In a remote village in Bihar’s Bhojpur district, Sushumlata sits behind a spanking new desk in a newly-refurbished government building.
From the time she came to the village as a new bride, this young woman has chosen to get involved in community affairs by joining the Self Help Group (SHG) movement.
Later, armed with a master’s degree in social work, she joined active politics and, in 2016, was elected the Mukhiya, or head of the Dawan village Gram Panchayat – the local governance institution – under the seat reserved for women.
Sushumlata is the face of the government in this remote corner of Bihar. When we visit her in the newly upgraded Gram Panchayat building – refurbished under the World Bank (IDA) funded Bihar Panchayat Strengthening Project – she tells us how the newly painted and equipped building has made a difference.
A young man is busy on a computer beside her, helping an elderly gentleman apply for a government pension.
Public Sector and Governance
“Sí, sabes que ya llevo un rato mirándote
Tengo que bailar contigo hoy”
The Despacito tune blared in the bus, and my fellow riders kept tempo to the rhythm.
I was recently on mission in the Punjab province, Pakistan, on my way to the Shalimar Gardens for some sightseeing on my day off.
The last thing I expected to hear was the top song of 2017 on a bus in Lahore but in hindsight, this shouldn’t have surprised me.
We live in a global community, and across the world, individuals are getting more connected every day. Music perfectly exemplifies this – a universal language which we can all understand. With this increased connection comes higher expectations.
In addition to roads and clean water, citizens now demand that their government provide reliable digital connectivity. And when taxes and other revenues are not sufficient to cover this and other public services, governments must borrow to pay for it.
Managing public debt was precisely my reason to be in Lahore where I introduced a cash flow tool the World Bank helped design.
If, like me, you’re a firm believer in New Year’s resolutions, early January ushers in the prospect of renewed energy and exciting opportunities. And as tradition has it, it’s also a time to enter the prediction game.
To sum up:
Notably, and despite increasing conflicts and growing fragility, Afghanistan is expected to increase its growth to 2.7 percent rate this year.
In this otherwise positive outlook, Pakistan’s growth is projected to slow to 3.7 percent in fiscal year 2018-19 as the country is tightening its financial conditions to help counter rising inflation and external vulnerabilities.
However, activity is projected to rebound and average 4.6 percent over the medium term.
Considered superior for their health and nutrition benefits, these so-called ‘Superfoods’, often considered “new” by the public are now ever-popularized by celebrity chefs and have become all the rage of foodies from San Francisco to Singapore.
We live in a world of paradox, where old world and almost forgotten food like Quinoa (which dates back as a staple food over three thousand years to Andean civilization but largely disappeared with the arrival of the Spanish) is now back on the menu.
Salmon, a staple part of Nordic diets from paleolithic times and woven into the culture of native populations across northwestern Canada and many other superfoods share comparable stories.
And, there are many other old world foods, indigenously known, disappearing but not fully forgotten, yet to be re-discovered.
For example, .
While economies such as Bangladesh, India, and Pakistan may look strong, just as bellies look full,
And parents, from both rich and poor nations alike, seem to know something is not quite right.
If healthier food choices that are accessible, affordable, and readily available are better known, would parents purchase such food from the market for their families?
With a small grant from the World Bank-administered South Asia Food and Nutrition Initiative (SAFANSI) supported by the EU and the United Kingdom, a partnership with WorldFish was established to test this premise.
A 60 second TV spot, a collaboration between scientists, economists, a private sector digital media company, broadcasters and the Government of Bangladesh, was created and broadcast across the nation on two occasions and watched by over 25 million people.
A parallel radio program was also developed and aired reaching millions more, particularly the rural poor and marginalized communities.
And power outages across the country have gone down drastically over the past few years.
After peaking in 2006, per capita electricity consumption failed to grow for almost a decade, remaining only one-fifth the average for other middle-income countries in 2014.
Fittingly, my new report
The study sheds new light on the overall societal costs — not merely the fiscal costs as in previous research — of subsidies, blackouts and other distortions in the power sector.
To that end, my team and I surveyed Pakistan's entire supply chain from upstream fuel supply to electricity generation, transmission and distribution, and eventually, down to consumers.
Put simply, the numbers we found are dire.
Problems begin upstream, where gas underpricing encourages waste and reduces incentives for gas production and exploration.
And with no recent significant gas discoveries, higher gas usage has widened the gap between growing demand and low domestic supply.
On top of that, the volume of gas lost before reaching consumers reached 14.3 percent in fiscal year 2015. By comparison, this number is about 1 to 2 percent in advanced economies.
Poor transmission contributed to 29 percent of the electricity shortfall in fiscal year 2015, while weak infrastructure, faulty metering and theft cause the loss of almost a fifth of generated electricity.
Electricity underpricing and failure to collect electricity bills have triggered a vicious “circular debt” problem, leading to power outages.
