Syndicate content

Sri Lanka

Finishing the job of ending poverty in South Asia

Hartwig Schafer's picture
This Bangladeshi woman was born in poverty. With the right kind of education, life in poverty quickly became a story from the past for her. Credit: World Bank

"I have a four-year-old son back in my village. I want to make a better life for him,” says Sharmin Akhtar, a 19-year-old employee in one of Dhaka’s many flourishing garment factories.

Like thousands of other poor women, Sharmin came down to Bangladesh’s capital from her village in the country’s north to seek a better job and create a more prosperous future for her family—leaving behind a life of crushing poverty.

Today, as we mark End Poverty Day 2018, it’s important to note that Sharmin’s heartening story is one of many in Bangladesh and the rest of South Asia, where economic growth has spurred a dramatic decline in extreme poverty in the last 25 years.

And the numbers are striking: In South Asia, the number of extreme poor living on less than $1.90 a day dropped to 216 million people in 2015 from 275 million in 2013 and 536 million in 1990.

Even more remarkable, South Asian countries experienced an increase in incomes among the poorest 40 percent of 2.6 percent a year between 2010-2015, faster than the global average of 1.9 percent.

On a global scale, the highest concentration of poor shifted from South Asia to Sub-Saharan Africa in 2012. And India is likely to be overtaken, if it has not already been, by Nigeria as the country with the most people living in extreme poverty.

It’s worth thinking about how far South Asia has come – but remaining clear-eyed about how far we must go to finish the fight against extreme poverty.

Indeed, it is increasingly clear that poverty is more entrenched and harder to root out in certain areas, particularly in rural areas and in countries burdened by violent conflict and weak institutions.

Estimates for 2015 indicate that India, with 176 million poor people, continued to have the highest number of people in poverty and accounted for nearly a quarter of the global poor.

True, the extreme poverty rate is significantly lower in India relative to the average rate in Sub-Saharan Africa. But because of its large population, India’s total number of poor is still large.

And while there has been a substantial decline in the numbers and rate of people living below $1.90 in South Asia, the number of people living on less than $3.20 has declined by only 8 percent over 1990-2015 because of the growing population.

In 2015, 49 percent of the population of South Asia were living on less than $3.20 a day, and 80 percent were living on less than $5.50 a day.

Investing in people of South Asia for prosperity and quality of life

Hartwig Schafer's picture
A little girl in Balochistan, Pakistan, who now receives a quality education thanks to World Bank support. 
A little girl in Balochistan, Pakistan, who now receives a quality education thanks to World Bank support. Credit: World Bank 

Human capital – the potential of individuals – is going to be the most important long-term investment any country can make for its people’s future prosperity and quality of life.

Just look around the world: Technology is reshaping every industry and setting new demands for skills in every profession. The frontier for skills is moving faster than ever before.

To meet that challenge and be able to compete in the global economy, countries need to prepare their workforces now for the tremendous challenges and opportunities driven by technological change.  

To that end, the World Bank will launch next week its highly anticipated Human Capital Index to measure countries’ contribution of health and education to the productivity of the next generation of their workers.

The Index will be released on October 11 at the Bank’s Annual Meetings in Bali as part of the Human Capital Project, a global effort led by the Bank to accelerate investments in people for greater equity and economic growth.

No doubt, any country ranking gets high visibility and, sometimes, meets controversy. But I hope it triggers a dialogue about policies to promote investments in people.

To be clear, the important purpose of the Human Capital Index is to measure the distance of each country to the highest standard of complete education and full health—or the “frontier”.

The index, irrespective of whether it is high or low, is not an indication of a country’s current policies or initiatives, but rather reflects where it has emerged over years and decades.

Put simply, the index measures what the productivity of a generation is, compared to what it could be, if they had benefitted from complete education and good health.

The index ranges from 0 to 1 and takes the highest value of 1 only if a child born today can expect to achieve full health (defined as no stunting and survival up to at least age 60) and complete her education potential (defined as 14 years of high-quality school by age 18).

How can Sri Lanka better protect its people against disasters?

Thomas Walker's picture
A recent World Bank report indicates that nine out of 10 of Sri Lankans may live in climate hotspots—or areas highly prone to floods or droughts—by 2050
A recent World Bank report indicates that nine out of 10 of Sri Lankans may live in climate hotspots—or areas highly prone to floods or droughts—by 2050

Sri Lanka has a long history of coping with weather impacts.  

About two thousand years ago, the country built one of the world’s first irrigation system to control its water supply.

