“I wanted to be a doctor,” said Batashi, a 13-year-old girl with an infectious smile, “But I had to leave school after class 3, there was no one else to look after my brothers.”
I met Batashi on a muggy afternoon in Korail, the largest slum in Dhaka city. Nestled in the shadows of the city’s glitzy condo buildings, Korail is home to 16,000 families that cram into just .25 square kilometers. Driven from their rural homes by poverty, about 500,000 people – roughly the population of Washington DC – migrate to the city each year.
This makes Dhaka one of the fastest growing cities in the world – a dubious honor for an already overstretched city. It is estimated that by 2030, close to 100 million people – almost half the population of Bangladesh – will be living in urban areas. Many of these migrants will inevitably end up in slums like Korail.
The air quality of Bangladesh’s capital - Dhaka - has dipped considerably in the last 10 years or so as the economy boomed, more factories were set up and the number of cars on the roads increased day by day. Air quality in Dhaka is quickly becoming one of the major health concerns for its residents; reliable and sophisticated data are thus urgently needed to help address this.
A proposal to establish a research center with modern and reliable laboratories for monitoring atmospheric pollutants in Dhaka, submitted by the Center of Advanced Research in Science (CARS) in University of Dhaka, received a research grant of about BDT 34.5 million (about US$ 442,000) from the Higher Education Quality Enhancement Project (HEQEP). The sub-project titled: “Establishing an Air Quality Monitoring Center” is headed by Dr. Shahid Akhtar Hossain, a professor of the Department of Soil, Water and Environment.
A few weeks ago, I travelled to Gujarat to attend the project launch workshop for the second Gujarat State Highway Project (GSHP-II). It is a return visit to Gujarat after my last visit in 2008. I was the task team leader for the first Gujarat State Highway Project (GSHP) during 2005-2008, so I knew the state quite well and I expected to see a lot of changes during this new visit. But when I got there, I was still surprised.
Our team first went on a site visit first. We passed one road section which was improved in 2006 under the GSHP. The road will looked new. My colleague Arnab Bandyopadhyay, who is the Project Leader for GSHP-II, asked the engineers from the Roads and Buildings Department (R&BD) whether they have rehabilitated the road recently. The answer was no. “You must be kidding,” I said to them. “How can an 8-year old road still look so new?” But they were very firm. “No. We have not done any new works on those GSHP roads since they were constructed.”
Let me tell you when magic happens. It transpires when few brilliant minds, optimistic hearts, energetic young people, and a fantastic facilitator meet. The Ideashop: Coding your way to opportunity organized by the World Bank in partnership with the Bangladesh StartUp Cup on June 14th at its Dhaka Office showed us glimpses of such magic. And it is only the beginning of our journey together.
Confident that the solutions to many of the challenges facing youth can come from within themselves, the World Bank and Microsoft has launched a regional grant competition in four South Asia countries – Bangladesh, Nepal, Maldives and Sri Lanka. The regional grant competition titled Coding your way to opportunity invites innovative ideas from youth led organizations and NGOs that will expand coding knowledge amongst youth and help them secure gainful employment.
Photo by: Anupam Joshi/World Bank
The name Maldives brings up visions of blue seas, turquoise reefs, white sandy beaches, palm trees and people enjoying a tranquil life. But there are lengthening shadows under the Maldivian sun, as it struggles with several climate change and environmental threats. Maldives is the planet’s lowest-lying nation with 80 percent located less than one meter above sea level. The IPCC’s predicted 4.8oC increase in global temperature and 26-82 cm rise in sea level by 2100 may well make Maldives the first country to be swallowed up by the sea.
I have visited Maldives’ remote islands many times since 2010 and seen its non-glamorous, mundane side and met ordinary (poor by Maldivian standards) people earn a living by fishing or agriculture and yet struggling to get clean water or basic sanitation. On one such visit, Fathimath Nushfa, who lives in the water stressed island of Alif Alif Ukulhas said that she needs more clean drinking water during the summers as monsoons were becoming unpredictable. Her rainwater storage tank was small and the groundwater source was contaminated by sewage. It gets expensive to buy mineral water bottles for her family of nine. Her household was willing to pay a tariff if the government could augment the household drinking water supplies. People on that island also complained about solid waste problems and how it was degrading the island’s reef systems that are essential for survival of the islands. In a matter of one year, I noticed parts of the island had shrunk due to coastal erosion.
So why is it that NGO’s with great networks, human resources and know how, fail to create a larger impact in societies?
Limited usage of information technology is one reason.
NGO’s are not in a great position to recruit the talent that is expensive. And even if they have, NGO’s often lack a vision and thought leadership to guide it.
“I wanted to become a doctor,” Thenmoli said. Her whisper echoed in the room which instantly fell silent. “There was no way even to get started when I was little.” Thenmoli pointed at her daughter, “Vijayalakshmi wants to become a doctor. She is only three. I will make sure she finishes school and goes to college.”
I was visiting a women’s group in Annathur village in Kanchipuram District, Tamil Nadu. This group had in the past been supported by the Pudhu Vaazhvu Project that also provided skills training for young people. I discovered that the group had mostly goat keepers, small dairy farmers, and vegetable growers. All women had managed to improve their lives with the support of the project. Yet our conversation was not about the women’s livelihoods. We only talked about how they could fulfil the dreams of their children.
“They choose computer training Sir…some of them nursing. All of them got a job after the training.” I was amazed, but then again Tamil Nadu is one of the fastest transforming states in India. “How about the boys?” I asked. “They chose driving, Sir, mostly light vehicles. The ambitious ones go for heavy trucks or forklifts.”
“So did any boy choose computer training?” I enquired. “No Sir, none of them did. But we did have one girl who chose driving. Girls are more ambitious!”
Buy a leather case for your wife’s smartphone on Amazon, select shipping from China with an estimated delivery time of 4-6 weeks, and then be pleasantly surprised when it turns up on your Virginia doorstep in 11 days. The marvels of the modern age – of technology, globalization, and shrinking distances.
Where does South Asia stand on export delivery? Figure 1 illustrates that compared to other economic units around the globe, it is a lot more difficult to trade with(in) SAFTA (South Asia Free Trade Agreement). It also shows that bureaucratic hurdles and the time it takes to trade go hand-in-hand. While the region does relatively well on trade with Europe or East Asia, intra-South Asian trade has remained low and costly. It costs South Asian countries more to trade with their immediate neighbors, compared to their costs to trade with distant Brazil (see below)! In fact, it is cheaper for South Asian countries to export to anywhere else in the world than to export to each other (Figure 3). In other words, South Asia has converted its proximity into a handicap.