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Social Development

Reforms Sri Lanka needs to boost its economy

Idah Z. Pswarayi-Riddihough's picture
 Joe Qian/World Bank
The Colombo Stock Exchange. Credit: Joe Qian/World Bank

Many Sri Lankans understand the potential benefits of lowering trade costs and making their country more competitive in the global economy. The majority, however, fear increased competition, the unfair advantage of the private sector from abroad and limited skills and innovation to compete.

Yet, Sri Lanka’s aspirations cannot be realized in the current status quo.  

While changes in trade policies and regulations will undeniably improve the lives of most citizens, I’m mindful that some are likely to lose. However, many potential gainers of the reforms who are currently opposed to them are unaware of their benefits.

Implementing smart reforms means that government funds will be used more effectively for the people, improve access to better healthcare, education, basic infrastructure and provide Sri Lankans with opportunities to get more and better jobs. Let me focus on a few reforms that I believe are critical for the country.  First, Sri Lanka needs to seek growth opportunities and foreign investment beyond its borders.    

First, Sri Lanka needs to seek growth opportunities and foreign investment beyond its borders.

Experience shows that no country in the world today has been able to create opportunities for its population entirely within its own geographic boundaries. To succeed in this open environment, Sri Lanka will need to improve its skills base, better understand supply and demand chains as well as produce higher quality goods and services

Experience shows that no country in the world today has been able to create opportunities for its population entirely within its own geographic boundaries. To succeed in this open environment, Sri Lanka will need to improve its skills base, better understand supply and demand chains as well as produce higher quality goods and services.

Towards a cleaner Bangladesh: Safe water, sanitation, and hygiene for all

Qimiao Fan's picture
 
 The World Bank
Bangladesh has made progress in recent years in the field known as WASH -water, sanitation access, and hygiene. Image courtesy: The World Bank

Community-Led Total Sanitation might be the greatest Bangladeshi export you’ve never heard of.  In countries across Asia, Africa and Latin America, a consensus has emerged that the best approach is Community-Led Total Sanitation, which is widely credited with changing people’s behavior around the world to no longer defecate in the open, which has greatly improved global health.

Bangladeshis can take plenty of pride in these far-away accomplishments. That’s because it is Northern Bangladesh - more specifically the Mosmoil village in Rajshahi district - that pioneered this approach seventeen years ago. Its success at home led to its widespread adoption abroad.

Safe drinking water is a right and proper sanitation is dignity of the citizens. Proper management of freshwater ecosystems and access to safe water and sanitation are essential to human health, environmental sustainability and economic prosperity. Water and sanitation are at the core of sustainable development critical to the survival of people and the planet. Goal 6 of Agenda 2030 not only addresses the issues relating to drinking water, sanitation and hygiene, but also the quality and sustainability of water resources worldwide.

The ‘Global Water Supply and Sanitation Assessment’ by World Health Organization (WHO), United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF), Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council (WSSCC) reported that in 2012 about 40% (2.6 billion) of the world’s population was without access to safe water. Approximately 4 billion cases of diarrhea each year causes 2.2 million deaths, and majority of them are children under the age of five. This situation in Bangladesh is also challenging. A study by Water and Sanitation Program (WSP) wing of the World Bank reveals that Bangladesh incurred a loss of Tk295.48 billion in 2010 due to inadequate sanitation, which is 6.3% of the GDP.
 
Indeed, there is much to emulate in Bangladesh’s remarkable progress in recent years in the field known as WASH -water, sanitation access, and hygiene. Today, 98 percent of the population gets drinking water from a technologically improved source – water which comes from a manmade structure– up from 79 percent in 1990.  Bangladesh also largely succeeded in providing access to basic sanitation. It is estimated that only three percent of the population practice open defecation, down from 34 percent in 1990, thanks to behavior change campaigns and the building of many new toilets. 

But, much has yet to be done. Bangladesh has still a long way to go to meet the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) of providing universal access to clean water and sustainable sanitation by 2030. The World Bank recently completed a study, the WASH Poverty Diagnostic, which examines the remaining challenges in ensuring access to safe water, sanitation, and hygiene. The findings are startling.

Fresh thinking on economic cooperation in South Asia

Nikita Singla's picture
 Aamir Khan/ Pakistan, Sreerupa Sengupta/ India, Sanjay Kathuria/ World Bank, Mahfuz Kabir & Surendar Singh/ Bangladesh) Photo By: Marcio De La Cruz/ World Bank
Young Economists sharing the stage with Sanjay Kathuria, Lead Economist and Coordinator, Regional Integration (Left to Right: Aamir Khan/ Pakistan, Sreerupa Sengupta/ India, Sanjay Kathuria/ World Bank, Mahfuz Kabir/Bangladesh & Surendar Singh/ India). Photo by: Marcio De La Cruz/ World Bank


That regional cooperation in South Asia is lower than optimal levels is well accepted. It is usually ascribed to – the asymmetry in size between India and the rest, conflicts and historical political tensions, a trust deficit, limited transport connectivity, and onerous logistics, among many other factors.

