The demographic landscape in South Asia

19 June, 2012 by

Recent changes in the demographic landscape of South Asia are producing handsome gains. Fertility and mortality are declining, survival chances are better and there is prolongation of later life. Demographers and public policy analysts attribute this to improved economic performance, the growing outreach of public healthcare services, and reductions in absolute poverty.
Sri Lanka has secured notable achievements, especially in its socio-demographic and health indicators.  Maldives, Nepal, Bhutan and Bangladesh are not far behind. India has reduced its fertility and mortality levels significantly. More than half of its major states have already achieved replacementlevel fertility and it is fast shaping a bulge in favour of working age youths and older adults.
Pakistan is projected to converge soon to joinothers. Afghanistan, unfortunately, remains the exception.
A growing bulge in the region’s younger population has two important economic repercussions.

• A youth bulge leads to a rise in new job seekers. Adopting appropriate economic policies to create more employment
opportunities for them holds the promise of a demographic dividend.
• A growing older population raises issues of income security and health provision.

Much of South Asia has yet to develop policies that explicitly target both these issues. Old age income security still needs to be fully addressed. Employment opportunities, particularly in the organised sector, are also severely lacking.
A South Asia regional conference was organised by the Institute of Economic Growth (Delhi) in 2008, to examine these challenges. It brought together international scholars, including demographers, economists, labour market specialists, poverty analysts and medical doctors. A selection of papers has recently been published in an edited volume,1 highlighting four dimensions of the research and policy challenge:
• Changes in country demographics of the region: opportunities and challenges.
• Bulge of the younger cohorts and meeting employment needs of the growing number of labour market participants.
• Rapid ageing and missing pillars in income and health security provision for the old.
• Achieving population and health MDGs in India and South Asia.

Two clear messages emerge from this research.

Firstly, South Asia is ill-prepared to face the challenges of ageing that will become increasingly visible over the coming years.
Second, the demographic dividend might not be fully realised, due to the failings of South Asian countries in ensuring broad-based opportunities for education, skill formation and decent work.

Read the full article at http://www.bwpi.manchester.ac.uk/resources/world-poverty/Issue_12_Alam_Barrientos.pdf

The MDGs and armed violence

1 October, 2010 by

A recent post on the Eldis conflict and security blog discusses how the growing global trend of non-conflict armed violence (NCAV) fundamentally threatens progress towards the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Violence within local communities strikes at the very core of development and progress, perpetuating poverty by destroying infrastructure and livelihoods, diverting resources, and contributing to loss of life. The cost of such violence is estimated to be a staggering US$163 billion, a figure that dwarfs the US$119.6 billion global spend on international aid last year. As such, violence can be said to potentially have a drastic impact on the very area that is crucial to achieving the MDGs – government spending on social services. Although the international community has been slow to tackle non-conflict armed violence, policymakers are beginning to recognise the need for more holistic and targeted development approaches to armed violence – as evidenced by the upcoming World Development Report on conflict, security and development. reducing violence in all its forms must now become a development priority. Although the MDGs did not target violence as a core objective, post-2015 there is real scope to integrate the aim of reducing violence into poverty reduction strategy papers, UN development assistance frameworks and post-conflict needs assessments. Whether the current politics of development permit such an innovation remains to be seen, particularly when considering the underlying causes of conflict and violence. See the full original blog posting here.

The time for making poverty history is now

12 May, 2010 by

In rich countries a handful of dollars does not go very far, indeed most people in the UK wouldn’t think twice about spending this on a cup of coffee.  But one in five people in the world today has no choice but to survive on less than US$2 a day, and 1.5 billion people struggle to live on less than US$1. The vast majority of those affected are children, each an individual story of unfulfilled hope and potential.

Few would dispute that ‘a world free from poverty’ is the overwhelming challenge of the 21st century. The crucial issue is how to achieve this. In Just Give Money to the Poor:  The Development Revolution from the Global South (Kumarian Press, 2010), Hanlon, Barrientos and Hulme discuss a wave of new thinking on development that is sweeping across the South. Instead of relying on a large and expensive aid industry to find ways to ‘help the poor’, it is better to transfer money and resources directly to the households in poverty so that they are able to find effective the most effective ways to escape from poverty.

