When the earthquake hit on the Saturday of 25th April last year, 35-year-old Bishnu Ghale was working in the fields near her house in Khanigaon VDC of Nuwakot district. The quake destroyed her house, but she was thankful her husband and three children were alive. She was thankful for a steady job, which meant she could quickly muster up the supplies to build a shelter and provide food for her family.
A month before the earthquake, Bishnu started working as a Road Maintenance Group worker, one of a group of 12 men and women who manage a 24 km stretch of rural road from Nuwakot to Malabhanjyang. She looked after the routine maintenance of the road, cleaned the drains, filled pits, cleared minor blockades and planted trees. Working 6 days a week, this earned her up to 11,000 Rupees a month, enough to keep her family going through the difficult months ahead.
When my team and I saw this boat passing by us in July 2013 in rural Bangladesh, near the border with Mizoram, Northeast India, and Myanmar, I felt immediately empathic.
How many people are on that boat? Eighty? Does it have a motor? Can those people swim, especially the women? No lifejackets! I wondered how long their trip was, and then I thought: What if they needed a bathroom break? Memories of my family's escape from Vietnam by boat in 1981 flashed back—34 refugees jammed into a traditional fishing boat normally home to a family of seven, with no motor, no life jackets, and no toilets! We floated around the South China Sea and Pacific Ocean for 16 days. Most of us could not swim, certainly not the women and girls.
This was the first local election in 10 years in most places of the country. Voters elected council members of three tiers of local governments: district, urban councils, and union council/ward.
How will these elections impact the lives of average citizens?
International experiences have shown that the main benefit of elected local bodies is their closeness to citizens, which allows them to be much more responsive – although with sustained hard work -- to improving local services such as waste, water, sewerage and transportation.
In a report about managing spatial transformation in South Asia launched at the 3rd Pakistan Urban Forum, we highlighted that (see chapter 3 of the report).
To that end, we identified three closely related "deficits" -- empowerment, resource, and accountability -- which, if tackled properly, could lead to improved local urban governance.
The recent local elections in Pakistan are important steps toward reducing these three deficits. The new local government laws, which were enacted in most provinces in 2013, started to re-empower local governments after the expiration of the earlier 2001 Local Government Act.
Urbanization growth is already stretching cities’ resources. and Karachi ranked 135 out of 140 countries in the Economist Intelligence Unit’s 2015 livability index.
As an intrinsically-optimistic Brazilian, my new assignment following India’s economy suits me well: India is one of the few bright spots in a somber global economy and is set to become the fastest growing large economy in the world. Our recently-released India Development Update projects India’s GDP will grow by 7.5 percent in the fiscal year ending March 2016, and by 7.8 and 7.9 percent in the following two years. Not quite the double-digit growth the Government would like to see, and to be sure there are significant uncertainties about the outlook, but an enviable state of affairs nonetheless.
What is driving the favorable momentum?
The drastic decline in global crude oil prices since June 2014 clearly played an important role. As a net oil importer, the halving of oil prices has been a bonanza for India. External vulnerabilities were greatly reduced as the lower oil import bill shrank the current account deficit despite anemic exports. Lower oil prices also helped contain prices of global commodities, and along with the RBI’s prudent monetary policy led to a significant decline in inflation. This in turn boosted real incomes in urban areas and allowed RBI to lower policy rates by a cumulative 125 basis points in the first nine months of 2015.
Inclusion means that all people and communities have access to rights, opportunities, and resources. Urbanization provides cities the potential to increase prosperity and livability. However, many suffer from poor environments, social instability, inequality, and concentrated pockets of poverty that create exclusion. In South Asia, as in other regions, segregation within cities cause poorer areas to suffer from the lack of access to facilities and services that exacerbate misery and crime.
Medellin, Colombia was once the most dangerous city on the planet with astounding gaps between the wealthy and the poor, vastly different access to services, and the highest homicide rate in the world. Its turnaround has been impressive. Much of the progress has been attributed to the thoughtfulness of its planning to ensure greater inclusion. What can South Asian cities learn from this South American city?
Planning policies and action have often been concentrated on the broad structures and functions of cities. However, drilling down the details can realize an inclusive urban environment that improves life for all in public spaces. In our definition, inclusive cities provide:
- Mobility: A high level of movement between different neighborhoods that provide opportunities for jobs, education, and culture;
- Services: All neighborhoods have a basic level of facilities and affordable necesities such as housing, water, and sanitation;
- Accessibility: Urban spaces are designed so that everyone can easily and safety enjoy public spaces.
What happened in Medellin, Colombia? Medellin offers an inspiring example of how improved planning and sound implementation can increase social inclusion. Two decades ago, Medellin was the homicide capital of the world. Illicit drugs were a major export and hillside slums were particularly affected by violence. In response, the government created public facilities inclusive of libraries and schools, public transportation links, and recreational spaces in the poorest neighborhoods; and connecting them with the city’s commercial and industrial centers. As a result of a planning model that seeks to serve all residents, the city has become safer, healthier, more educated and equitable.
South Asia can now reap the benefits of greater regional integration it once enjoyed before its partition into various countries. But first, the region must break down the barriers that impede its intra-regional trade.
You don’t have to be a number-cruncher to enjoy this challenge:
1, 5, 200, and 2,800,000. Close your eyes after reading these numbers. Can you recite them in the right order?
Intrigued? If you’re interested in the development of South Asia, these four numbers will resonate with you. They represent four areas of opportunity for the region to further integrate and thrive economically.
Last month, prior to the South Asia Economic Conclave #SAEC15, Sanjay met with 30 Indian graduate students holding or currently pursuing advanced degrees in history, economics, and South Asia studies. He shared the 4 numbers with them and observed their responses. Here’s an overview of the conversation: