It’s June 16th, 2013. When you walk through the desolate, empty streets of Kathmandu today, where the effects of another bandh (strike) are clearly visible, you can’t help but wonder: will we Nepalis ever stand up and speak out against any of the injustices we see in our society or will we silently trudge on as always?
Sitting in a conference room at the Trade Tower in Kathmandu, I feel enormous hope that yes, we will. It’s a room filled with more than a hundred young techies and gender activists, all of whom braved the monsoon and the bandh to be a part of the Violence Against Women (VAW) Hackathon – a platform to bring together diverse stakeholders to work on technology solutions to VAW issues.
There are thunderstorms. There is a strike. And there is the hackathon to end gender-based violence in Kathmandu, Nepal—all happening on the same day.
On a rainy Sunday, some participants woke up at 5 a.m. to walk more than 8 miles to get to Trade Tower Business Center, Thapathali—the site of the hackathon.
It’s inspiring and energizing.
“Young people ought not to be idle,” quipped Margaret Thatcher, “It is very bad for them.” That was twenty years ago. With over a million youth currently out of work in Britain today – 21% of the population – her words remain unfortunately prophetic. And it’s not just industrial countries that are in a funk. The “arc of unemployment” does not discriminate: it cuts across southern Europe through the Middle East to South Asia. Almost half of the world’s young people live along this arc, and it is a demographic dividend that is quickly becoming a demographic liability.
Consider South Asia: a region home to the largest proportion of unemployed and inactive youth in the developing world, a whopping 31%. Many attribute this to social norms, as many South Asian women do not work for cultural reasons. But with a growing middle class, gender norms are rapidly evolving.
Violence against women is a pervasive problem worldwide, causing the deaths of more women between the ages of 19 and 44 than wars, cancer, or car accidents. In South Asia, gender violence is widespread and persists in many forms, as the statistics below demonstrate:
- Every week in Bangladesh, more than ten women suffer from an acid attack
- In India, 22 women are killed every day in dowry-related murders
- In Sri Lanka, 60 percent of women report having suffered physical abuse
- In Pakistan, more than 450 women and girls die every year in so-called “honor killings”
- And in Nepal, the practice of enslaving young girls, whereby parents sell their young daughters – typically age 6-7 – to be girl servants is still widely practiced
Many regions and countries face urbanization challenges, South Asia is no exception. Although the region is currently the least urbanized region in the world, its urbanization rate is on par with Africa and East Asia with a projected influx of 315 million into urban areas by 2030. As such, the World Bank flagship program on urbanization strives to link key policymakers and practitioners to promote a more efficient urbanization process in South Asia through the exchange of experiences and ideas. The 3rd workshop in this series gathered over 80 professionals from 7 South Asian countries, the World Bank and the Korea Research Institute for Human Settlements in the beautiful city of Thimphu, Bhutan.
Let’s take a second and ponder over the word “Youth,” and play a game of word association. What comes to your mind? Given that I fall into the youth bucket, my list of associations is mostly positive, with a few exceptions. Yet, from a development perspective, youth can sometimes be perceived as the (excuse the word play) “problem child” demographic - What can we do with them, and how do we do it?
Did you know that approximately 1/5th of South Asia’s population lies between the ages 15 to 24? What is more, young adults also comprise 50% of the unemployed in the region. While many may view this as a sad state of affairs, Youth Solutions, the recent collaboration between Microsoft and the World Bank, viewed it as an opportunity for empowerment.
"We have lost everything, without our homes we have nothing and now our houses are gone, broken and destroyed. Apa, what are we going to do? Do we sort out our utensils and belongings or buy food? All we have is our home and now we have nothing. No tin, no home, everything is flooded! “
- A flood-affected female resident of a low-income urban settlement (Rashid, 2000: 244)
The urban poor in low-income settlements in the cities of Bangladesh are one of the most vulnerable populations to disasters and climate risks. Nearly 35 percent of the country’s urban population lives in highly dense and populated informal settlements that lack protective infrastructure, basic services and resources needed to face the challenges in an era of changing climate. With the frequency and intensity of flooding as well as cold and heat waves increasing over the years, these marginalized communities are yet to be taken into mainstream climate adaptation planning and policy.
Bangladesh's economy is currently subject to probably the harshest test of resilience it has faced in recent memory. In the past, growth continued to be resilient despite several external shocks that slowed exports, remittance, and investment. Bangladesh’s resilience to global shocks came from strong fundamentals at the onset of the crisis, competiveness of exports and migrant labor, relatively under-developed and insulated financial markets, and a pre-emptive policy posture. Bangladesh has a robust disaster management capacity to deal with natural disasters, undertake rescue operations, and conduct post-disaster relief and rehabilitation.
According to recent estimates, South Asia is facing a shortage of 38 million housing units, largely affecting low and middle-income households. It comes as no surprise that informal settlements, slums and squatters are growing in all major urban centers across Asia to supplement the demand from urban poor. India alone has 52,000 slums inhabited by 14 percent of its total urban population. Almost, 50 percent of total population in Karachi, i.e. 7.6 million persons, lives in Katchi-Abadis. Bangladesh has 2,100 slums and more than 2 million slum dwellers in Dhaka. Even in Afghanistan, 80 percent of residents in capital city, Kabul, live in informal settlements.
In the World Bank, we recently did a report titled Bangladesh: Towards Accelerated, Inclusive and Sustainable Growth—Opportunities and Challenges. For this study, we did a survey of 1,000 garment firms to get their perspectives on the drivers and obstacles to urban competitiveness. I report below some key findings from the survey presented in the growth report.
Dhaka City is still the most productive location for garment firms in Bangladesh. Access to markets and a relatively better quality of power supply are Dhaka city’s main comparative advantages. Dhaka has the best-performing city locations for access to skilled labor and power supply––the two factors garment firms’ value most when deciding on location––proximity to suppliers, sub-contractors, machine-repair technicians and support businesses.
Dhaka is falling behind other locations in accessibility and, for some firms, Dhaka city’s costs have started outweighing opportunities. Dhaka is the worst-performing location for urban mobility and access to the highway. Firms in the city also are disadvantaged in access to the port and airport, compared to those located in Chittagong city. Both firms and workers located in Dhaka also struggle with limited availability and high prices of land and housing.