This is the premise behind social transfer programmes such as Mexico’s Oportunidades, Brazil’s Bolsa Familia, South Africa’s Child Support Grant, and India’s National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme. They all provide regular transfers of money to households in poverty with the aim of improving their nutrition, making sure children go to school, and ensuring that expectant mothers have regular check-ups.

This does not rule out the need for investment in economic growth and basic services. Small transfers to very poor households help provide access to new economic opportunities and vital health and education services. Without such transfers, the costs of transport, school uniforms, medicines, and job search could well be prohibitive.

Social transfer programmes do not throw money from helicopters. They carefully select and monitor recipients, ensure they are well informed about objectives, and track outcomes. In Latin America, transfers are paid directly to mothers thus strengthening their voice within the household. The responsibilities of the government and the households are carefully discussed at registration.

Despite attempts by the aid industry to take credit for these initiatives, social transfer programmes are most often national responses to local problems. Brazil’s Bolsa Familia began as a municipal programme in Campinas in 1994/5 and is built on domestic learning and experience of what works to reduce poverty. India’s National Employment Guarantee Scheme, which guarantees one hundred days labour on demand to unemployed rural heads of household, also builds on a careful assessment of similar programmes in Maharashtra and elsewhere.  . Social transfer programmes have high set up costs and for this reason international assistance is important in low income countries. Nonetheless, sustainability and legitimacy requires domestic political support and finance in the medium term. Giving money to households in poverty is a ‘Southern project’, as the considerable diversity of programmes around the developing world demonstrates.

Important challenges remain, especially in low income countries lacking the capacity to design, deliver, and finance social transfer programmes. In many countries their institutionalisation is precarious. The existing social transfer programmes need to be seen as a first stage in the development of  strong and stable institutions,  able to protect poor and vulnerable populations in the South from the volatility and crisis of the global economy on. Acknowledging these challenges, the book makes the important point that knowledge on how to eradicate poverty is already freely available if only we care to learn from the South.

Armando Barrientos – Professor and Research Director, Brooks World Poverty Institute

The Monfort Plan

28 October, 2009 by

The Monfort Plan is a modest proposal that describes the new architecture of capitalism. Jonathan Swift wrote his Modest Proposal in 1729, in which he identified three classes of readers: the superficial, the ignorant and the learned. According to Swift “the superficial reader will be strangely provoked to laughter”, whereas “the ignorant reader will find himself disposed to stare”. For years the diagnose of extreme poverty targeted Swift’s truly learned readers and forgot the superficial and the ignorant.

In a recent article on This is Africa, Columbia Professor Jeffrey Sachs wondered if the world leaders would be “brave enough to invent new programmes and institutions that have the legitimacy and commitment to pull the world through this crisis to a fairer and more sustainable future”. A new architecture is the only path to the world of 2050, a world of cornucopia (food abundance) and eutopia (universal welfare). A new architecture is the only approach to building up new programs and institutions that have Sachs’ legitimacy.

Extreme poverty continues to perpetuate because we have failed to eliminate its causes. Extreme poverty is originated and perpetuated because developed countries have failed to reform in six areas that represent the Axis of Feeble, an Axis that has to be defeated in an intellectual war with Weapons of Mass Persuasion. The six components of the Axis of Feeble are agriculture, trade and labor rights, small arms trade, extractive industries, financial architecture and brain drain.

Past wars defeated the Axis Powers and current wars aim at defeating the Axis of Evil. Past and current wars had to identify and defy the enemy and the opposition forces to be defeated. The Axis of Feeble is maintained and perpetuated by the Pirates of Heartless Capitalism and the Bretton Woods Elites, who will use their propaganda tools to oppose a paradigm shift.

In the first part of his autobiography, the American diplomat George F. Kennan pointed out that “We of this generation did not create the civilization of which we are part and, only too obviously, it is not we who are destined to complete it. We are not the owners of the planet we inhabit; we are only its custodians”. The Axis of Feeble will not be defeated unless all custodians become passengers of a Journey of no return, and not simple spectators.

