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Five lessons of regional integration from Asia, America, and Africa

Sanjay Kathuria's picture
More than 50% of today’s international trade goes through regional trading arrangements.  While trade is a critical component of regional integration, integration has several other dimensions including energy cooperation and intra-regional investment, to name a few.  After carefully examining cases of regional integration in Southeast Asia, the Americas and Africa, we present five lessons for South Asia.

Lesson 1: Facilitate trade in goods and services

Despite falling tariffs, there is still a large gap between the price of the exported good and the price paid by the importer, largely arising from high costs of moving goods, especially in South and Central Asia. On a percentage basis, the potential gains to trade facilitation in South and Central Asia, at 8 percent of GDP, are almost twice as large as the global average. High trade costs have contributed to South Asia being the least integrated region in the world.

FIGURE 1: Intra-regional trade share (percent of total trade), 2012

In the ASEAN region, most countries have established either Trade Information Portals or Single Windows that have enhanced trade facilitation, reduced trade costs and enhanced intra-regional trade. A Trade Information Portal allows traders to electronically access all the documents they need to obtain approvals from the government. A Single Window (a system that enables international traders to submit regulatory documents at a single location and/or single entity) allows for the electronic submission of such documents. These single windows, using international open communication standards, facilitate trade both within the region and with other countries using similar standards.

In services, one barrier to trade involves the movement of skilled workers, accountants, engineers and consultants who may move from one country to another on a temporary basis. The Southern Common Market (Mercosur)’s Residence Agreement allows workers to reside and work for up to two years in a host country. This residence permit can be made permanent if the worker proves that they can support themselves and their family.

Lighting up the future in Bangladesh

Yann Doignon's picture

Children using a computer powered by solar energy

Night falls in Dhaka. Commercial streets glow with lights and the neon-lit stores and restaurants are abuzz with shoppers enjoying a break from Ramadan. This is a great visual spectacle punctuated by the incessant honking of colorful rickshaws.

But the reality is different right outside the capital. Sunset brings life to a halt in rural areas as about 60 percent of rural households do not have access to grid electricity. Kerosene lamps and battery-powered torches are widespread yet limited alternatives, their dim light offering limited options for cooking, reading or doing homework.  

It is a sweltering hot day when our team sets out to visit a household of 14 in the village of Pachua, a two-hour drive from Dhaka. Around 80% of the villagers have benefited from the solar panel systems to access electricity. The Rural Electrification and Renewable Energy Development Project (RERED), supports installation of solar home systems and aims to increase access to clean energy in rural Bangladesh.
We’re accompanied by Nazmul Haque Faisal from IDCOL, a government-owned financing institution, which implements the program. “This is the fastest-growing solar home system in the world,” Faisal says enthusiastically, “and with 40,000-50,000 new installations per month, the project is in high demand.”

We’ve now reached our destination and Monjil Mian welcomes us to his house, which he shares with 13 other members of his family, including his brothers, two of them currently away for extended work stints in Saudi Arabia.

Access and equity in technical skills enhances dignity among youth

Ahamad Tanvirul Alam Chowdhury's picture
Students of Computer Engineering Department receiving training
Students of Computer Engineering Department receiving training

“I am proud today to have acquired technical skills to get an edge in a constantly changing global job market. In 2014, I was lucky to get the chance to participate in the skills competition organized by Skills and Training Enhancement Project (STEP). After a month of hard-work, I was the winner. This motivated and inspired me to pursue my future career. Technical skills helped me achieve personal and professional fulfilment, said Jarin Tasnima, a student of Computer Engineering Department of the Dhaka Mohila Polytechnic. 

Following the footsteps of students like Jarin Tasnima, Bithi, an architecture student is planning to participate in the next skills competition, scheduled for the end of 2015. She is the youngest member of a family of four and lacked the financial means to pay for her school.

Her brother, an accountant found out that having technical skills led to better pay and increased social respect. He motivated his younger sister to choose a technical career path in which she selected architecture. After achieving a secondary school certificate, her dreams came true due to a stipend program at the Dhaka Mohila Polytechnic supported by STEP which paid her fees. “I am thankful to my brother for advising me to join Polytechnic Institute to enhance my career,” said Bithi.

South Asia should prepare now for the next disaster

Annette Dixon's picture

Nepali man constructs bamboo house

About 9,000 lives have been lost to the devastating earthquake in Nepal on April 25 and the powerful aftershock on May 12. A conference in Kathmandu on June 25 will bring Nepal together with its international partners to build the country back better and safer.

Unfortunately, this is not just a Nepal challenge. From Afghanistan to Bangladesh, much of South Asia is located in one of the highest seismically active regions in the world. More than 600 million people live along the fault-line across the Himalayan belt that runs through Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Nepal and Bhutan.

Toward a resilient Nepal

Ram Sharan Mahat's picture
Nepali women rebuild housing structures
 Photo Credit: Laxmi Prasad Ngakhushi

It has been 50 days since the devastating earthquake struck Nepal on April 25.  With another powerful aftershock on May 12, a combined 9,000 lives were lost, making this the worst disaster in Nepal’s history in terms of human casualties.  One in three Nepali has been affected by the earthquakes.  One in ten has been rendered homeless.  Half a million households have lost their livelihoods, mostly poor, subsistence farmers.  Everyone has been affected in one way or the other – women, men, children, the elderly, the differently-abled.  A large part of the country is in ruins.
Nepal is grateful to her friends in the international community for the rapid humanitarian response in the immediate aftermath of the disaster.  We owe you our deep respect for your generosity and heroism.
Early estimates from our Post Disaster Needs Assessment (PDNA) price the damages and economic losses at US$ 7 billion, roughly one-third of our economy.  The economic growth rate this fiscal year ending mid-July is expected to be the lowest in eight years, at 3.04 percent.  Revenue collections will be off-target by at least 8 percent and result in a lower base going into the next FY.  The immediate priority is to restore the productive means of livelihood for millions of people in agriculture, services and industry.

