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.
A couple of months ago, I visited a few tertiary colleges affiliated with the National University in Bangladesh while preparing the College Education Development Project which aims to strengthen the strategic planning and management capacity of the college subsector and improve the teaching and learning environment of colleges. Almost two-thirds of all tertiary students in Bangladesh are enrolled in these colleges, making them the largest provider of higher education in the country.
World Bank report on education in Bangladesh
A recent World Bank report estimates that around 1.6 million tertiary students in Bangladesh are enrolled in around 1,700 government and non-government colleges affiliated under the National University. This piece of information underpins a huge economic opportunity in context with Bangladesh’s quest to become a middle-income country over the next few years. There is a strong demand for graduates with higher cognitive and non-cognitive skills and job-specific technical skills in the country. This requires an improvement in the quality and relevance of tertiary education to ensure graduates have more market relevant skills. The National University student enrolment size combined with its sheer number of colleges network all over the country make it the critical subsector for making a qualitative dent in the higher education system.
As anyone who has travelled around the country will testify, India is marked by glaring spatial disparities in well-being. On the one hand, New Delhi is relatively prosperous, and if you visit the recently renovated Connaught Place, you will find not only a bustling outdoor market, but also designer shops, upmarket restaurants and a gleaming new metro station.
However, take the Prayagraj Express train east for seven hours and you will find yourself in Kanpur, which is one of the largest cities in the densely populated state of Uttar Pradesh, where per capita income is less than one-fifth its level in Delhi and the poverty rate is three times as high.
Such large variations in well-being are a natural cause for concern among India’s policymakers and have generated intense interest in India’s spatial landscape of potential for economic development. Is it the case that less prosperous parts of the country lack the basic ingredients that can give rise to the high productivity that economists believe provides the key to well-being or is it the case that, while they may possess some of these ingredients, they are failing to make the most of them?
The Economic Potential Index
In an effort to provide some insights into both this and other key questions related to India’s spatial development, we have recently published a working paper that examines underlying variations in “economic potential” across Indian districts.
Our analysis is based on a composite “Economic Potential Index” ( EPI) that measures, in a single summary score, the extent to which a district possesses attributes that can be considered “universally” important to achieving a high local level of productivity, whether or not a high productivity level is currently actually observed.