My forthcoming book may be appealing to the truly learned readers. We must all become passengers of the Journey of our lifetime. The Monfort Plan is designed having in mind every audience. It proposes new content with the ability to entertain every audience. It is through entertainment that the average citizen in Europe and North America can be educated in issues that are vital for the future of our planet and the humankind. It is through education that the average citizen can raise his or her level of awareness. Only if we, as a society, raise our level of awareness, will we welcome reform in the six components of the Axis of Feeble.

For decades we lived with an architecture that played its role, an architecture that has become a caricature of what it once was, a vintage architecture not designed for the challenges of the twenty-first century.

We live the best world we have ever inhabited. We are approaching our tipping point as a global society. We must become men and women of stature. I identified the One Hundred Expert Dreamers that will become the best team of experts that has ever been put together to serve the global public interest. With their combined wisdom and intellectual strength the Expert Dreamers will defeat the Axis of Feeble and the Pirates of Heartless Capitalism.

We are not the dwellers of the blue planet, only its custodians. We must recuperate the courage of the visionaries of the 1940s and 1950s who created an architecture that changed the world for good. The Expert Dreamers are the disciples of Marshall and Truman, of Clayton and Kennan, of Monnet and Schuman. The orthodox thinkers and the current political leaders condemned the imagination and creativity in the policy-making process to perpetuate in the cage of the orthodox. We must start living a life in full color. We must again love and dream. The Sleeping Beauty must wake up and embrace the forgotten continent. The American friends will fall in love, one more time, with the Sleeping Beauty.

It is time. It is our time. Let’s move ahead.

Jaime Pozuelo-Monfort is Author of The Monfort Plan (Wiley Finance, April 2010). More information can be found at http://themonfortplan.com

What “Slumdog Millionaire” Can and Cannot Teach Us About Slums

6 March, 2009 by

By David Lewis, Dennis Rodgers and Michael Woolcock

Earlier this week the film ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ won an extraordinary eight Academy Awards, including for best film and best director. Set in the teeming slums of Mumbai, India, ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ provides a moving account of a poor orphaned teenager’s quest for recognition and dignity, overcoming numerous obstacles en route to winning the grand prize on a lucrative game show, and in the process the heart of his true love. It’s a well-made and uplifting film; we applaud its success, and extend our sincere congratulations to all those involved in its production. But to the extent the film draws its moral force and emotional energy from its context, what can ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ teach us about slums? More generally, what are the strengths and limitations of cinematography as a medium for conveying complex realities about the causes and experience of mass poverty?

As with most successful films, ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ works to the extent it is able to tell a captivating story, in this case drawing on timeless themes of love and yearning, of taking great risks, and enduring injustice and overcoming discrimination, in order to realize one’s heart’s desire. For the central protagonist Jamal Malik, however, the stakes are raised even higher, given his lowly circumstances and lack of education, which make it not only highly unlikely that he will ever have the means or opportunity to extract himself from the squalor of the slum, but more importantly, that he is powerless to prevent his beloved Latika from being taken away, first by a slum pimp, and then by a crime lord. After years of searching fruitlessly for her, she is tantalisingly taken away from him again just as they are about to be reunited. Not knowing how to get back in touch with her, he tries out for the Indian equivalent of ‘Who wants to be a Millionaire?’, which he knows she will be watching. In an improbable—but ‘bizarrely plausible’—manner, Jamal overcomes the odds and wins the show, thereby reconnecting with Latika.

In the end, ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ is of course just a film, and makes no claim to be a work of social science or a ‘representative’ account of the causes and consequences of living in a slum. But for most western cinema-goers, however, such films—like ‘City of Joy’ and ‘City of God’ before it—are a rare chance to see a portrayal of the circumstances encountered by tens of millions of poor people in developing countries every day. To this extent, even if such films are primarily concerned with entertainment and profit-making in less than a two-hour timeframe—and mainly follow a neat, conventional and arguably quite conservative narrative arc of struggle and ultimate redemption that inherently appeals to emotion (as opposed to ‘empirical evidence’) and often works via crude individualistic juxtapositions (good guys vs. bad) —they arguably nevertheless offer some insight into the lives of others living elsewhere, which can only be a good thing. The question, then, is whether they can be said to convey an accurate picture of slum life.