A lack of grid electricity also leads to greater use of kerosene lamps that cause indoor air pollution and its associated respiratory infections and tuberculosis risks.
Lack of access to reliable electricity also adversely impact children’s study time at night, women’s labor force participation, and gender equality.
This hidden hunger is especially pervasive among children.
These deficiencies have contributed to high levels of stunting, wasting and underweight children.
Micronutrient availability can make or break a balanced diet
But they can become toxic if consumed in large amounts.
But except for mandatory iodine fortification of salt, India lags in adopting food fortification as a scalable public health intervention.
This is a missed opportunity as
In 2016, the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India released standards for the fortification of five staple food items: rice, wheat, salt, oil, and milk. Further to that, regulations are now in place to fortify milk variants such as low fat, skimmed, and whole milk with Vitamin A and D.
But despite its significant health benefits, and while established for more than three decades by companies such as Mother Dairy, a subsidiary of the National Dairy Development Board (NDDB), milk fortification is not yet common practice across the Indian milk industry.
To fill that gap, NDDB partnered in 2017 with the South Asia Food and Nutrition Security Initiative (SAFANSI), the World Bank, and The India Nutrition Initiative, Tata Trusts to explore the possibilities of large-scale milk fortification in India.
Over the last twelve months, this collaboration has enabled ten milk federations, dairy producer companies, and milk unions across the country to pilot milk fortification for their consumers. Fifteen others have initiated the process.
“Once, it was a rodeo day here and my son asked for money to go. But I didn’t have the money and told him to sell our farm’s bananas on the road instead. So, he took 50 bunches of bananas and sold them all in a few hours. Soon I started a banana business. The sales enabled me to expand my business to packed lunches for truckers. Over time, with the help of my family, the road administration, and my own investments, I started receiving invitations to make meals for college students and travelers.”
Angela, small-holder farmer and entrepreneur, São Paolo, Brazil.
Angela told us her story one afternoon as we ate the delicious lunch she had prepared for us at her rather humble roadside eatery in rural São Paulo, Brazil.
Her story was not only touching but also summed up the importance of entrepreneurial foresight and the power that collaboration holds in opening new doors for poor farming communities.
in Brazil - (although these farmers make up a much smaller proportion of Brazil’s overall farming community and have a different landholding structure).
Even though family farmers represent a small slice of Brazil’s cooperatives, the impact of their collectives is considerable.
The productivity of Brazil’s agriculture is evident.
Yet, farmers’ incomes continue to be subdued.
To help farmers earn more from the land and move onto a higher trajectory of growth, India has gradually shifted its policy focus to linking farmers to markets, as well as enabling them to diversify their production and add value to their produce.
So how do Brazil’s farmer collectives work?
Its annual average economic growth of 7.6 percent between 2007 and 2017 far exceeds the average global growth rate of 3.2 percent.
This high growth has contributed to reducing poverty: Extreme poverty was mostly eradicated and dwindled from 8 percent in 2007 to 1.5 percent in 2017, based on the international poverty line of $1.90 a day (at purchasing power parity).
Access to basic services such as health, education and asset ownership has also improved significantly.
The country has a total of 32 hospitals and 208 basic health units, with each district hospital including almost always three doctors.
The current national literacy rate is 71 percent and the youth literacy rate is 93 percent.
The recent statistics on lending, inflation, exchange rates and international reserves (Sources: RMA, NSB) confirm that
Gross foreign reserves have been increasing since 2012 when the country experienced an Indian rupee shortage.
Reserves exceeded $1.1 billion, equivalent to 11 months of imports of goods and services, which makes the country more resilient to potential shocks.
The nominal exchange rate has been depreciating since early 2018 (with ngultrum reaching Nu. 73 against the US dollar in early November).
Child stunting, measured as low height for age, is associated with numerous health, cognition and productivity risks with potential intergenerational impacts.
and the pace of decline remains slow and uneven.
In Sindh, for example, things have worsened over time, with one in two children now stunted!
The policy response to this enormous health crisis has been almost entirely centered on interventions at the household level—reducing open defecation (OD), improving household behaviors like child feeding and care practices and food intake.
A recent World Bank report, which I co-authored, suggests that a major shift is this policy focus is required for significant progress on child stunting.
The report begins by showing that .
This has improved dietary diversity, even among the poorest, and increased household investment in a range of assets, including toilets within the home.
This has, in turn, led to a major drop in OD, from 29 percent to just 13 percent. Curative care has also expanded, with the mainstreaming of basic health units and the lady health worker program.
End Poverty Day fell on the 17th of October. Two weeks later, the new Doing Business rankings come out for this year.
If you’re wondering what the link is, here’s a quick summary:
This is one of those happy instances where economics, common sense and the data align.
Then the market responds- not only do these employers create more jobs, but also going to offer better jobs to attract capable workers to their companies.
Ultimately, a reliable source of income is the catalyst to moving out of poverty.
Sounds too simple? Trust the numbers.