The South Asian Free Trade Area (SAFTA) agreement has been in effect since 2006—with little success.
This is in sharp contrast to the ASEAN free trade area (AFTA), which started in 1992 with six six countries and later added more members, completing the ASEAN ten by 1999.
Between 1992 and 2017, intraregional imports as a share of global imports in ASEAN increased from 17 to 24 percent, and exports from 21 to 27 percent.
In South Asia, these shares were largely stagnant since SAFTA came into effect, at 3 percent for intraregional imports and 6-7 percent for intraregional exports.
In fact, .
The South Asian Free Trade Area (SAFTA) agreement has been in effect since 2006—with little success.
That’s why .
But whether an individual consumes—or not—nutritious food is contingent upon a myriad of factors, ranging from the availability of certain foods, how convenient they can be turned into meals, or simply, if they meet consumers’ tastes.
But above all, .
“Sí, sabes que ya llevo un rato mirándote
Tengo que bailar contigo hoy”
The Despacito tune blared in the bus, and my fellow riders kept tempo to the rhythm.
I was recently on mission in the Punjab province, Pakistan, on my way to the Shalimar Gardens for some sightseeing on my day off.
The last thing I expected to hear was the top song of 2017 on a bus in Lahore but in hindsight, this shouldn’t have surprised me.
We live in a global community, and across the world, individuals are getting more connected every day. Music perfectly exemplifies this – a universal language which we can all understand. With this increased connection comes higher expectations.
In addition to roads and clean water, citizens now demand that their government provide reliable digital connectivity. And when taxes and other revenues are not sufficient to cover this and other public services, governments must borrow to pay for it.
Managing public debt was precisely my reason to be in Lahore where I introduced a cash flow tool the World Bank helped design.
If, like me, you’re a firm believer in New Year’s resolutions, early January ushers in the prospect of renewed energy and exciting opportunities. And as tradition has it, it’s also a time to enter the prediction game.
To sum up:
Notably, and despite increasing conflicts and growing fragility, Afghanistan is expected to increase its growth to 2.7 percent rate this year.
In this otherwise positive outlook, Pakistan’s growth is projected to slow to 3.7 percent in fiscal year 2018-19 as the country is tightening its financial conditions to help counter rising inflation and external vulnerabilities.
However, activity is projected to rebound and average 4.6 percent over the medium term.
Considered superior for their health and nutrition benefits, these so-called ‘Superfoods’, often considered “new” by the public are now ever-popularized by celebrity chefs and have become all the rage of foodies from San Francisco to Singapore.
We live in a world of paradox, where old world and almost forgotten food like Quinoa (which dates back as a staple food over three thousand years to Andean civilization but largely disappeared with the arrival of the Spanish) is now back on the menu.
Salmon, a staple part of Nordic diets from paleolithic times and woven into the culture of native populations across northwestern Canada and many other superfoods share comparable stories.
And, there are many other old world foods, indigenously known, disappearing but not fully forgotten, yet to be re-discovered.
For example, .
While economies such as Bangladesh, India, and Pakistan may look strong, just as bellies look full,
And parents, from both rich and poor nations alike, seem to know something is not quite right.
If healthier food choices that are accessible, affordable, and readily available are better known, would parents purchase such food from the market for their families?
With a small grant from the World Bank-administered South Asia Food and Nutrition Initiative (SAFANSI) supported by the EU and the United Kingdom, a partnership with WorldFish was established to test this premise.
A 60 second TV spot, a collaboration between scientists, economists, a private sector digital media company, broadcasters and the Government of Bangladesh, was created and broadcast across the nation on two occasions and watched by over 25 million people.
A parallel radio program was also developed and aired reaching millions more, particularly the rural poor and marginalized communities.
And power outages across the country have gone down drastically over the past few years.
After peaking in 2006, per capita electricity consumption failed to grow for almost a decade, remaining only one-fifth the average for other middle-income countries in 2014.
Fittingly, my new report
The study sheds new light on the overall societal costs — not merely the fiscal costs as in previous research — of subsidies, blackouts and other distortions in the power sector.
To that end, my team and I surveyed Pakistan's entire supply chain from upstream fuel supply to electricity generation, transmission and distribution, and eventually, down to consumers.
Put simply, the numbers we found are dire.
Problems begin upstream, where gas underpricing encourages waste and reduces incentives for gas production and exploration.
And with no recent significant gas discoveries, higher gas usage has widened the gap between growing demand and low domestic supply.
