Pakistan’s deadly floods have affected more than 14 million people, with some estimates putting the figure considerably higher. The affected area covers 132,421 km, including 1.4 million acres of cropped land. Continuing rains have caused additional flooding and hindered relief activities.
|UN Photo/WFP/Amjad Jamal|
A World Bank report released on July 30 finds that poverty in Pakistan fell by an impressive 17.3 percentage points between 2001 and 2008 (from 34.5 percent in 2001-02 to 17.2 percent in 2007-08). Three out of Pakistan’s four major provinces – Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (formerly NWFP), Punjab, and Sindh – saw significant declines in poverty during this period. The largest fall in poverty was in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP). According to the Bank report “high level of remittances, both foreign and domestic, seem to have facilitated” the decline in poverty in KP.
Pakistan saw migrant remittances reach a record $ 8.9 billion in fiscal year 2010, an increase of 14 percent compared to the 2009 fiscal year despite the global economic crisis (Pakistan’s fiscal year runs from July to June). The World Bank report says “Continued strong growth in worker’s remittances in the past few years has also contributed to improvements in the external current account balance” and “have facilitated improvement in the country’s external position”.
The food, fuel, and financial crises during the last three years sent shockwaves throughout the world and its effects rippled across South Asia. It impacted growth, causing a reduction of growth by nearly 3% from the peak of 8.9% in 2007 to 6.3% in 2009, led to job losses, declines in stock market value, decreases in tourism, and increasing pressures on already weak fiscal, balance of payments, reserves and exchange rates.
I was based in New Delhi during the crisis, and the effects were palpable. For a moment, it looked as if confidence was ebbing---the construction cranes in Gurgaon (the fastest-growing township around Delhi) became silent, a young scholar at Delhi University ran a survey of what graduates might do as job markets became difficult, airlines ran half-empty and racked-up massive losses, jobs were lost heavily in diamond-cutting in Gujarat and IT firms stopped hiring in Bangalore, and people paused to consider the implications of such a dramatic change from the accelerating and heady growth of the previous years. But despite the circumstances, and thanks to strong and prompt government actions, confidence has swiftly returned, the region has proven to be quite resilient and a noticeable resurgence has taken hold.
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One could say that by being connected to the rest of the academic world through an NREN your isolation from research projects, high cost lab equipment, and world-class leading edge knowledge will disappear. If you are a physicist you can contemplate joining research teams using the Large Halidron Collider in CERN in Switzerland, an astronomer can manipulate in real time a telescope in Chile or access the data from radio telescopes, a medic can join in high definition seminars on advanced techniques in surgery or remote diagnostics, climate specialists can access and provide data to disaster management databases, an economist can access and contribute to economic modeling resources, and everyone can gain access to the thousands of on-line specialist journals.
I had the opportunity to be a part of the launch of "Economic Challenges to Make South Asia Free from Poverty and Deprivation" in Washington and was truly inspired by the talent and knowledge of the students and the ideas and enthusiasm generated by the event across the region.
The event, coordinated across the region through video conference was moderated by Economic Adviser Shekhar Shah, who authored the foreward, and was exceptionally encouraging of the students and the issues discussed in the volume and organized by Hema Balasubramanian who heads the Public Information Center in New Delhi.
The unique student initiative that created the book, South Asia Economics Students’ Meet (SAESM), edited by Meeta Kumar and Mihir Pandey promotes budding economists to foster intellectual discourse with other students from the region. The annual conference, since 2004, has provided an opportunity for exceptional economic students to write, present, and share their academic papers on economic issues critical to the region.
With deep azure skies, bountiful sunshine, and a crisp but mild breeze today, spring is by far my favorite season in Washington. Today marks the 40th year since the advent of Earth Day, an occasion to create awareness and appreciation of the Earth’s environment that we all share in and enjoy. The event is now celebrated around the world as resources are increasingly stretched and environmental issues becoming more pertinent in our everyday lives.
I wanted to give an overview of some Earth Day related events happening in South Asia to mark the occasion.
National Saplings in Kabul: Green coverage has been reduced from 14 million hectares to 1 million hectare in Afghanistan.
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 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.
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.
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.