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Public Sector and Governance

How can Bhutan better prepare for earthquakes?

Dechen Tshering's picture
Seismic station in Thimpu. Photo: Royal Government of Bhutan

Bhutan is highly vulnerable to earthquakes, thanks to its location in the seismically active Himalayas.
However, past seismic events across the country were not properly recorded. As recent research indicates the potential for earthquakes of magnitude 8 and over, how can Bhutan ready itself to weather future earthquake risks?

Following the September 21, 2009 earthquake, which claimed 12 lives and caused an estimated loss of BTN 2501 million (or about $54 million), a post-disaster needs assessment led by the government with support from the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR) and the United Nations, made clear that the Kingdom needed to understand its exposure to seismic risks better.

To that end, Bhutan embarked on the $1.29 million Improving Resilience to Seismic Risk project funded by the Japan Policy and Human Resources Development (PHRD) Technical Assistance Program to Support Disaster Reduction and Recovery. This project started on May 23, 2013 and ended on July 31, 2017.

Improving Pakistan’s public and private investment

Muhammad Waheed's picture
Pakistan is not investing enough and its share of investment to GDP is one of the lowest in the world at 15 percent almost half of the South Asian average at 30 percent. This translates into inadequate infrastructure, lack of access to sufficient levels of energy and water, poor quality of schools and hospitals. Photo: World Bank

This blog is part of a series that discusses findings from the [email protected]: Shaping the Future report, which identifies the changes necessary for Pakistan to become a strong upper middle-income country by the time it turns 100 years old in 2047. 

Pakistan’s economy is unable to sustain high growth rates for extended periods. Every few years, the economy is faced with a balance of payments crisis as it tries to grow fast.

This is unlike many other successful peer countries that are growing at higher rates for a longer time.

This inability to sustain growth momentum has dented Pakistan’s ambitions to become a middle-income country. What is the reason for this boom and bust cycle that Pakistan experiences so often?
 
The fundamental cause for these short-lived growth cycles in Pakistan is that these are propelled by private and government consumption, not by higher investment.

Resultantly, the country’s demand increases at a much higher pace than its supply of goods and services, prompting a need for higher imports which becomes unsustainable.

Successive governments have tried to notch up growth in this way, but all of them have ended with a balance of payments crisis.
 
Pakistan is not investing enough and its share of investment to GDP is one of the lowest in the world at 15 percent , almost half of the South Asian average at 30 percent. This translates into inadequate infrastructure, lack of access to sufficient levels of energy and water, poor quality of schools and hospitals.
 
More worryingly, private investment as a share of GDP has been declining and stands at less than 10pc in FY18. This low investment trap and declining labor productivity have reduced Pakistan’s growth potential.
 
The decline in the economy’s growth potential is particularly concerning because it suggests that the country will not be able to grow at higher rates required for job creation. To correct this Pakistan needs to undertake several reforms in multiple areas to increase labor productivity and capital formation.
 
The foremost priority is that Pakistan must maintain macroeconomic stability. Persistent macroeconomic instability has discouraged savings and private investment in the country resulting in low-aggregate investment and fluctuating output levels.

Making Pakistan more equitable for all

Silvia Redaelli's picture
Between 2001 and 2015, approximately 32 million people were lifted out of poverty
Photo: World Bank

This blog is part of a series that discusses findings from the [email protected]: Shaping the Future report, which identifies the changes necessary for Pakistan to become a strong upper middle-income country by the time it turns 100 years old in 2047. 

In recent years, Pakistan has made remarkable progress in reducing poverty. Estimates based on the national poverty line, which was set at Rs3,030.3 per adult equivalent per month based on 2013-14 prices, show a consistent decline over the past two decades.
 
Between 2001 and 2015, approximately 32 million people were lifted out of poverty and the poverty rate was more than halved, going from 64 percent in 2001 to 24pc in 2015. However, a lot is yet to be done.

Not only because 2015 estimates show that approximately one in four Pakistani still does not have enough money to satisfy basic needs, but – even more alarming – progress has been far from equal when looking across the provinces, districts, cities, and rural areas.
 
While poverty declined at a fast pace in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and, to a lesser extent, in Punjab, progress was less positive in Sindh and Balochistan.
 
Within provinces, poverty has remained stubbornly high in Southern Punjab and Northern Sindh. Similarly, the pace of poverty reduction has been slower in rural areas compared to cities, where the risk of poverty is less than half compared to rural areas.

Inequalities in poverty levels and poverty reduction performance are compounded by substantial inequalities in access to and quality of basic services such as health, education, electricity, water, and sanitation.
 
Being born in one of the country’s lagging areas and/or in a poor family largely predetermines a child’s chances of escaping deprivation and realizing his or her full human capital potential in life.

Ways for Sri Lanka to fix its healthcare

Deepika Attygalle's picture
Ways for Sri Lanka to fix its healthcare
Nurses in Sri Lanka. Photo: World Bank

Today on World Health Day, we can say with confidence that Sri Lanka’s healthcare system has delivered on many of its promises.

This year’s focus on universal health care is a timely reminder that Sri Lanka is still reaping the benefits of far-thinking health policies implemented as early as the 1800s.  

Many of these measures were designed to address what were then considered the key challenges of previous centuries, such as high maternal and child mortality rates and infectious diseases that claimed the health and lives of thousands.
 
