Last week a group of Bank staff joined our clients from the South Asia region for an Urbanization Knowledge Platform event on green cities. The event was held in Seoul and Daegu, respectively the largest and third-largest cities in Korea. It was hosted by the Korea Research Institute for Human Settlements (KRIHS), Korea’s premier institute responsible for urban, regional, infrastructure, land, and housing planning and research. The idea was for clients and Bank staff to learn firsthand about green city development as it happens on the ground in Korea. The following are my six takeaways from the workshops and field visits during the week.
"It's Possible!" read the roadside sign as our bus pulled into Sejong, the Republic of Korea’s future face to the world. We soon understood why Sejong is being billed as "Asia’s Green Metropolis of the Future" and Korea's new growth engine.
Our trip to Sejong this week was organized by the Korea Research Institute for Human Settlements (KRIHS), a partner with the World Bank’s flagship program on urbanization in South Asia. The program has formed a network of city leaders, policy makers, urban planners and practitioners from across the region to put the world’s best knowledge and data in their hands, and to harness urban growth for faster poverty alleviation and better development outcomes. The idea behind the trip was to take inspiration from Korea’s vision of becoming one of five top-ranked Green Economies by 2050 and to learn from cutting-edge Korean examples in green urban development for possible application in South Asian cities as they grow in size and numbers.
Over the last quarter-century, the number of urban dwellers in South Asia has more than doubled to almost 500 million. In India alone, the number of city dwellers has grown by 122 million. Delhi, Karachi, Kolkata and Dhaka have all joined Mumbai in the league of mega-cities. And yet, urbanization in South Asia has barely begun. With about 30% of its population living in cities, South Asia is the least urbanized in the world. But in the 20 years to come, South Asia will urbanize faster than any other region of the world, with the exception of East Asia. This rapid urbanization can be a powerful engine in accelerating poverty alleviation. But most cities in the region are struggling to cope with even the current level of urbanization. Can South Asian cities support the growing urban economy and population and become centers of shared prosperity, or will they become centers of grief?
On June 6th, CGAP launched its annual and ever-growing photo contest that highlights the diversity and dynamism of microfinance around the world. Each year, the CGAP Photo Contest receives stunning photographs from around the world that help tell the story that CGAP’s work addresses.
Now in its 7th year, CGAP has asked entrants to focus on the broader issues that surround financial inclusion to help show the variety of formal and informal ways in which finance is woven into the fabric of poor people’s day-to-day activities. CGAP is continually trying to build upon the Contest’s success by challenging photographers to use their imaginations to capture microfinance in distinctive ways and diversify the representations of microfinance. In particular, photographers from South Asia that have consistently dominated the top prizes will need to continue wowing the judges for place as a finalist as more and more photographers from Sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America, and the Middle East deliver compelling work.
It is hard to talk about South Asia without invoking its demographics. The region will contribute nearly 40 percent of the growth in the world’s working age (15-64) population, and will need to add a staggering 1 to 1.2 million new entrants to the labor market every month for the next two decades. Absorbing the influx of youth into the labor force is one of South Asia’s core challenges. But while economists grapple with employment statistics and economic policy, jobs are created at the grassroots. Entrepreneurship is the spark that lights the fire, and the engine that generates opportunities in local communities.
Arif Jafar had no choice about coming out as gay. In 2001, he was arrested in the northern Indian city of Lucknow at the AIDS prevention agency where he worked, charged with running a sex club, jailed for 47 days, and named in the newspapers, in a case that helped spark a legal challenge to India’s sodomy law, known as Section 377. (Needless to say, he denies that the AIDS agency was a sex club.)
“Before jail, I was open, but not that open,” says Jafar, 42, a mosque-going Shiite Muslim who now runs the Maan Foundation, an AIDS prevention group (“maan” means “respect” or “pride”). “Now everybody in the city knows.” Despite the arrest, Jafar (right) says he loves Lucknow and will never leave. “If I ran away, people would start having the perception that I did something wrong,” he says.
Jafar’s case has dragged on for 11 years without coming to trial, but in the meantime, the law criminalizing homosexuality has been overturned in Delhi High Court. Retired Justice Ajit Shah, who wrote the decision, is an unassuming man, greeting us in sandals in his modest apartment. Yet his landmark opinion broke through several centuries of bias and freed up India’s nascent movement of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people to come into its own.
“While unemployment is around 5% in Sri Lanka, youth unemployment is nearly 3 times that. Youth unemployment is a critical challenge for us right now”, I said, in my remarks on Sri Lankan perspectives at a South Asian youth dialogue on the sidelines of the World Bank–IMF Spring Meetings last month. “Hey, what are you complaining about? Youth unemployment is almost 50% in Greece right now!”, was the immediate response I got from a World Banker in the audience. I was taken slightly aback, but it made it very clear to me - the youth unemployment issue is a gripping issue for many of the world’s economies right now, and even if the numbers may not always be on the same scale and each country has different reasons for why it’s a high-priority policy issue right now.
The last year and a half has seen everyone sit up and take notice of youth unemployment like never before – either because of the Arab Spring or protests by discontent educated youth in European capitals. The attention of economists and governments alike is on it – how did it become such a challenge? How can we address it?
Last week, I discussed the optimistic and pessimistic views of South Asia's development potential. As I highlighted in my book, Reshaping Tomorrow, South Asia is among the fastest growing regions in the world, but it is also home to the largest concentration of people living in conditions of debilitating poverty, human misery, gender disparities, and conflict.
I also ask if South Asia is Ready for the Big Leap. The optimistic view is that India will achieve double-digit growth rates benefiting the rest of South Asia. The pessimistic view is that growth will be derailed by structural and transformational challenges. In this entry, I will make some suggestions on how South Asia could realize the optimistic view.
What can be done?
India’s estimated 700,000 hijras, or transgender women, generally get little or no schooling, their families often reject them, and they join marginalized and feudal communities where their employment options are sex work or ritualized begging. They are likely to die young, of violence – like Anil Sadanandan, a transgender activist murdered in Kerala state during my recent visit to India – or AIDS. They are among India’s most destitute women, yet they are ignored by the World Bank, despite its strong focus on the “gender agenda.”
On April 3, 2012, the World Bank announced the “Imagining Our Future Together” art exhibition competition for young artists (those born after 1975) to submit samples of their work to be included in an upcoming traveling exhibition, “South Asia Artists: Imagining Our Future Together.” The deadline for submissions was April 30, 2012.
We received applications from 231 artists in all eight South Asian countries:
Sri Lanka: 8