Posts Tagged ‘South Asia’


Region at Cross Roads- Towards a closer South Asia

September 4, 2013

South Asia represents a thriving trade and economic hub. While GDP, industrial output, and consumption have soared across the region over the past decade, power, water, and transport systems have struggled to keep pace. Despite significant growth, the reality is that South Asia is a region at a crossroads. Its continued growth relies on deeper regional cooperation and integration from a policy perspective, and market-driven intervention by businesses that aspire to expand their footprint across the national borders. This expansion is significantly restricted by weak regional trade cooperation and corresponding infrastructure support to enable this to happen.

Improved trade cooperation and significant integration depends deeply on the policy makers and governments. Perhaps the key is also to look beyond historically complex relationships and look at the region with a more open mind and in a more strategic long-term manner. Like the panel experts this afternoon stated, integration is no longer an option, it is a necessity for the region, at this point.

Another significant area that needs to be perhaps examined carefully is the understanding of growth. Across the world, including our very own South Asian countries, GDP has remained to be a strong indicator for success. All of the countries such as India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and others have seen impressive numbers and “sustained growth”. But, GDP is a complex arena- it measures income, but not equality, it measures growth, but not destruction, and it ignores values like social cohesion and the environment. It does not measure household economy, capital depreciation, economic facilities, governance and others, all of which are major characteristics of the region.

In Bangladesh, for example, we have seen impressive and sustained GDP of 6%, but it remains to be significantly constrained by poor infrastructure, low levels of trade, regulatory and governance issues. The question comes here, should we continue to be comfortable with the “sustained and impressive” growth rates or look beyond this indicator?

A second area of discussion which came strongly in the expert panel discussion of SAES 2013 was the issue of connectivity- infrastructure needs.

Over the years, attempts have been made in improving infrastructure systems within the region through transport corridor planning, infrastructure improvements in the areas of water, transport, power and others. Further planning is in place through Public-Private-Partnership options among others, but the question remains- how can we ensure that these infrastructure facilities are in planned appropriately, financed in a manner which can be dealt with in the long term, implemented effectively and managed for improved development and integration within the region?

Guest Post by Tahmina Shafique, WB-SAES Youth Delegate from Bangladesh @


And, What about Human Capital

September 4, 2013

Guest Post by Tahmina Shafique, WB-SAES  Youth Delegate from Bangladesh

South Asia is the story of a massive workforce, rising youth population- ours is the story of people, their hard work, their contributions. South Asia, in economic terms, is the story of human capital. It is the integral part of our economy. Yet, harnessing human capital, and investing on human capital, remains to be at the far end of the critical agendas of each economy. In a way, we have lost that L (Labour) in our production functions, as Shekhar Shah, the chair of this afternoon’s session, rightly pointed out. The L within our production function has just become a random, sweeping arena.

How long will these economies really be able to sustain with low levels of investment, low quality public education, low levels of skills development and more?

Employment, jobs seems to be an “easy” issue in South Asia, but the time has come to look at this issue with eyes wide open. With increased number of youth population in South Asia, it is important to look at the issue of employment. Are there enough jobs for the large and growing youth population? Even if jobs are created through informal sector, can we produce good quality and productive workforce?
Now there are multiple areas to think about- we have an informal sector and formal sector, the education system, skills training and finally the cross cutting arena: politicization.

The informal sector dilemma: Starting with the informal sector, million of workers in Asia, account for almost two third of the total workforce who are engaged to informal work. The growing size and scale of the informal economy shows that it has become the normal and predominant economic activity for workers in Asia. When investments are being made, how does one attempt to increase the productivity levels of these informal markets which are characterized by low levels of productivity? A lot of the learnings do happen through spillovers, in that case, does greater integration help?

The story of formal sector: Meanwhile in the formal sector, informalization is institutionalized through deregulation of labour law promoting flexibilization of the labour market. As a result, the power of trade unions is dismantled. The absence of the right to collective bargaining and freedom of association then exacerbates the working condition of informal workers. Isn’t it time to address these collectively? Does the private sector have a responsible role to play here?

Education systems: The education sector in South Asian countries remains to be weak. The public education does not have enough expenditure allotted to this sector, which results in poor quality education. To add to that, politicization within the education sector remains to be rampant where for example, vice chancellors are appointed in accordance to political influence rather than the experience and required qualifications. In the private sector, while the quality of education starts off well, they are expensive which means access is a major issue. In addition to this, private sector education institutes grow at a fast rate, as in case of Bangladesh. In this case, the overall quality drops significantly.
Skills development: While private and public institutions are in place, they remain to be characterized by poor quality and majority are inadequate to respond to the growing and changing demand and market patterns and employment needs.

Having explored all of the above, which were discussed this afternoon in the plenary session, it is important for all stakeholders to think about that diminishing and decaying L. Are we doing enough? What role does the civil society have to play here? There is clearly an urgent need for higher expenditure by each of the governments? Can the civil society advocate for this? Who will work towards ensuring that bomb that is ticking doesn’t explode?


Climate Change and Pandora’s box

November 2, 2010

It was different experience in Colombo this past week, as twenty youth traveled all the way to meet, enthuse, engage and empower each other. We all had gathered because we have one common belief- that we will tackle the impacts of climate change together. The South Asian Youth Climate Action Network (SAYCAN) consisted of youth participants from India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nepal, Maldives, Afghanistan, and Sri Lanka- countries that are most vulnerable to the impacts of Climate Change.