On top of that, the volume of gas lost before reaching consumers reached 14.3 percent in fiscal year 2015. By comparison, this number is about 1 to 2 percent in advanced economies.
Poor transmission contributed to 29 percent of the electricity shortfall in fiscal year 2015, while weak infrastructure, faulty metering and theft cause the loss of almost a fifth of generated electricity.
Electricity underpricing and failure to collect electricity bills have triggered a vicious “circular debt” problem, leading to power outages.
A lack of grid electricity also leads to greater use of kerosene lamps that cause indoor air pollution and its associated respiratory infections and tuberculosis risks.
Lack of access to reliable electricity also adversely impact children’s study time at night, women’s labor force participation, and gender equality.
Child stunting, measured as low height for age, is associated with numerous health, cognition and productivity risks with potential intergenerational impacts.
and the pace of decline remains slow and uneven.
In Sindh, for example, things have worsened over time, with one in two children now stunted!
The policy response to this enormous health crisis has been almost entirely centered on interventions at the household level—reducing open defecation (OD), improving household behaviors like child feeding and care practices and food intake.
A recent World Bank report, which I co-authored, suggests that a major shift is this policy focus is required for significant progress on child stunting.
The report begins by showing that .
This has improved dietary diversity, even among the poorest, and increased household investment in a range of assets, including toilets within the home.
This has, in turn, led to a major drop in OD, from 29 percent to just 13 percent. Curative care has also expanded, with the mainstreaming of basic health units and the lady health worker program.
Imagine a state-of-the-art processing plant that harnesses laser-sorting technology to produce a whopping 15,000 tons of raisins a year, linking up thousands of local farmers to international markets and providing job opportunities to women.
To find such a world-class facility, look no further than
In Afghanistan’s volatile business environment, let alone its deteriorating security, Rikweda’s story is an inspiration for budding entrepreneurs and investors.
It also is an illustration of the government’s reform efforts to create more opportunities for Afghan businesses to open and grow, which were reflected in the country’s record advancement in the Doing Business 2019 index, launched today by the World Bank.
And Afghanistan is not the only South Asian country this year that took a prominent place among top 10 improvers globally.
. Its ranking has improved by 23 places this year and puts India ahead of all other countries in South Asia. This year, India is ranked 77th, up from 100th last year.
Together with more than 1,500 academics, scientists, and policymakers, we participated last week in the Rice Olympics.
The event—formally known as the International Rice Congress (IRC)—provides a unique window on the latest innovations and policies about the globe’s most important staple crop.
“Rice isn’t just a crop,” said Rajan Garjaria, Executive Vice President for Business Platforms at Corteva Agriscience. “It’s a way of life. A place can be made or broken, based on their rice crop.”
The Congress discussed a breadth of topics, but what stood out the most is that rice can be instrumental in making people healthier and in sustaining the planet.
The South Asia Food and Nutrition Security Initiative (SAFANSI), a World Bank partnership that aims to improve food and nutrition security across the region, participated in the Symposium on Sustainable Food Systems and Diets and presented its latest research on linkages among food prices, diet quality, and nutrition security.
Overall, the event underscored and discussed relevant strategies to transform nutrition security challenges into opportunities.
"I have a four-year-old son back in my village. I want to make a better life for him,” says Sharmin Akhtar, a 19-year-old employee in one of Dhaka’s many flourishing garment factories.
Like thousands of other poor women, Sharmin came down to Bangladesh’s capital from her village in the country’s north to seek a better job and create a more prosperous future for her family—leaving behind a life of crushing poverty.
Today, as we mark End Poverty Day 2018, it’s important to note that Sharmin’s heartening story is one of many in Bangladesh and the rest of South Asia, where economic growth has spurred a dramatic decline in extreme poverty in the last 25 years.
And the numbers are striking:
Even more remarkable, South Asian countries experienced an increase in incomes among the poorest 40 percent of 2.6 percent a year between 2010-2015, faster than the global average of 1.9 percent.
It’s worth thinking about how far South Asia has come – but remaining clear-eyed about how far we must go to finish the fight against extreme poverty.
Indeed, it is increasingly clear that
True, the extreme poverty rate is significantly lower in India relative to the average rate in Sub-Saharan Africa. But because of its large population, India’s total number of poor is still large.
And while there has been a substantial decline in the numbers and rate of people living below $1.90 in South Asia, the number of people living on less than $3.20 has declined by only 8 percent over 1990-2015 because of the growing population.