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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.

Pulling out all stops: World Bank in Nepal

Faris Hadad-Zervos's picture

Nepal

Few countries in recent history have experienced change on a scale as sweeping as Nepal – that too, in the span of a single generation. The journey is ongoing as Nepalis continue to confront and challenge the conventional wisdom about Nepali statehood and chart a path towards a more inclusive, equitable and modern nation-state.

The new federal structure also redefines the World Bank Group (WBG)’s engagement with Nepal. This week, as the WBG’s Board of Executive Directors endorsed a new five-year Country Partnership Framework (CPF), Nepal’s Finance Minister Yuba Raj Khatiwada attended a series of Nepal Day events at the WBG headquarters in Washington DC. There, he unfurled the new government’s vision and development priorities and discussed approaches to address Nepal’s financing and knowledge needs in the WBG’s upcoming programme of assistance.

Finance Minister Yuba Raj Khatiwada's Vision for Nepal's Future


The CPF is designed to balance support to Nepal’s transition to federalism with its quest for higher growth, sustained poverty reduction and inclusive development. To that end, our strategy and approach seeks to support the authorities and engage with development partners in three transformative engagement areas: (i) public institutions for economic management, service delivery and public investment; (ii) private sector-led jobs and growth; and (iii) inclusion for the poor, vulnerable, and marginalised groups, with greater resilience against climate change, natural disasters, and other exogenous shocks. These focus areas were informed by extensive consultations and surveys across the country’s seven states with over 200,000 citizens, government, civil society organisations, the private sector, media and development partners.

In many respects, Nepal is starting from a clean state. While Nepal did practise a limited version of decentralisation in the early 2000s, the scope of devolution proposed by the 2015 Constitution is unprecedented.  Meanwhile, reforms promise to rid the country of a legacy of exclusion based on geography, ethnicity and gender.

Over the last decade, Nepal experienced frequent government turnover and political fragmentation with a considerable toll on development.  The 2017 elections mark a significant turning point, in that they offer higher hopes for political stability and policy predictability that remained elusive during most of Nepal’s recent past. This is a considerable achievement.

Interview with World Bank Country Director for Nepal, Qimiao Fan


Nepal has achieved a remarkable reduction in poverty in the last three decades, but the agenda remains unfinished. While the national poverty estimates await updating starting next year, at last count, poverty fell from 46 per cent in 1996 to 15 per cent in 2011 as measured by the international extreme poverty line. However, most of the poverty reduction resulted from the massive outmigration of labour, and a record increase in private remittances. Moreover, a significant disparity remains in poverty incidence across the country.

Compared to the average 4.5 per cent of GDP growth over the last decade, Nepal needs to achieve faster growth to meet its coveted goal of attaining middle-income status by 2030. Nepal needs to grow in the order of at least 7 to 8 per cent and shift from remittance-led consumption to productive investment. The economy also remains exposed to exogenous shocks like earthquakes, floods and trade disruptions. These long-standing economic vulnerabilities will require far-reaching but carefully-calibrated reforms.

Nepal now faces the daunting task of adapting to a three-tier structure in the face of nascent and often-nonexistent institutions at the sub-national levels. Immediate challenges include the need to clarify the functions and accountabilities of the federal, state and local governments; deliver basic services and maintain infrastructure development; enable the private sector; and ensure strong and transparent governance during the early years of federalism. Meanwhile, if left unmet or unmanaged, heightened public expectations of federalism could rapidly degenerate from anticipation to disillusionment.
 
Short Take: Nepal Country Partnership Framework (FY2019-23)

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.  

Bangladesh Collaborates with China in Strengthening the Skills of its Youth

Mokhlesur Rahman's picture
Agreement Signing
The sigining of an agreement for educational exchange between the Ministries of Education of Bangladesh and China's Yunnan Province. 

With its youthful workforce and the aspiration to be a developed country by 2041, Bangladesh emphasizes skills development to provide its people the ability to transform the country into a high productivity economy. To accelerate progress in this area, the government has been actively tapping into greater South-South cooperation, especially with other Asian countries.

Bangladesh and the China’s Yunnan Province’s partnership on the Skills and Training Enhancement Project (STEP) is one example. Following the International Skills Conference held in Dhaka held in March 2018, a  Bangladesh delegation, led by Mr. Md. Alamgir, Secretary of the Technical and Madrasah Education Division of the Ministry of Education, visited technical education institutions in Yunnan that are expected to receive students from Bangladesh.

Expert trainers in China will help their Bangladesh counterparts improve in the areas of student exchange, teachers’ professional development, and knowledge sharing among others. The agreement will mean that that the first cohort of 85 Bangladeshi students will be enrolled in the partnered Yunnan institutions with scholarships by September 2018.

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.

Helping Bhutan’s parliamentarians better understand economics

Yoichiro Ishihara's picture
Bhutanese Council Members and World Bank Staff
Bhutan's newly elected council members with World Bank staff. 

Members of parliament are valuable partners for the World Bank. They enact laws, shape and review development policies, and hold governments accountable for World Bank-financed programs. This applies for the landlocked Himalayan kingdom of  Bhutan. The role of its parliament has been increasing since the country’s successful transition from monarchy to constitutional monarchy in 2008. Through its engagement with these elected representatives, the World Bank effectively integrates citizen voice in its programs to achieve lasting and inclusive development results.
 
A joint workshop between the World Bank and National Council of Bhutan, the upper house, was a great opportunity for the World Bank to engage with the 25 newly elected National Council members.

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:

How one province in Pakistan is looking to digital jobs for its youth

Anna O'Donnell's picture
Hamza Khan, a Trainee Website Developer
Hamza Khan is a trainee website developer that has benefitted from KP'sYouth Employment Program

Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, or KP, has not always been recognized as a digital economy. Sharing a border with Afghanistan, the province experienced a period of instability and militancy over several decades that saw outmigration and the decline of private industries. Since then, the province has shown rapid economic growth, advancements in security, improvements in basic health and education, and a renewed sense of optimism.

Today, around half of the province’s population of 30.5 million is under the age of 30, necessitating rapid growth and job creation. In 2014, the Government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa partnered with the World Bank to develop a strategy for job creation centered on leveraging the digital economy to address youth unemployment.
 

Digital KP
Digital KP”, that outlines a program on digital development that promotes youth inclusion and job creation.

Fast forward to 2018, and the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has launched a comprehensive digital strategy, called “Digital KP”, that outlines a program on digital development, with a core objective to promote youth inclusion in the digital economy. Within this broader digital strategy is a strong focus on promoting job creation for youth.

Addressing youth employment through the digital economy has three key building blocks:

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