in Jalalabad, Afghanistan?

Akram Sajid's picture
Also available in: دری | پښتو
 Rumi Consultancy/ World Bank
Residents discussing their community development projects in a Community Development Council meeting in Jalalabad city. Photo Credit: Rumi Consultancy/ World Bank
The Citizens’ Charter Afghanistan Project (Citizens’ Charter) is a national program to provide every village and city in Afghanistan with basic services, such as water, roads, and electricity—based on decisions made by the community.
 
When we first started activities in Jalalabad city, the capital of the eastern province of Nangarhar, people were not familiar with community driven programs in urban areas; and there was no tradition of cooperation among different members of the community to jointly solve issues. Their relations with local government, especially the municipality, were weak since it could not address many of their basic needs, like access to clean drinking water.
 
As the Citizens’ Charter Communication and Outreach Officer in Jalalabad, I initially felt that community members were not feeling empowered and, therefore, didn’t see the value of working together to increase the prosperity of their community.
 
Before the project started in 2017, there were no organized councils that people could turn to, to address their shared problems. Shir Mohammad, a resident from Jalalabad’s District 5, told me: “It was so hard to gather people to discuss an issue in the area.
 

چگونه برنامه ملی میثاق شهروندی سبب تغییرات مثبت در شهر جلال گردیده است؟

Akram Sajid's picture
Also available in: English | پښتو
 
باشندگان شهر جلال آباد هنگام بحث روی پروژه های انکشافی محلی در جلسه شورای انکشافی. عکس: شرکت مشورتی رومی/ بانک جهانی

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