This feat of engineering, which boasted hundreds of kilometers of channels, tanks, and innovative valve pits, helped the great kingdoms of Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa flourish into sophisticated societies and protect their people against hunger.

Not unlike these early civilizations, modern social protection programs have sheltered those affected by disaster through financial assistance and other forms of support.

Today, building resilience to natural disasters and other shocks is more critical than ever.

Since 1980, the frequency of natural disasters worldwide has increased by 250 percent, and the number of affected people has more than doubled.

Sri Lanka is no exception. The country ranked fourth most vulnerable to climate change in 2016.

Further to that, a recent World Bank report indicates that nine out of 10 of Sri Lankans may live in climate hotspots—or areas highly prone to floods or droughts—by 2050.

The losses caused by significant shocks like natural disasters have long-lasting consequences.

Children, especially, can suffer permanent damages if they are not educated or fed correctly in their critical early years.  

And the loss of assets, livestock, and crops can severely hurt small business owners and farmers and further discourage them from investing.

Sadly, natural disasters hit the poor the hardest as they tend to live in disaster-prone areas, work in agriculture, and usually don’t have savings or access to credit.

When a shock hits, wellbeing declines as people cut back on food and other essentials due to their loss of income or the high cost of rebuilding their homes.

And while some people gradually restore their standards of living, some never fully recover and get stuck in poverty.

But the poor aren’t the only ones who need to worry about shocks.

Today, a third of Sri Lankans are just a shock away from falling into poverty.

Our analysis of the 2016 Household Income and Expenditure Survey reveals that a 20 percent sudden decrease in household welfare—or consumption shock—would more than double the poverty rate: almost 1 in 10 Sri Lankans would be poor.

If the shock triggered a 50 percent decrease in consumption, one in three Sri Lankan families would fall into poverty.

Announcing the winners of the 2018 #OneSouthAsia Photo Contest

World Bank South Asia's picture


Home to Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka, South Asia is one of the world’s most dynamic regions.

It's also one of the least integrated.

A few numbers say it all: Intra-regional trade accounts for only 5 percent of South Asia’s total trade; Intra-regional investment is smaller than 1 percent of overall investment.

South Asia’s transport corridors can lead to prosperity

Martin Melecky's picture
 World Bank
Transport corridors offer enormous potential to boost South Asia’s economies, reduce poverty, and spur more and better jobs for local people, provided the new trade routes generate growth for all and limit their environmental impact. Credit: World Bank

This blog is based on the report The Web of Transport Corridors in South Asia -- jointly produced with the Asian Development Bank, the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development, and the Japan International Cooperation Agency

No doubt, South Asia’s prosperity was built along its trade routes.

One of the oldest, the Grand Trunk Road from the Mughal era still connects East and West and in the 17th century made Delhi, Kabul and Lahore wealthy cities with impressive civic buildings, monuments, and gardens.

Fast forward a few centuries and today, South Asia abounds with new proposals to build a vast network of transport corridors.
 
In India alone—and likely bolstered by the successful completion of the Golden Quadrilateral (GQ) highway system—several transport proposals extending beyond India’s borders are now under consideration. 
 
They include the International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC), linking India, Iran and Russia, the Asia-Africa Growth Corridor, and the Bangladesh, China, India, and Myanmar (BCIM) economic corridor.
 
The hope is that these transport corridors will turn into growth engines and create large economic surpluses that can spread throughout the economy and society.

Arguably, the transport corridor with the greatest economic potential is the surface link between Shanghai and Mumbai.
 
These two cities are the economic hubs of China and India respectively, two emerging global powers.
 
The distance between them, about 5,000 kilometers, is not much greater than the distance between New York and Los Angeles.
 
But instead of crossing a relatively empty continent, a corridor from Shanghai to Mumbai—via Kunming, Mandalay, Dhaka, and Kolkata—would go through some of the most densely populated and most dynamic areas in the world, stoking hopes of large economic spillovers along its alignment.
 
“Build and they will come” seems to be the logic underlying many massive transport investments around the world.
 
However, the reality is that not all these investments will generate the expected returns.
 
Worse, they can become wasteful white elephants—that is, transport infrastructure without much traffic—that would cost trillions of dollars at taxpayers’ expense.
 
So, how can South Asia develop transport corridors that have a positive impact on their economies and benefit all people along the corridor alignments and beyond?  
 
First, countries need to change the mindset that transport corridors are mere engineering feats designed to move along vehicles and commodities.
 
Second, sound economic analysis of how corridors can help spur urbanization and create local jobs while minimizing the disruptions to the natural environment, is key to developing successful investment programs.
 