Deepening regional integration requires sufficient policy-relevant analytical work on the costs and benefits of both intra-regional trade and investment. An effective cross-border network of young professionals can contribute to fresh thinking on emerging economic cooperation issues in South Asia.

Against this background, the World Bank Group sponsored a competitive request for proposals.  Awardees from Bangladesh, India, and Pakistan, after being actively mentored by seasoned World Bank staff over a period of two years, convened in Washington DC to present their new and exciting research. Research areas included regional value chains, production sharing and the impact assessment of alternative preferential trade agreements in the region.

Young Economists offer fresh thoughts on economic cooperation in South Asia

Mahfuz Kabir, Acting Research Director, Bangladesh Institute of International and Strategic Studies and Surendar Singh, Policy Analyst, Consumer Unity Trust Society (CUTS International) presented their research: Of Streams and Tides, India-Bangladesh Value Chains in Textiles and Clothing (T&C). They focus on how to tackle three main trade barriers for T&C: a) high tariffs for selected, but important goods for the industries of both countries; b) inefficient customs procedures and c) divergent criteria for rules of origin classification.

Sreerupa Sengupta, Ph.D. Scholar at Centre for Economic Studies and Planning, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi discussed Trade Cooperation and Production Sharing in South Asia – An Indian Perspective. Reviewing the pattern of Indian exports and imports in the last twenty years, her research focuses on comparing the Global Value Chain (GVC) participation rate of India with East Asian and ASEAN economies. Barriers to higher participation include a) lack of openness in the FDI sector; b) lack of adequate port infrastructure, and long port dwell times; and c) lack of Mutual Recognition Agreements (MRAs).

Aamir Khan, Assistant Professor, Department of Management Sciences, COMSATS Institute of Information Technology, Islamabad presented his work on Economy Wide Impact of Regional Integration in South Asia - Options for Pakistan. His research analyzes the reasons for Pakistan not being able to take full advantage of its Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with China, and finds that the granting of ASEAN-type concessions to Pakistan in its FTA with China would be more beneficial than the current FTA arrangement. The work also draws lessons for FTAs that are currently being negotiated by South Asian countries.

Education is the way forward for Afghanistan

Mohammad Homayoon Rahmani's picture
Also available in: دری | پښتو
The Education Quality Improvement Program provides block grant support to the construction of school buildings and other facilities such as laboratories, libraries and computer labs. This improved studying environment has encouraged almost all families to send their children to schools in many districts of Balkh province. Photo Credit: Fardin Waezi/ World Bank


Someone wise once said that education is the foundation of a country’s progress. As every Afghan knows and feels, after four decades of conflict and violence, progress is exactly what this country needs to get back on its feet.
 
I have always had a deep interest in making my social context better and this is the reason why I joined the Education Quality Improvement Program (EQUIP), which aims to improve access and quality of education for Afghans. I joined the EQUIP team in the program’s second phase, which started in January 2008.
 
Through EQUIP, we have been working with communities to change their views and perceptions on education, especially in villages. I remember when I joined the team in 2010, many people would come and tell us they did not want to send their girls to school. But slowly EQUIP won them over.
 
Now, we can proudly say that we have the full support of communities everywhere in Balkh Province. For example, we have never had to buy land to construct a school in any district in Balkh. Every single time, it has been the people who bought or donated land and invited us to construct the building, even in the poorest regions.

Sri Lanka: Building a more resilient economy

Smriti Daniel's picture



At the launch of the Sri Lanka Development Update (SLDU), our Twitter chat #SLDU2017: Environmental Benefits of Economic Management set out to explore how Sri Lanka could meet the twin challenges of increasing its physical and financial resilience.
 
The panel comprised experts from the World Bank - Country Director for Sri Lanka and the Maldives, Idah Pswarayi-Riddihough; Senior Economist Ralph van Doorn and senior environmental specialist Darshani De Silva – and Kanchana Wickramasinghe, a research economist in the Institute of Policy Studies. Together, they unpacked the SLDU, discussed its key findings and fielded questions from across the region around its main themes.
 
The bi-annual report, notes key economic developments over the preceding months, placing them in a longer term and global perspective; in the Special Focus section, it explores topics of particular policy significance to Sri Lanka. 
 
Ralph started with the idea that Sri Lanka faces a window of opportunity during which key reforms could transform the country and its economy. He noted that Sri Lanka’s position in the global economy improved its global growth prospects, as well as that of its key export partners. Low commodity prices and the restoration of the GSP+ preferential trade arrangement with the EU had also combined to improve the outlook for the Sri Lankan economy.

