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Employment Programs By Any Other Name...

Maitreyi Bordia Das's picture

Is it an employment program? Is it an anti-poverty program? Is it a safety net? Is it a disaster management program, is it…..? Actually, it’s all of these. Public works programs are both good development and good politics. India’s National Employment Guarantee Scheme (now called the Mahatma Gandhi EGS) , despite its implementation challenges, is fast becoming the stuff international lore is made of.

Demographers talk of the diffusion effects of ideas of low fertility and other behaviors. And while South Asian countries have a history of public works programs as safety nets – a history that actually goes back to the Maurya Empire in circa 3rd century BC - the diffusion effect of NREGS across South Asia is apparent. This is as much due to the urgent employment needs in all countries in the region, as due to the fact that the Congress victory in India was purported to have hinged significantly on NREGS.

International Women's Day: Why Aren’t We More Concerned About Women’s Physical Safety?

Maitreyi Bordia Das's picture

Fundamental rights in most South Asian countries include freedom of movement – you can go where you want, when you want within a country. But for the majority of South Asian girls and women the reality is very different – they need permission to go almost anywhere. Now, does this stem from norms of patriarchal control or a rational response to threat of physical harm? I like to believe the two are mutually reinforcing. When families are afraid of what will happen to their daughters when they go out alone, they tend to be over-protective or over-controlling. This is certainly what happened to me and my peers as we grew up in Delhi in the 70s and 80s. While many more women are out in public spaces now, the very fact of this visibility is often a trigger for violence. Fewer than half of married women surveyed in Pakistan or Bangladesh feel safe moving alone outside their village or settlement, even during the day (World Bank 2006, 2008).

Safety and security of women in public spaces is seen often as a right, which indeed it is, but, lack of it is also a huge impediment to accessing a range of services and markets – for instance, health care, education and employment. In Pakistan and India, one of the reasons why girls drop out of school after puberty and especially when secondary schools are located a long walk away, is the fear of violence en route.

What Can be Done About Conflict in South Asia?

Ejaz Ghani's picture

What can be done to reduce conflict in poor regions? A speech given by Indian Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh on Internal Security and Law and Order in 2005, sums up the story of conflict and development: “…development, or rather the lack of it, often has a critical bearing, as do exploitation and iniquitous socio-political circumstances. Inadequate employment opportunities, lack of access to resources, under developed agriculture, artificially depressed wages, geographical isolation, lack of effective land reforms may all impinge significantly on the growth of extremism...Whatever be the cause, it’s difficult to deny that extremism has huge societal costs. Investments are unlikely to fructify, employment is not likely to grow and educational facilities may be impaired. Direct costs would include higher costs of infrastructure creation as contractors build "extortions" into their estimates, consumers may be hurt due to erratic supplies and artificial levies. In all, the society at large and people at large suffer. Delivery systems are often the first casualty. Schools do not run, dispensaries do not open and PDS shops remain closed.”

Reducing conflict and violence is a prerequisite to political stability, which, in turn, is the prerequisite for implementing pro growth policies. Even in a best-case scenario, the presence of low-level conflict constrains the policies governments can implement to promote growth. Policy makers in South Asia have tried various policies to reduce conflict.

Reflections on the Chile Earthquake and Disaster Response

Isabel Guerrero's picture

So many feelings and thoughts as I watch and digest the earthquake in Chile…some of them very relevant to understanding the importance of disaster preparedness in South Asia, a region that is exposed to so many natural shocks.

Immediate feelings of admiration and pride. The incredible reaction from Michele Bachelet as the leader of the whole country: less than an hour after the earthquake at the center to manage disasters, gathering the facts, coming out to tell the people of Chile what was happening, and taking a helicopter to the worst affected areas. She was not dramatic. Quite knowledgeable, deferring to the experts on things she didn’t understand, and empathic throughout. Not looking down on people, not overly reassuring, but holding. One felt glad to have her as a President in this moment; sure she would do the right thing. No ego and the right tone.

Involving Afghans for Success

Nancy Dupree's picture

Current rehabilitation and development rhetoric calls for listening to the Afghans and giving them the lead. Sadly, actions too often defy these wise words. The challenge is to make way for genuine in depth Afghan involvement at a time when the problems inherent in a lackluster government beset with corruption are so complex, and, particularly, when the aid-dispensing agencies so often disregard coordination and cooperation.