In this regard, although we are far from being film experts, we have collectively spent many years studying slum life up close in Latin America, South Asia, and—to a lesser extent—the Caribbean. In our view, films such as ‘Slumdog Millionaire’—perhaps more so than any other medium—give outsiders a rare sense of the vibrant energy, frenetic pace and ‘ordered chaos’ of life among the poor in urban settlements. Carefully done, such films can provide instructive insights on the precarious state of many slum dwellers’ lives (i.e., the constant threat of conflict, illness, the confiscation of precious assets), of the immense influence wielded by the powerful, of the paradoxical role played by the police (simultaneously part of the problem and solution), and yet also the full range of emotions that the inhabitants of slums endure like any human being—from abundant joy and hope to relentless grief and enduring sadness. If these features seem contradictory, then that is just another feature of slum life. Good novels, such as Rohinton Mistry’s A Fine Balance, stress precisely these issues, but rely on the power of imagination to concoct scenes that are far removed from most readers’ own direct experience; a good film—even when its screenplay is adapted from a novel, as is the case of ‘Slumdog Millionaire’, based on Vikas Swarup’s Q & A—can convey that reality like none other.

Cinema-goers should not think, however, that films such as ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ provide a full account of why poor people are poor (‘it is fated’) or a basis on which to respond to it (‘get motivated, take a chance’). Unlike the questions on game-shows such as ‘Who Wants to be a Millionaire?’, the answers to questions pertaining to grinding urban poverty can’t sensibly be reduced to multiple choice options. The existence of slums is not merely the product of individual actions writ large, but large structural forces of industrialization, inequality, politics and migration writ small. How, why and the extent to which these forces play out in different regions, countries, and states is properly the subject of detailed historical and social scientific analysis. There is no single ‘answer’ as to what can be done to enhance the welfare of slum dwellers, but neither is social science mute or indifferent. Guaranteed work programmes, identity registration schemes, securing property rights, citizen report cards to enhance service delivery, micro-credit systems, innovative criminal justice facilities and the involvement of the poor in urban design are all responses that have made a constructive difference in the lives of slum dwellers, in part because they are more often than not context-specific responses to a deeply complex problem.

The success of ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ is a signature accomplishment for the British film industry, and should be recognized and celebrated as such. But it should also be encouraged and applauded as a form of artistic representation that raises peoples’ general awareness of how millions of poor people live. Such awareness is not only important in its own right but also because it is part of the process by which broad political constituencies for change are forged. The issue is thus not whether ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ has represented urban poverty ‘better’ than social scientific or policy-oriented analysis, but rather how different kinds of knowledge convey different kinds of issues for different kinds of audiences. A judicious integration of popular and formal representation can be the basis of both enlightening entertainment and solid public policy.

Mobiles for Impoverishment?

15 January, 2009 by

By Richard Heeks

If you had to choose three words to sum up the future of ICT4D, they might well be “mobiles, mobiles, mobiles”. And the way to that future is being more clearly indicated as the promise of mobiles-for-development research comes to fruition; reflected, for example, in the recent 1st “m4d” international research conference.

But such research is starting to throw up some perplexing – even worrying – findings about mobiles. At its bluntest, such research suggests mobiles are doing more economic harm than good, and sometimes making poor people poorer. Let’s have a look:-

a) Kurt DeMaagd’s “Pervasive versus Productive” paper analyses country-level data on mobiles and national productivity as measured by GDP. He finds that, short-term, there is a negative association between investment in mobiles and GDP in developing countries, possibly because “mobiles represent a diversion of resources away from other productive uses”.

b) Kathleen Diga’s “Mobile Cell Phones and Poverty Reduction” dissertation (Ch.5) shows at the micro-level that some rural Ugandan households are sacrificing expenditure on purchased food (e.g. sugar, milk, flour) so they can pay for mobile airtime. This includes households that “admit to some days of hunger in order to maintain the mobile phone”. They are also diverting savings into mobile phone purchase and saving for airtime by foregoing attendance at social functions.

c) Hosea Mpogole, Hidaya Usanga and Matti Tedre’s “Mobile Phones and Poverty Allevation” paper at the m4d conference researches mobile use in rural Tanzania. “48% of respondents reported that they sometimes substitute important needs (e.g. education, buying food, and clothes) for mobile phone ownership/usage”. Modal monthly costs of mobile phone maintenance and use were US$10-20: around 30% of respondents’ monthly income. And, in a digital variant on the workload of water-carrying in rural Africa, many respondents were undertaking 3-7 kilometer walks 2-3 times per week in order to recharge their mobile batteries.