For Idah, the country’s mood and the government’s commitment to change were critical to success:   
 
The panel delved into how natural disasters and extreme weather events posed a threat to Sri Lanka’s growing economy. In the short-term the damage was clear and serious, with losses amounting to several billions a year, as Idah noted in her blog. During the chat, she emphasised how Sri Lanka needed to be prepared for future disasters or it would cost the country enormously.
 
Kanchana pointed out that in the long-term, disasters could set back poverty alleviation efforts, especially in agricultural and rural areas, adding:
 

With the chat underway, questions poured in from an online audience who were interested in diverse issues – from managing Sri Lanka’s ongoing drought and its impact on the Northern Province to what insights the SLDU had to offer other countries in the region such as India.

Engaging communities in the Golden 1,000 Days in Nepal

Kaori Oshima's picture
Field survey team in Nepal
A field survey team for the qualitative study holding a focus group discussion with women in one of the SHD project communities. Photo credit: World Bank

In Nepali, “Sunaula Hazar Din” means, “Golden 1000 Days” – which is a critical window of opportunity between conception and the age of two years that, with good health and nutrition, can mitigate the risks of malnutrition that hamper a child’s long-term physical and cognitive development.

Sunaula Hazar Din (SHD) is also the local nickname of the Government of Nepal’s recently completed “Community Action for Nutrition Project”, implemented by the Ministry of Federal Affairs and Local Development and  financially supported by the World Bank from 2012 to 2017. The project aimed to improve practices that contribute to reduced under-nutrition of women of reproductive age and children under the age of two and to provide emergency nutrition and sanitation response to vulnerable populations in earthquake affected areas.

The project used a “Rapid Results Approach (RRA)”, where target communities formed groups of nine members that would collectively select and work on an activity to address malnutrition for 100 days. RRA focused especially on the “1000 days” households– namely, households with children under 2 years and pregnant and/or lactating women and also had community -wide interventions targeted to address malnutrition.  

To better understand the local dynamics around the SHD design and activities, a qualitative study was conducted, with support from the South Asia Food and Nutrition Security Initiative (SAFANSI).

The study team gathered the voices of various stakeholders, including the community members, facilitators, and the village and district-level authorities. Listening to the voices of these stakeholders makes development practitioners and project teams recognize how participatory designs may work as expected – or not – in a specific context.

When in the eye of a storm….

Idah Z. Pswarayi-Riddihough's picture
Abandoned fishing boats lay on the banks of the dried Siyambalankkatuwa reservoir in Sri Lanka's Puttalam District, Aug. 10, 2017. Thomson Reuters Foundation/Amantha Perera
Abandoned fishing boats lay on the banks of the dried Siyambalankkatuwa reservoir in Sri Lanka's Puttalam District, Aug. 10, 2017. Thomson Reuters Foundation/Amantha Perera
This year, yet again, flooding caused by heavy monsoon rains came and receded. Meanwhile, this year alone, more than one million people have been hard hit by the worst drought in 40 years.
 
The media, with few exceptions, have moved on to other topics and a sense of calm pervades. 
 
We are in the eye of the storm -- that misleading lull before mother nature unleashes her fury once again. 
 
In Sri Lanka alone, costs from natural disasters, losses from damage to housing, infrastructure, agriculture, and from relief are estimated at LKR 50 billion (approx. USD 327 million).  The highest annual expected losses are from floods (LKR 32 billion), cyclones or high winds (LKR 11 billion), droughts (LKR 5.2 billion) and landslides (LKR 1.8 billion). This is equivalent to 0.4 percent of GDP or 2.1 percent of government expenditure. (#SLDU2017). Floods and landslides in May 2016 caused damages amounting to US$572 million.   
 
These numbers do not paint the full picture of impact for those most affected, who lost loved ones, irreplaceable belongings, or livestock and more so for those who are back to square one on the socio-economic ladder.
 
Even more alarming, these numbers are likely to rise as droughts and floods triggered by climate change will become more frequent and severe. And the brief respite in between will only get shorter, leaving less time to prepare for the hard days to come.
 
Therefore, better planning is even more necessary. Sri Lanka, like many other countries has started to invest in data that highlights areas at risk, and early warning systems to ensure that people move to safer locations with speed and effect.
 
Experience demonstrates that the eye of the storm is the time to look to the future, ready up citizens and institutions in case of extreme weather.
 
Now is the time to double down on preparing national plans to respond to disasters and build resilience. 