Politics within the prevailing environment of conflict imposes a sense of great urgency, no doubt, but many basic development principles are being set aside when they are most needed. Plans that rest on massive projects designed by outsiders lavishing too much money and demanding instant implementation are bound to be ineffective. Quick fixes never have worked. Throwing around money indiscriminately just compounds problems and raises new dilemmas. Sustained development, as has been established for decades, requires patient on the ground interactions over time.

Connecting Sri Lankans to Prosperity

Eliana Cardoso's picture

The presidential election in Sri Lanka this January resulted in an easy win for the incumbent Mahinda Rajapakse. The end of the long lasting civil conflict with Tamil separatists, strong remittances and an IMF agreement boosted investors’ confidence. Foreign exchange reserves recovered from about one month of imports in the first half of 2009 to six months of imports by January 2010.

Now that the war is over and the global economy recovering, the government needs to grasp the opportunity to do the right things and avoid hurting confidence in the country’s stability, which is key to the rise in foreign investment and tourism.

The bad news is that the withdrawal of GSP Plus by the European Union countries can hurt industrial exports. The EU decision is worrisome. Thanks to the increase in manufacture exports from 6 percent of total exports in 1975 to 60 percent in 2005, firms began to lead Sri Lanka‘s connectivity with the rest of the world.

Conflict and Development: Where is Conflict Concentrated in South Asia?

Ejaz Ghani's picture

After Iraq, South Asia is the second most violent place on earth. Conflict has increased in South Asia during the last decade. Where is conflict concentrated? What can be done about it?

Conflict is a very broad term, which is often defined differently in different contexts and data sets. We can, however, consider two broad classes of conflict. The first category includes conflict against the State. Examples of this include civil war or terrorism, which is an extreme manifestation of conflict, and it reflects a certain degree of organization of conflict. It is carried out by a relatively organized group of non-state actors, and directed against the State. Some researchers choose to focus on terrorism as a measure of conflict, because it has implications for the overall stability of the state itself, and therefore its ability to implement any developmental policy. The second category includes people-to-people conflict, rather than directed against the State. Examples of this include localized land conflicts, religious riots, homicides or other crimes. They too have adverse implications for development, but are probably less severe, compared to terrorism.

Perspectives on Climate Change from Nepal and Sri Lanka

Joe Qian's picture

In the course of my daily life here in Washington, climate change is discussed in small conversations, seen and heard on the news, and is an occasional contentious political issue. But truth be told, it feels like a remote subject. Rush hour traffic is as thick as ever, thermostats continue to be turned up, and the recent snow piled as high as I’ve ever seen.

It wasn’t until on a recent trip to Nepal and Sri Lanka for work that I could truly perceive some tangible effects and possible negative impacts of climate change. While driving through dimly lit Kathmandu, which was plagued by 9 hours of blackouts a day, I wondered what was affecting water tables so that less than optimal amounts of hydro power were being generated.

Results’ Agenda and Economists

Eliana Cardoso's picture

In the book, The Idea of Justice, Amartya Sen motivates the discussion on the importance of processes and responsibilities by relying on an example. In the Gita (part of the Mahabharata), on the eve of the crucial battle episode in the epic, Arjuna expresses his doubts about leading the fight which will result in so much killing. Lord Krishna, tells him that he, Arjuna, must perform his duty, that is, to fight. And to fight, irrespective of the consequences.

Krishna’s blessing of the demands of duty is meant to win the argument from a religious perspective. But most of us would share Arjuna’s concerns about the fact that, if the war were to occur, with him leading the charge on the side of justice and propriety, many people would get killed. He himself would be doing a lot of the killing, often of people for whom he had affection.

Geography, Infrastructure and Poverty Reduction

Eliana Cardoso's picture

The proportion of people living below the poverty line in Bangladesh has fallen sharply from close to 60% in 1990 to 40% in 2005. Using the Household Income and Expenditure Survey conducted by the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics; economists Aphichoke Kotikula, Ambar Narayan and Hassan Zaman find that the number of poor people in Bangladesh fell by nearly 6 million between 1990 and 2005. The study, “To what Extent are Bangladesh’s Recent Gains in Poverty Reduction Different from the Past? also shows substantial improvements in living conditions. For instance, the percentage of households with connections to electricity increased from 31% to 44% between 2000 and 2005.

Key factors contributing to poverty reduction include changes in certain household characteristics – most prominently, a smaller number of dependents and improvements in their education.

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