Specifically, it is vital to ensure that local populations whose lives are disrupted by new infrastructure can reap equally the benefits from better transport connectivity.
 
The hard truth is that the development of corridor initiatives may involve difficult tradeoffs.
 
For instance, more educated and skilled people can migrate to obtain better jobs in growing urban areas that are benefiting from corridor connectivity, while unskilled workers may be left behind in depopulated rural areas with few economic prospects.
 
But while corridors can create both winners and losers, well-designed investment programs can alleviate potential adverse impacts and help local people share the benefits more widely.
 
In that vein, India’s Golden Quadrilateral, or GQ highway system, is a cautionary tale. 
 
No doubt, this corridor had a positive impact. 
 
Economic activity along the corridor increased and people, especially women, found better job opportunities beyond traditional farming.
 
But this success came at a cost as air pollution increased in the districts near the highway.
 
This is a major tradeoff and one that was documented before in Japan when levels of air pollution spiked during the development of its Pacific Ocean Belt several decades ago.
 
Another downside is that the economic benefits generated by the GQ highway were distributed unequally in neighboring communities.  

Bringing Sri Lanka's traders one step closer to the global market

Marcus Bartley Johns's picture
Making trade more efficient in Sri Lanka
The recently launched Sri Lanka Trade Information Portal is a one stop shop for traders. Photo Credit: Joe Qian/World Bank

Sri Lanka’s traditional lacework famously known as Beeralu is slowly moving into the spotlight of the global fashion industry. Udeni, who is a traditional Beeralu lace maker from Galle, learned the technique from her mother and developed it into a part-time business. 

At the moment, she sells to buyers from Colombo who then sell her product internationally. She would like to export directly one day, but for the time-being, she must rely on “middlemen” because of the complexity of the export process. A major barrier is the lack of information on what government procedures apply in Sri Lanka before her product can even reach a foreign buyer. 

Being unable to access information related to export and import procedures isn’t just a problem for entrepreneurs like Udeni, but a significant barrier for the entire Sri Lankan trading community. In a recent set of interviews conducted by the World Bank, every business interviewed said that personal experience was the leading source of information on import and export procedures. Only half said that they turn to government agencies for information, with concern expressed that the little information available online is often out of date, and spread across many websites. 

How to boost female employment in South Asia

Martin Rama's picture
What's driving female employment in South Asia to decrease


South Asia is booming. In 2018, GDP growth for the region as a whole is expected to accelerate to 6.9 percent, making it the fastest growing region in the world. However, fast GDP growth has not translated into fast employment growth. In fact, employment rates have declined across the region, with women accounting for most of this decline.

Between 2005 and 2015, female employment rates declined by 5 percent per year in India, 3 percent per year in Bhutan, and 1 percent per year in Sri Lanka. While it is not surprising for female employment rates to decline with economic growth and then increase, in what is commonly known as the U-shaped female labor force function (a term coined by Claudia Goldin in 1995), the trends observed in South Asia stand out. Not only has female employment declined much more than could have been anticipated, it is likely to decline further as countries such as India continue to grow and urbanize.

The unusual trend for female employment rates in South Asia is clear from Figure 1. While male employment rates in South Asia are in line with those of other countries at the same income level, female employment rates are well below.
From the South Asia Economic Focus
Source: South Asia Economic Focus (Spring 2018).

If women are choosing to exit the labor force as family incomes rise, should policymakers worry? There are at least three reasons why the drop in female employment rates may have important social costs. First, household choices may not necessarily match women’s preferences. Those preferences reflect the influence of ideas and norms about what is women’s work and men’s work as well as other gendered notions such as the idea that women should take care of the children and housework. Second, when women control a greater share of household incomes, children are healthier and do better in school. Third, when women work for pay, they have a greater voice in their households, in their communities, and in society. The economic gains from women participating equally in the labor market are sizable: A recent study estimated that the overall gain in GDP to South Asia from closing gender gaps in employment and entrepreneurship would be close to 25 percent.

It’s time to end malnutrition in South Asia

Idah Z. Pswarayi-Riddihough's picture
Chronic malnutrition remains prevalent across the region as many poor South Asians cannot afford nutritious foods or don’t have the relevant information or education to make smart dietary choices.
Chronic malnutrition remains prevalent across South Asia as many poor South Asians cannot afford nutritious foods or don’t have the relevant information or education to make smart dietary choices.

In Sri Lanka, as in the rest of South Asia, improving agricultural production has long been a priority to achieve food security. 

But growing more crops has hardly lessened the plight of malnutrition. 

