A smiling Mosammet Sukkur Jahan, walks to her thatched home in Datiar Char (shoal) in northern Bangladesh to prepare lunch for her family. While eating, Jahan and her neighbors Sharifa, Amena, and Halima were at ease as flood water rushed around their homes located in the middle of vast Teesta River during August and September 2014. They live on a shoal, which is an elevated sandbar that keeps their homes dry.
Chars or Shoals form through siltation along riverbeds. The constant interplay of erosion and accretion creates and sustains the shoals. There are mainly three types of chars: dead, mature, and running. Dead chars are usually permanent land formations. Mature chars are the ones that have not faced any major changes for 10-15 years. Running chars face regular changes and continuous emerge and disappear. The emergence and erosion determines the intensity of vulnerability in the ‘chars’. Typically a new char land requires at least 10 years of continuous presence before it becomes habitable for people.
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After the New Year arrives, most of us have the habit of making New Year resolutions. Whether it is a higher salary, a promotion, world travel or even weight loss, some wishes are similar among us and our friends. This year, after meeting the students attending the 11th South Asia Economic Students Summit (SAESM), I realized how New Year wishes can be vastly different from one corner of the world to another.
Here’s a sample of New Year “wish lists” of the South Asian students who attended the 11th SAESM in Thimphu, Bhutan held between Dec. 23-28, 2014.
“I hope South Asia can have a similar program to ERASMUS in Europe, where students are allowed to spend one year or a semester working or interning in a different South Asian country."
- Phalguni, Kirorimal College, India
“Intelligence and capability are not enough; there must also be the joy of doing something beautiful.” These words by Dr. Venkataswamy tower over us as we enter the flagship Aravind Eye Hospital in Madurai, India, and continue to reflect in the staff’s philosophy during our short visit.
The Aravind Eye Hospital needs no introduction. Tucked in the remote south of India, it is the result of its founder’s vision of eliminating needless blindness. Started in 1976 by Dr. Venkataswamy, the hospital provides accessible, affordable and quality eye care to all sections of the society through cross-subsidization, which creates a commercially viable and sustainable business model.
Aravind Eye Care is an example of a business model innovation, also referred to as an ‘inclusive business model’. IFC defines inclusive business models as those offering goods, services and livelihoods to the poor in financially sustainable and scalable ways. Globally, inclusive businesses are being recognized as important players for development. More entrepreneurs are realizing the bottom of the pyramid (BoP) market as an opportunity to design and implement innovative solutions. As per an IFC study, the BoP represents a potential market of $5 trillion globally - the largest slice of this lies in South Asia, particularly India, given the size of BoP population in the region.
However, inclusive businesses continue to face several barriers in scaling and replicating their success such as lack of access to finance, absence of trained human resources, weak supply chain linkages etc. and above all, an underdeveloped support ecosystem to overcome critical market gaps. Addressing these barriers will not only help capitalize on the growth potential but also mainstream the sector.
World Bank Group is playing a catalytic role in unlocking opportunities for innovative, impact focused businesses. The South Asia Inclusive Business Program has been working towards enhancing private sector participation and inclusive business activity in the region. While working on the high level through systemic interventions, the team is also connecting with organizations on the ground by supporting them to scale sustainably and/or replicate across borders.
On Dec 24th 2014, Christmas Eve, I went into the reception room of Hotel Namgay Heritage in Thimphu, Bhutan to look for some students to interview for my story on the 11th South Asia Economic Students Meet (SAESM). To my surprise, I saw five sofas filled with students, as if they were waiting for me. The cruel reality was, the students from India, Nepal, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan were singing without even noticing my entrance into the room.
They were playing an Indian parlor game (later explained to me by an Indian student) called Antakshari, where each team grouped by the sofa sings the first verse of a Bollywood movie song that begins with the consonant on which the previous team's song selection ended. Though Bollywood movies and songs are often in Hindi; somehow the Afghans who speak Pashto and Dari, Pakistanis who speak Urdu, Bangladeshis speaking Bengali and the Nepali speaking Nepalese were all able to understand each other and sing along.
My mother Manel Kirtisinghe encapsulated what the loss of a loved one in the tsunami meant, when she wrote in her diary “What you deeply in your heart possess, you cannot lose by death." On 26 Dec. 2004, Prasanna went away leaving behind for me a lasting vacuum and a silent aching grief.”
Prasanna was my brother and this year when we observe religious rituals in memory of him, my mother will not be there with us. She left us earlier this year. Prasanna was our bulwark and the trauma of his death was so intensely felt that it took us seven years to rebuild and return to our beloved house. My mother was happy to be back in the house she had come to as a bride in 1944, but she stubbornly refused to go to the back verandah or to walk on the beach - a ritual she did twice a day before the tsunami.
As my mother did, we all had our coping mechanisms to handle the pain. The grief is still with me hastily boxed and lodged inside me but about this time of the year the lid flies open and the horror spills out. The images gradually become more vivid, intense, horrifying. Like a slow moving movie, they appear…and the nightmares return.
Back in the 1930s, Sri Lanka thought it would be a good idea to give everyone free access to health care. More than 75 years later, as the global health community bangs the drum for universal health coverage (UHC), Sri Lankans can be forgiven for letting out a yawn and wondering what all the fuss is about. But as shown by a workshop organized in Colombo last week to mark the first World UHC Day, the concept of universal health coverage (“all people receive the health services they need without suffering financial hardship”) does still have relevance here.
Start with the history. By 1960 Sri Lanka’s health indicators were already well above the curve for its income level, and it was close to having the best health outcomes in developing Asia. It started the MDG era in 1990 with a level of child mortality that was lower than where most Asian countries – including Vietnam, Philippines, Indonesia, and its South Asian neighbors India, Pakistan and Bangladesh – will finish it in 2015. Vaccination rates are above 99%. And all this was achieved without results-based financing, conditional cash transfers, or today’s other proposed silver bullet solutions for improving health.