All these youth were different in there own ways with extremely diverse backgrounds. Some studied Environmental Management, some, Economics, some Computer Engineering, some Journalism and Mass Communication and some Literature or Law. They speak different languages, different dialects, in different ways. Some are passionate about science, and others about art.

They have different tastes too, mind you. Some like shopping till they drop, and some like sight seeing. Some are into books and philosophy, some into music and some into photography. They look at life differently and live differently. Some believe in the peace of finding calm and quite within themselves to lead life. some find solace in finding little things in life beautiful and making the best out of it.

They all work on projects and programs, relating to environment and climate change. Their designs are different, so are their models. They have lots of ideas, and energy.

How do you bring them under the same roof, how do you get them to agree on the same goal, vision, and action plan for the South Asian youth?

This was the challenge for SAYCAN- to bring all these youth to explore and agree on common goals and aspirations and make them draw the road map for the network. There is a always a fear for these attempts to turn into talk shops, to deviate into something completely different.

Lets face it. Climate Change movements have been extremely challenging. Following last year’s BIG failure at COP 15, challenges seem to take a greater toll.

Many articles continue to suggest different pictures of this big game- some say it is time to give up, the political order of liberal democracy is just incapable of rising to this challenge. Others, continue to believe that the world’s biggest polluters will not bend and the rest bring in new models to combat climate change. Stephen Hawking being the man of physics, suggests that mankind should colonise distant planets. James Lovelock thinks the remnants of humanity will seek refuge on the tropical shores of the Arctic.

Moving to the scientists, some suggest climate change does not exist to begin with and other scientific data now strongly suggests that physical and biological changes in the planet are increasingly greater than those defined by the modelling in the most recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report. Despite the steadily rising levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, even countries expressing commitment are having little impact compared to the huge task in hand.

Governments continue to fight, focusing on the monetary values than trying to just solve the issue first. Everything is being calculated. Survival of people is being negotiated. It is all about the money. It is all about mandates. It is all about negotiation.

In the middle of this, you have youth movements striving everyday to fight for this cause. You can tell, that some of these passionate people would one day give up and just walk away, instead of watching the whole climate debate go no where. After all, isn’t that the only way to not hurt?

I myself, could not help, but wonder what it was that had brought some 20 of us together to fight for a cause that is under so much criticism and how we would agree on anything by the end of it all. More often than not, all around us, passion seems to seep away and leave behind just uncertainties and insecurities. This cause has the same potential.

Then, why, despite all questions, have all these youth come together for this conference? Why spend so many hours, all day long brainstorming, planning and designing action plans to tackle climate change in our own little ways? Our governments do not recognize our strength and we are never a part of the policies that run our lives. Then why bother?

Some of these people have stayed up nights to make this possible, run around from one funding organization to the other, in hope of organizing a conference for youth. Some have skipped their biggest events, some have paid out of their own savings, just to be here. together.

It was during the first night at the beach that I stared at the distant endless ocean, waves slapping against the hot sand of the beach, while I felt my feet burrowing into the deeper depths of the cool sand. I wondered, why I was here? Why all these people were here? why so many of these youth were working so hard in their own country for this cause?

I could not help but think of this Greek myth.

Greek myths never failed to fascinate me. Somehow, I seem to have had the greatest fascination of all towards the Greek mythology since God knows when. Staring at the beach, the story of Pandora’s Box came to my mind so many times.

According to Greek myth, Pandora was the first woman on earth created by the Greek Gods. She was stunning and she was created by Zeus to take revenge on mankind. It is said that the Gods would give her gifts. Each one of them. Which is why her name meant ‘the bearer of gifts’. Pandora was given a beautiful box by the Gods and asked never to open it. Pandora, however, could not resist herself and had finally opened the box, which let out all the misdeeds, diseases, hatred, greed, jealousy, pain and sufferings in the world.

Pandora shocked and guilty, had closed the box as soon as possible to ensure nothing else came out of that box to destroy the world. Zeus wanted Pandora to open this box, so she could bring sufferings into this world. It is said that this story explains the world we live in today- the world where we are consumed by jealousy, anger, selfishness, hatred, greed and many more.

However, the myth also suggests, the box was closed and there was still something left there, and that was Hope.

Greek myths never explained further as to why hope was left in the box- if hope should be taken in absolute sense or narrow sense. There have been millions of interpretations of this myth since then. Archaic and classic Greek literature went further to explain the concept of hope. One thing that came out of the mythographers was that hope was not gone. Hope was inside that box, intact, to ensure that mankind has the ability to live through all the odds that life has stored for us.

True or not, personally, I have believed this version of the story- that hope is intact and will keep us going come what may. I would have died, had I not seen a glimpse of hope in my life. In the worst times of my life, hope pulled me through. Every morning that I wake up, I wake up with hope, as though it is a part of me, a part of who I am and the sheer reason for my survival.

And I realised, it is hope, too, that brought all these South Asian Youth Together, to ‘enthuse, engage and empower’ in the middle of all the stories of Climate Change and failure.

For us youth, science or economics is not the basis for negotiation of our survival. True, there may be big failures, and true, there may not be any end to this long debate and our efforts may never be recognized. True, negotiations may never come to an agreement.

But, it is hope that keeps us going. Everywhere. Everyday. And we continue to work, together, in our little ways with that one thing that keeps us together- and that is hope. for better days to come.