It’s the time to test our systems and get all citizens familiar with emergency drills. But, more importantly, we need to build back better and stronger.  In drought-affected areas, we can’t wait for the rains and revert to the same old farming practices. It’s time to innovate and stock up on critical supplies and be prepared when a disaster hits.
 
It’s the time to plan for better shelters that are safe and where people can store their hard-earned possessions.
 
Mobilizing and empowering communities is essential. But to do this, we must know who is vulnerable – and whether they should stay or move.  Saving lives is first priority, no doubt. Second, we should also have the necessary systems and equipment to respond with speed and effect in times of disasters. Third, a plan must be in place to help affected families without much delay.
 
Fortunately, many ongoing initiatives aim to do just that.

Sri Lankan Winners and exciting news: #StoriesfromLKA photo contest!

Tashaya Anuki Premachandra's picture

The three winning pictures of the online campaign #StoriesfromLKA

World Bank Sri Lanka launched an online campaign titled #StoriesfromLKA during the month of June celebrating World Environment day “Connecting People to Nature”. The campaign included online interactions to learn about World Bank operations related to the environment and a photo competition to appreciate the natural beauty of Sri Lanka that needs to be preserved while Sri Lanka pursues a development drive.
This competition began on the 21st of June and aimed at showcasing the many talented photographers from Sri Lanka as well as celebrating the rich flora and fauna of the country. After the contest ended on June 30th, 167 entries were shortlisted. We asked you which photos were your favorites and you voted on your selections through social media. Your votes helped us narrow down the top three winners, here they are:

Can small grants, training, and mentorship for micro-entrepreneurs create jobs in Afghanistan?

Pratap Sinha's picture
Also available in: دری | پښتو
The NATEJA project supports entrepreneurs like Nooria to start new business. "With support from NATEJA, we were able to purchase the required equipment and
raw material to weave the carpets ourselves," said Nooria. Photo Credit: Rumi Consultancy/ World Bank


As the world marks International Youth Day on August 12, many in Afghanistan, especially the youth, strive to find better ways to make a prosperous future for themselves. According to the United Nations Population Fund, about 63 percent of Afghans are under 25 years of age, reflecting a steep pyramid age structure whereby a large cohort of young people is slowly emerging. Yet, young people in Afghanistan face significant challenges in health, education, employment, and gender inequality.

To tackle these challenges, the Ministry of Labor, Social Affairs, Martyrs and Disabled is targeting youth with low education in rural and semi-urban areas through a pilot micro-grants scheme to support aspiring entrepreneurs in the face of low growth and dim job creation prospects in the private sector. The scheme is implemented under the Non-Formal Approach to Training, Education, and Jobs in Afghanistan (NATEJA) project financed by the Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund (ARTF).

When I saw Fariha, 23, during her selection interview for the micro-grant scheme, she was sceptical of receiving any government support, but confident about her beauty salon idea. It was a dream come true when she got the news of the micro-grant of $500. Fariha had learnt her skills first as a trainee at a beauty salon. After four years working there, she used the grant money to invest in the business and is now a partner and manager in the salon. “I did not earn enough as a trainee, but now I am a partner. It is a good job and it is getting better,” she says.

As a NATEJA grantee, Fariha attended a business training course to learn basic accounting, marketing, and key tips to start a business as a woman. She was also very happy to receive a pictorial, practical, and illustrative business start-up booklet at the training, given her low level of education.

Providing better healthcare in Afghanistan – A view from the field

Fahimuddin Fahim's picture
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Although I have extensive project management experience in Daykundi Province, the scale and impact of the System Enhancement for Health Action in Transition (SEHAT) Program is truly inspiring—for example, the 39 centers that deliver the Basic Package of Health Services (BPHS) together serve over 77,000 outpatients per month. In October 2016, these centers managed the delivery of 615 babies, with as many as 69 deliveries in Temran Basic Health Center alone.
 
In fact, when it comes to female health, SEHAT has ensured that there is at least one female staff member in every health center. This has partly been possible because of the successful implementation of community-level education programs, such as the Community Midwifery Education (CME) and Community Health Nursing Education (CHNE). The program has also strengthened community-based health care by setting up health Shuras (councils) in all locations covered by SEHAT and implemented specific controls on qualifications and credentials of health workers.
 
SEHAT is a program of the Ministry of Public Health (MoPH), supported by the International Development Association (IDA), the World Bank Group’s fund for the poorest countries, and the Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund (ARTF), in partnership with multiple donors. An NGO, PU-AMI, was contracted by MoPH between 2013 and June 2017 to deliver BPHS in Daykundi, in line with national health goals outlined by the ministry. These goals include reducing mother and child deaths and improving child health and nutrition. Thus, the program focuses on increasing access, building capacity, strengthening coordination, promoting use of monitoring and evaluation data, and enabling better support for pharmaceutical supplies.

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