The fallout from the April 24 collapse of the Rana Plaza building in Dhaka, Bangladesh has had severe domestic and international reactions. The international buyers and governments have responded vehemently to these events. Careful reappraisal of labor issues has been universally identified as a key area of reform. The objective is to ensure workers’ safety and workers’ rights. Poor labor standards can adversely affect Bangladesh’s overall reputation in the exporting sector. The government has been pressured to take a series of measures to improve workers’ safety. Representatives of the Bangladesh government, the European Union and the International Labor Organization met in Geneva on July 8, 2013 to promote improved labor standards and responsible business conduct in Bangladesh’s garment industry. Following up on the commitments made in Geneva, Bangladesh’s legislature recently amended the Bangladesh Labor Law to provide improved protection, in law and practice, for the fundamental rights to freedom of association and the rights to collective bargaining, among others.
Are these good economics and good politics now and in the future?
Within the next 30 years, urban populations in developing countries will double and UN-Habitat estimates that around 3 billion people will need housing and basic infrastructure. Already, 70% of existing housing in developing countries is built informally without appropriate structural standards. Thus, the challenge lies in reconciling informal settlements with existing and future planned environments.
In light of these challenges, the South Asia urban team at the World Bank, as part of its urbanization webinar series, organized a discussion on “Upgrading Housing in Informal Settlements.” This webinar highlighted the challenges of upgrading housing in informal settlements, and shared lessons from around the globe where targeted policy interventions and grassroots movements have mobilized resources to create success stories. Guest speakers and experts around the world joined the discussion on informal settlements.
“Ghaas Katne Khurkera, aayo joban hurkera…” (A Nepali folk song)
It would be an injustice to my childhood if I said that this song wasn’t a part of my growing up. Even before I knew the title of the TV drama, I knew this song by heart. I, along with my friends, would happily play and sing along to it. This was a famous song from a tele-series played by Nepal’s most celebrated comedians Madan Krishna Shrestha and Hari Bansha Acharya. Like this song, Madan Krishna and Hari Bansha, endearingly abbreviated as “MaHa” has been a household name to most Nepalis, either in Nepal or residing abroad.
They have, however, been different from other Nepali comedians- their comedy stand-ups or dramas have heavy dose of social morals in their highly creative and hilarious skits. After a break of two years, they are now back on TV with one such creation that infuses issues of social accountability with comedy. The tele-drama is titled “Aan” - A Nepali expression for opening mouth – metaphor for eating/misusing government resources.
“The subject is very dry. This is not like soap operas where the characters have highly dramatic lives. We have to heavily rely on artists’ performances as it should be technically sound to fetch audience attention,” says Hari Bansha Acharya, the producer and the actor for “Aan”. “We have previously worked on anti-corruption but this is the first time we are reflecting the real scenario at the village, district and national level. This is a virgin topic for TV and we hope we will be able to bring the kind of result that we are anticipating.”
Halima Khatun never had to worry about putting food on the table when her husband was alive. Her husband had a business which provided enough for their four children and they lived fairly contented till seven years ago, when her husband suddenly passed away.
As the years went by, one by one the children married, moved out and had their own family to take care of. Halima was left alone, fending for herself, and took up weaving mats and embroidery to help get by. But then her daughter, who used to work at a garments factory in the city after her divorce, suddenly fell sick and unable to work, she moved back in with her four-year old son. Halima was thrown into utter desperation and knew not how to make ends meet.
During the South Asia Region workshop on "Promoting Access to Land and Housing", one underlying thread that ran through the discussions was on effective urban planning. Often, we encounter doubts on the usefulness of urban planning. While urban planning manifests in various forms, perhaps the most questionable one is comprehensive long term planning.
On the second day of the three day regional workshop on affordable land and housing in Thimphu, Bhutan, country representatives continued to share policies and projects that their countries have devised and implemented and with that, the ideas that have or have not worked. One common theme was the interest in the development of secondary cities either around the periphery of rapidly urbanizing growth centers or as growth nodes strategically located along infrastructure such as regional transportation networks to create a ‘system of cities’. These growth centers often present a wealth of opportunities for the poor who flock to the cities from villages with the aspirations of a better life. However, this influx often strains the city’s services and infrastructure at an unsustainable rate.
The World Bank and Oxfam India co-organized a high energy event earlier this week - Joining Forces to End Violence Against Women. It was an intense two days – about 200 participants from diverse backgrounds gathered to listen, to educate each other, to speak up, and to build alliances; in short, to join forces towards the next step. Several of them congratulated the “movement” on progress – on having coopted unlikely allies, on the fact that more men were involved than ever before, and that public outrage against violence is widespread in South Asia. Surely, this will lead to change, is the implicit hope. But long-time warriors like Flavia Agnes, voiced angst and discouragement, as only those who have spent a lifetime of struggle are entitled to. Finally, the anger came from 21-year old Urmila Chaudhary – freed from bondage as a Kamalari – “where were you all when I was pledged to a family as a maid at the age of six”, she asked a somber audience?
“If I don’t get a hundred it would be a bad day.” said Muniran Bibi. She sounded like an ambitious cricket player. “The boat clinic is our only chance of getting health care here on the island.” she insisted. “If not many people come, a big chance would be wasted for them.” Her eyes were bright with anticipation.
While Bangladesh played host to yet another deadly cyclone on May 17th, 2013, cyclone shelters provided a critical first line of defense to thousands of poor communities living along the remote coastline of the country. A million poor people fled from their homes to seek refuge before cyclone Mahasen struck the coast.