Chronic malnutrition remains prevalent across the region as many poor South Asians cannot afford nutritious foods or don’t have the relevant information or education to make smart dietary choices. 
And children and the poorest are particularly at risk.

South Asia is home to about 62 million of the world’s 155 million children considered as stunted-- or too short for their age. 

And more than half of the world’s 52 million children identified as wasted—or too thin for their height—live in South Asia. 

Moderate-to-severe stunting rates ranged from 17 percent in Sri Lanka in 2016 to a high 45 percent in Pakistan in 2012–13, with rates above 30 percent for most countries in the region.

Moderate-to-severe wasting rates ranged from 2 percent in Bhutan in 2015 to 21 percent in India in 2015–16, with rates above 10 percent for most countries in the region. 

The social and economic cost of malnutrition is substantial, linked to impaired cognitive development, chronic disease, and lower future earnings.

And sadly, much remains to be done to ensure children across South Asia can access the nutritious foods they need to live healthy lives. 

Six ways Sri Lanka can attract more foreign investments

Tatiana Nenova's picture
In 2017, Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) into Sri Lanka grew to over $1,710 billion. But Sri Lanka still has ways to go to attract more FDI.
In 2017, Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) into Sri Lanka grew to over $1,710 billion. But Sri Lanka still has ways to go to attract more FDI. Credit: Shutterstock 


To facilitate Foreign Direct Investment (FDI), Sri Lanka launched last week an innovative online one-stop shop to help investors obtain all official approvals. To mark the occasion, this blog series explores different aspects of FDI in Sri Lanka. Part 1 put forth 5 Reasons Why Sri Lanka Needs FDI. Part 3 will relate how the World Bank is helping to improve Sri Lanka’s enabling environment for FDI.

Sri Lanka and foreign investments read a bit like a hit and miss story.

But it was not always the case.

Before 1983, companies like Motorola and Harris Corporation had plans to establish plants in Sri Lanka’s export processing zones. Others including Marubeni, Sony, Sanyo, Bank of Tokyo and Chase Manhattan Bank, had investments in Sri Lanka in the pipeline in the early 1980s.

All this changed when the war convulsed the country and derailed its growth. Companies left and took their foreign direct investments (FDI) with them.

Nearly a decade after the civil conflict ended in 2009, Sri Lanka is now in a very different place.

In 2017, Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) into Sri Lanka grew to over $1,710 billion including foreign loans received by companies registered with the BOI, more than doubling from the $801 million achieved the previous year.

But Sri Lanka still has ways to go to attract more FDI.
 
As a percentage of GDP, FDI currently stands at a mere 2 percent and lags behind Malaysia at 3 – 4 percent and Vietnam at 5 – 6 percent.

Five reasons why Sri Lanka needs to attract foreign direct investments

Tatiana Nenova's picture
Sri Lanka’s government has recognized the need to foster private-sector and beef up exports to attain the overarching objective of becoming an upper-middle-income economy.
Sri Lanka’s government has recognized the need to foster private-sector and beef up exports to attain the overarching objective of becoming an upper-middle-income economy.

To facilitate Foreign Direct Investment (FDI), Sri Lanka is launching this week an innovative online one-stop shop to help investors obtain all official approvals. To mark the occasion, this blog series explores different aspects of FDI in Sri Lanka. Part 2 will explore how the country can attract more FDI. Part 3 will relate how the World Bank is helping to create an enabling environment for FDI in Sri Lanka.

You may have heard that Sri Lanka is intent on drumming up more foreign direct investments up to $5 billion by 2020. At the same time, the government aims to improve the lives of Sri Lanka’s citizens by generating one million new and better jobs.
 
This isn’t a pipe dream. Thanks to its many advantages like a rich natural resource base, its strategic geographic position, highly literate workforce and fascinating culture, the island nation is ripe for investment in sectors such as tourism, logistics, information technology-enabled services, and high-value-added food processing and apparel.
 
What is foreign direct investment and why does Sri Lanka need it?
 
Very simply, foreign direct investment (or FDI) is an investment made by a company or an individual in a foreign country. Such investments can take the form of establishing a business in Sri Lanka, building a new facility, reinvesting profits earned from Sri Lanka operations or intra-company loans to subsidiaries in Sri Lanka.
 
The hope is that these investment inflows will bring good jobs and higher wages for Sri Lankan workers, increase productivity, and make the economy more competitive.  
 
Sri Lanka’s government has recognized the need to foster private-sector and beef up exports to attain the overarching objective of becoming an upper-middle-income economy.
 
Attracting more FDI can help achieve that goal and fulfill the promise of better jobs.
 
Here are five reasons why:

Pages