Successes in lowering maternal and child mortality rates and introducing effective vaccination programs have made Sri Lanka’s low-cost model one worth emulating in the rest of South Asia.  
 
Sri Lanka’s healthcare faces new challenges
 
However, we can no longer afford to rest on our laurels. Our policies and systems must now evolve to address the country’s urgent concerns.
 
The island must also now contend with a worrying rise in non-communicable diseases such as cardiovascular diseases (CVD), ischemic heart disease and stroke, cancers, diabetes, and respiratory conditions such as asthma.
 
Fertility decline and increasing longevity have resulted in a demographic transition in Sri Lanka and this is taking place while the country is aspiring to become an upper middle-income country. 

Population projections show that the proportion of Sri Lankans above the age of 60 years will increase from 14 percent in 2017 to 22 percent by the year 2037.
 
With such a rapidly aging population in Sri Lanka, it is imperative for policymakers to ensure that social and economic institutions in the country are ready to face the health challenges and social consequences ahead.
 
In response, Sri Lanka is undertaking an ambitious agenda that will strengthen and expand primary healthcare services from the ground up. Documented in Re-Organizing Primary Healthcare in Sri Lanka, preserving our progress preparing our future”   this approach is backed by strong evidence.

The report captures the findings of wide-ranging conversations among hundreds of stakeholders from every level of the country’s healthcare system.

Facilitated by the Ministry of Health, Nutrition and Indigenous Medicine, and supported by the World Bank, the report makes a case for why, and how, Sri Lanka must re-imagine its primary healthcare systems in order to attain the goals of universal healthcare. 

What’s behind South Asia’s low exports?

Hans Timmer's picture
South Asian countries’ exports are only one-third of what they should be, had they mirrored the experience of economies with similar characteristics. Without further integration into global markets, South Asia will not sustain its growth. Photo: Shutterstock 

This blog highlights the findings from the recent South Asia Economic Focus: Exports Wanted

Bela Balassa worked for the World Bank from 1966 till his death in 1991. Luckily, his insights on international integration, revealed comparative advantages, trade diversion, and natural progress toward political integration have outlived him.

And what Bela is best-known for—and rightfully so—is the Balassa-Samuelson effect.

Put simply, this effect explains why a haircut or a restaurant meal is much cheaper in poor countries than in rich countries whereas the price tag for a car or a television is almost the same everywhere.

What’s behind this phenomenon is simple and can be summed up in three parts.

First, international competition equalizes the price of tradable goods like televisions across countries.

Second, the prices of non-tradable goods like haircuts can differ.

And third, the difference in productivity across countries is much more significant in tradable goods than in non-tradable goods. For example, a barber in Dhaka needs roughly the same amount of time as a barber in New York to cut my hair.

But manufacturers or farmers in Nepal need more labor to produce the same output than their counterparts in Germany.

Countries tend to be poor because their level of productivity in tradable goods is low.  

Technology is transforming governance in Pakistan

Irum Touqeer's picture
Punjab Excise and Taxation Service Center
Punjab Excise and Taxation Service Center. Photo: World Bank

Technology is changing our world faster than ever before.

And Pakistan, home to more than 64 million internet users and 62 million people connected to mobile data, is no exception.

As they’ve become more digital-savvy, Pakistanis are now expecting better digital services from their government.

To meet these demands, the Government of Punjab has been working to modernize over the last decade.

As part of the government’s governance reforms, and learning from earlier pilot programs in education and health, the Punjab Public Management Reform Program (PPMRP) has aimed to transform citizens’ experience, improve access to administrative services, and boost public employee performance and the management of public resources.

Before that, Punjab authorities were facing several challenges in delivering public services. This, in turn, impacted social outcomes in the province: the health sector’ performance was affected by the absenteeism of vaccinators, resulting in a low immunization rate in Punjab (49% in 2014).

The education and agriculture departments faced similar absenteeism issues with teachers, students, and agriculture workers in the field.

Overall, citizens were dissatisfied with these public services.

In Pakistan, tech-savvy youth reinvent government

Emcet O. Tas's picture
Fellows of the KP Government Innovation Fellowship Program
Digital fellows visiting historic sites in Peshawar, Pakistan. Credit: KPITB.


Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP), one of Pakistan’s most underserved provinces, is emerging from decades of conflict and has turned to the digital economy to boost economic growth and provide jobs to its youth.
 
Since 2013, the World Bank and its partners have helped the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Information Technology Board (KPITB) build a strategy to bring the province into the digital age and improve technology-related skills and governance.

These early efforts later morphed into an even closer partnership that aims to foster hundreds of digital jobs for youth and kickstart infrastructure projects to attract technology investments across the province.
 
One outcome of this partnership is the successful KP Government Innovation Fellowship Program which is co-sponsored by Code for Pakistan.

Since 2014, the program has linked up highly talented technologists with government agencies to help these institutions become more user-centric and transparent, as well as deliver better services to citizens. Twenty fellows divided into five teams join each cycle of the program.

Based on their host agency’s needs, each group may bring expertise in web or mobile app development, graphic design, content, user experience, or networks.
 
During the first month, fellows learn how government works as they interact with department staff and stakeholders to understand their problems. Next, they propose solutions and develop prototypes, which they then test and deploy in the final two months.

During their tenure, fellows actively collaborate and train government staff to ensure their solutions are properly used and sustained.
 
To date, four fellowship cycles have produced 70 graduates, who earned great experience within the government.

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.

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! 

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