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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.

Clean and Green Bangladesh: A goal that can be achieved

Karin Erika Kemper's picture
 

"Think before you do, not after you're done,” says a Bengali proverb that applies to an urgent threat today for Bangladesh—major environmental problems spawned by rapid urbanisation and industrialisation. A decade of strong economic growth helped Bangladesh reach lower middle-income status while sharply decreasing its poverty rate, a remarkable achievement. But like many countries in the world, such progress has come at considerable environmental cost.

According to our just released report, "Country Environmental Analysis", Bangladesh is among the countries most affected by pollution and other environmental health risks. The monetary cost to the Bangladeshi society of environmental degradation in urban areas, measured in terms of foregone labour output was equivalent to about one percent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) annually.  If one takes into account the broader welfare impacts of mortality attributed to environmental risks, the economic cost is equivalent to 3.4 percent of the national GDP. Noncompliant industries and inadequate waste management of hazardous and nonhazardous materials are polluting the cities' air as well as surface and ground water. The study also indicated that many rivers around Dhaka are polluted.

Are Pakistan’s urban professional women immune to sexual harassment?

Saman Amir's picture

Woman face harassment in all type of jobs, no matter where or who. One can’t say that she works in a big firm so she is safe… [but] she doesn’t know who will believe her if she reports harassment – she… fears that the others will say she is asking for it.  Thus, she doesn’t say anything.” -Young working woman in Quetta.

This statement was echoed by 93 educated women of all ages in the Pakistani cities of Quetta, Peshawar, Lahore, and Karachi.

In the era of the #MeToo Movement, focus group discussions with these women affirmed that sexual harassment continues to be a part of the experience of urban educated Pakistani women seeking jobs.
 
The good news is that there’s legislation to protect against harassment, the bad is that few know about it and fewer feel comfortable reporting harassment.

For employed women, sexual harassment disrupts careers and dampens professional potential; its fear can deter women from entering the labor force at all.

We explore this as part of a study on female labor force participation in Pakistan with the Center for Gender and Policy Studies and support from the Pakistan Gender Platform. 

The women we spoke with talked about experiencing sexual, physical, verbal, non-verbal or psychological harassment at the hands of supervisors, senior staff members and colleagues, as well as strangers in public transport and spaces.

They also highlighted cyberstalking, staring, phone numbers being leaked, lewd comments, stalking in public places and harassment on public transport as common occurrences, and that such harassment occurs regardless of a woman’s age or socio-economic status.

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)

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. 

Why should we care about changing attitudes on gender roles in Pakistan?

Saman Amir's picture



Our recent research suggests that attitudes related to women’s roles at home and in the public space are in flux and moving towards greater gender equality, at least in aspirations.

In recent focus group discussions with women conducted by the Pakistan Gender Platform in Pakistan’s four provincial capitals, most women voiced a preference to work outside the home in mixed gender settings, regardless of age, occupation or income levels, and despite the many barriers involved: from lack of safe public transport to sexual harassment at work. Yet, their choices are still limited by patriarchal norms: as one young FGD participant who expressed her desire to work noted, “We may become economically independent but will always be socially dependent.”

This tension between the changing aspirations of young Pakistanis and the barriers they face in realizing them came alive in a recent online poll that we launched as part of the Country Office’s flagship [email protected] initiative. Despite some limitations stemming from its sample and mode of delivery, the poll provides an eye-opening glimpse into the urban youth’s shifting aspirations and attitudes on gender norms.

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.

More women need to shape Pakistan’s digital future

Uzma Quresh's picture
Annie Gul from Codematics tells the audience of what is required to have more women digital entrepreneurs in KP
Annie Gul from Codematics tells the audience of what is required to have more women digital entrepreneurs in KP

“I have always enjoyed studying computer and human physiology since childhood, that’s why I jumped at the opportunity of developing a scientific application with KPITB’s support. This app has even helped my younger brother understand different body organs and their functions in a fun way. The KPITB’s ‘early age programming’ program has supported many girls from public schools, who would otherwise have never received this chance of realizing their dream of developing apps.”

Such compelling words came from Hafsa, a 13-year-old female student of Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s (KP) public school as she addressed about one thousand young men and women at this year’s Digital Youth Summit (DYS) in Peshawar.

Girls like Hafsa are becoming the face of DYS, an annual event that brings the spotlight on young talent and their digital innovations.

I heard similar passionate accounts during my two-day interaction with KP youth as they shared candidly how they had transformed challenges into opportunities through hard work and perseverance.

DYS has brought together the next generation of digital entrepreneurs since 2014 to educate and inspire youth in a conflict-affected region where 50 percent of people are age 30 or under.

Such forums also provide a space for youth to voice their aspirations and claim for greater and more meaningful socio-economic inclusion.   

And while Hafsa’s impassionate story of progress resonated with everyone in the room, it stood as a stark reminder that Pakistan still has a long way to go to achieve an equal digital future for both men and women.

Indeed, statistics about women’s employment in KP and FATA are alarming as only 14% of women in KP and 8.6% of women in FATA work for pay.

Fittingly, DYS discussed different gender issues and offered solutions to boost female digital entrepreneurship.

Delivering rural justice through community-owned courts in Bihar, India

Jorge Luis Alva-Luperdi's picture

In June 2017, a long-running land dispute was settled in just six days in a community-owned court in Bihar.
           
Returning to his village after many years, Ramashish had received a rude shock. His cousins had deprived him of the 5.90 acres of land he’d inherited. Over the last 20 years, Ramashish had approached villagers, policemen, and civil court judges to resolve the dispute, but without much luck. Ultimately, Ramashish approached Pushpanjali Singh, the woman Sarpanch (head of the village) of the Wari Panchayat.
 
This was no easy case, but Pushpanjali summoned the 3 disputing parties — Ramashish and his cousins’ descendants — to the Gram Katchahri (Village Court - a judicial forum for resolving disputes locally). Pushpanjali helped the parties realize how much money they were wasting on their legal squabbles, and convinced them to withdraw their cases against each other. With the help of her husband, she measured the disputed property and allocated plots to each party. After 6 days, the parties agreed to her proposal. 
           
Though this case might be one of Pushpanjali’s more recognized achievements, she has settled more than 100 cases over the last two years. While ensuring speedy justice, Pushpanjali is known by the locals as a fair Sarpanch

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