Why women should lead Nepal’s recovery

Ravi Kumar's picture
Nepali women listening to an official
Nepali women listening to an official. Photo credit: World Bank

This post was originally published on Time 

Women have lost the most—and they have the most to lose

On April 25 and May 12, Nepal was hit by devastating earthquakes. As of June 8, there have been more than 8,700 deaths, and more than 22,000 injuries, according to government data. More than 775,000 homes have been destroyed or partially damaged. Those involved in the relief and recovery process have shown tremendous conviction to help Nepal rebuild. But Nepal’s deeply entrenched patriarchal and its unfair culture toward women will likely continue to complicate efforts to help the country recover.

As a Nepalese citizen and co-founder of a company that is using open data to help with the recovery efforts, it’s clear that one way to minimize the potential damage would be to ensure women are leading the reconstruction process.

While women leaders, such as Pushpa Basnet, are actively involved in the relief process, there aren’t enough. BibekSheel Nepali, a new political party in Nepal that deserves praise for pro-actively helping in the relief process, does not have any women in its leadership team.

Back to school in Nepal. What has changed?

Dipeshwor Shrestha's picture
Biswash, a 12 year old staying at the temporary camp in Uttar Dhoka showing the Dharahara collage he made.
Biswash, a 12 year old staying at the temporary camp in Uttar Dhoka showing the Dharahara collage he made. 
​Photo - Suresh Ghimire
On April 25, the day of the earthquake, my colleagues and I were organizing the final student exhibit to mark the end of our 12-week school session. There were 12 kids and their parents when the earthquake struck. Our first instinct was to keep the kids safe; we managed to stay calm, gathered everyone into an open space and stayed strong. After the aftershocks subsided, we got news of how devastating the earthquake actually was. We immediately called our loved ones. It was a relief that everyone we knew was safe.
I am a teacher at Karkhana, an education company that designs and delivers hands-on STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and maths)-based content to middle school students in Nepal.
The first two days after the quake, we quickly realized that people without any specialized skills such as first aid, sanitation, nursing, construction, and rescue were not of much help in the immediate relief efforts.

The only way to contribute was to do what we are already good at - teach.

In Afghanistan, new technologies for doing business in the 21th century

Ikramullah Quraishi's picture
The Enterprise System is handed over to Hashim Naeem Tailoring Company and its employees, Parwan, Afghanistan
The Enterprise System is handed over to Hashim Naeem Tailoring Company and its employees, Parwan, Afghanistan

Sail Food Production Company is one of the largest food manufacturing factory in Nangarhar Province, Afghanistan. Despite countless hours spent on manual bookkeeping, its owner always complained about errors when reporting profits and losses on the company’s balance sheets.

At the close of each monthly accounting period, the company was always late in submitting profit and loss statements to the Provincial Department of Finance. Similarly, there were many inefficiencies in production and raw material tracking due to the absence of a proper inventory control system.

The scarcity of information technology integration within business operations has limited the development of Sail Food Production and many other Afghan small and medium enterprises (SME) as they are trying to remain competitive in a global business environment. How could this be improved?

Deltas Drained: Dealing with population migration in Bangladesh

Sylvia Szabo's picture

 Dealing with population migration in Bangladesh

Delta regions constitute only 5% of the land area but are home to more than 500 million people. The proportion of deltas susceptible to flooding is projected to further increase, thus affecting negatively the livelihoods of local populations, in particular farmer communities.

Recently, the International Council for Science (ICSU) endorsed the Global Sustainable Deltas Initiative (SD2015). The objective of this initiative is to bring attention to the importance and vulnerabilities of delta regions worldwide. To this aim, the University of Minnesota-led Belmont Forum DELTAS project is working to create a global vision for deltas through scientific integration, collection and sharing of data and stakeholder engagement.

Goals (SDGs), now is the time to consider these delta specific challenges in a broader context.

Afghanistan debt - when words get lost in translation

Paul Sisk's picture
Photo Credit: Rumi Consultancy/World Bank


One of the many successful fiscal initiatives implemented in Afghanistan was the HIPC, the Highly Indebted Poor Country program, a joint IMF–World Bank effort to reduce the public debt of poor countries. We called this the forgiveness of debt.
At an early stage in this work I had to meet with a senior Afghan government official to explain the program. The official, the Deputy Auditor General, was a dedicated, serious man who had trained in the former Soviet Union as an engineer and did not speak English, so we relied on an interpreter.

In those days any Afghan who spoke some English could find work as an interpreter, and ours was a medical doctor. He told me he was anxious to find work in his own field but in the meantime was willing to work anywhere, even interpreting in this arcane field of auditing, although he was unfamiliar with the jargon. The conversation was not to be long; just outline that the external public debt, which was mostly Russian debt from the communist era, would be absorbed by a trust fund and hence “forgiven” if Afghanistan met the program requirements – basically good fiscal transparency and discipline.