What kind of regional connectivity does South Asia aspire to?

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Bangladesh schoolchildren
Bangladesh: Students laugh as they leave school. Photo: Scott Wallace / World Bank

I recently helped my seven-year-old son prepare a show-and-tell talk for school about our family’s summer vacation.

He was bouncing with eagerness to tell his classmates about our trip to Europe. But his excitement wasn’t about sampling new foods or seeing history come alive.

The highlight of the trip for my son was that we visited five different countries with one (Schengen) visa, seamlessly driving across sometimes invisible national borders with no stops, queues, or delays!

I share my son’s wonderment about one day in particular when we awoke for breakfast in France, lunched in Italy, and watched the sun set during dinner in Switzerland. That kind of free movement of people and goods across borders is what I hope for in South Asia, where I have spent most of my life.

We have a long way to go.

In terms of trade, South Asia is the least integrated region in the world. 

As my World Bank colleague, Sanjay Kathuria, noted in A Glass Half Full: The Promise of Regional Trade in South Asiait is cheaper for a South Asian country to trade with Brazil — halfway around the world — than with a neighboring country. It can be just as challenging for people to travel throughout the subcontinent. 

Trade relationships bring face-to-face contact among people who were once neighbors before political barriers separated them.

Our South Asia regional integration and engagement team aims to help countries use regional or sub-regional collaboration to promote their own domestic priorities. 

We see a fully connected “One South Asia” as a prosperous, more resilient region creating jobs to lift people out of poverty.

The team uses a mix of tools and approaches. These include economic analyses, loans, and attracting private sector finance for cross-border infrastructure projects.

Innovative social and economic analyses help lay building blocks for inclusive approaches. We provide a platform for conversations about cooperation, integration, and connectivity.

We support regional efforts to manage climate-change vulnerabilities and to enable cross-border economic activity that will eventually lead to regional markets and greater integration in the global economy. 

Greater regional cooperation is critical to realize the wider socio-economic benefits from increased connectivity. 

As noted in a recent Bank report The WEB of Transport Corridors in South Asia transport corridors turn into economic corridors only when communities along the corridor derive benefits such as ease of travel, enhanced commerce, and easier access to social services.

Closer trade links can also help build trust throughout a subcontinent divided by mankind and nature. Trade relationships bring face-to-face contact among people who were once neighbors before political barriers separated them. 

Bangladesh schoolchildren
Bangladesh: School lets out. Photo: Scott Wallace / World Bank

 

Our regional integration work has focused on the key areas of connectivity, climate, energy, trade, transport, and water. Examples of success stories include:

  • Contributing to the development of cross-border transmission of electricity, including investments in the first high capacity electricity transmission link between Nepal and India. The lines allow Nepal to import electricity for short-term needs during its dry season, an annual period that coincides with low demand in India. A separate project is helping to create conditions for sustainable electricity trade between Central Asia’s Tajikistan and the Kyrgyz Republic and South Asia’s Afghanistan and Pakistan.
     
  • Contributing to the revival of a network of inland waterways in Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, and Nepal to cut freight and passenger transport costs. The waterways open new markets for products sold by small businesses and farmers, new transport pathways for landlocked Bhutan and Nepal, and the inclusive design of new infrastructure makes travel safer for women.
     
  • Helping to design more robust and inclusive border haats, or small markets, near the border of India and Bangladesh where local residents mingle and buy and sell household goods. The Indian state of Mizoram said recently it wants to expand the concept and set up border haats along its border with Myanmar.
     
  • Bringing together key stakeholders in a regional network, such as the South Asia Power Secretaries Forum and a series of dialogues for users and managers of the Indus, Ganges, and Brahmaputra rivers. This is a powerful mechanism to identify policy and technical issues while building consensus and momentum for regional cooperation. 

Greater regional cooperation is critical to realize the wider socio-economic benefits from increased connectivity.

Our South Asia regional integration and engagement team works with national and state government agencies, think tanks and research organizations, the private sector, community groups, multilateral and bilateral funding agencies, among others.

Now we want to hear from you.

What is your vision for building a more prosperous #OneSouthAsia? How would more regional connectivity make a difference in the lives of your family members? 

Join the conversation on Twitter and Facebook and follow our work on the One South Asia page or subscribe to the One South Asia e-newsletter.

Authors

Mandakini Kaul

Senior Regional Cooperation Officer for South Asia

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