Very interesting research. To which one might offer four responses. Read the rest of this entry »

Climate Change in Bangladesh – BBC Photos

7 December, 2008 by

Bangladesh is one of the countries that will be worst affected by climate change. Rising sea and coastal water levels and more frequent storms threaten this low-lying country. Adapting Bangladesh to climate change is urgent – especially to prevent the reversal of recent progress in poverty reduction there.

An excellent set of pictures on the theme of climate change in Bangladesh can be seen at the BBC here.

BWPI will be undertaking with BRAC a new research programme on climate change and its implications for poverty in Bangladesh. Watch this space over the coming months. In the meantime check out the BWPI and CPRC working paper series for more on Bangladesh.

Around the World with Joseph Stiglitz

1 December, 2008 by

BWPI Chair and Nobel Laureate Joe Stiglitz has a new documentary just out. ‘Around the World with Joseph Stiglitz’ is a hard-hitting look at globalization. Joe takes two journeys. His own journey began in Gary, Indiana. The documentary returns to his hometown to see what shaped his thinking. It then heads across the world, taking in Botswana, Ecuador, India and China. It weaves together the social and economic effects of globalization, recommending ways to manage it for the good of all.

If you are in New York you can catch it at the Lincoln center this Wednesday (3 December).

In the meantime, check out Joe’s interview with Alex Jones on YouTube on his book The Three Trillion Dollar War: the True Cost of the Iraq War, with Linda Bilmes. And Joe on the sub prime crisis on CNBC.

Talk the talk – but not walk the walk

1 December, 2008 by

That’s the way Larry Elliott in The Guardian sums up the donors lack of urgency in meeting the MDGs. Commenting on the just released UNESCO Education for All report, he writes:

“… donor countries can talk the talk but not walk the walk. According to the Unesco study, the aid required for even the most basic primary education provision in poor countries is US$11 bn (£7.2bn) a year. In 2006, spending amounted to around $4bn, leaving a funding gap of $7bn. To put that figure into context, it is around 10% of what Britain spent this autumn recapitalising the banking system”.

Maybe they will walk the walk at the UN Financing for Development summit now underway in Doha. But I wouldn’t hold your breath. “When financial systems fail, the consequences are highly visible and governments act,” concluded UNESCO’s Director-General Koïchiro Matsuura. He added “When education systems fail the consequences are less visible, but no less real”.

I would add that education is the only investment you can be sure of getting at least some return on – provided it’s of good quality and children complete a minimum of 4 years primary education. Well-educated people earn more in the labour market, and find it easier to absorb new technologies and methods when they run micro-enterprises and farms. Education is a means to break the inter-generational transmission of chronic poverty (see this CPRC study for Bangladesh).

And even if it didn’t raise income much – which might be the case in economies that are growing only slowly – it certainly improves health status, especially of children, when mothers are educated. Educated mothers are 50% more likely to immunize their children than mothers with no schooling (go here). Gender inequality in education has high costs for both the family and society (see this IFPRI study).

So the chronic underfunding of education reminds me of that old quotation: if you think education is expensive, try ignorance.

Global Finance – Doha: What Chance of Success?

1 December, 2008 by

World economic turmoil sets the scene for the UN Conference on Financing for Development in Doha (29 November to 2 December), the most important conference on this topic since the UN’s conference in Monterrey back in 2002. Go here for UN updates.

The last quarter of 2008 has seen a lot of talk-talk on development finance. The long-awaited High Level Forum on aid effectiveness was held in Accra in September as well as the UN’s high level event on the MDGs in New York. Calling an event ‘high-level’ lets the international community claim that progress has been made – just by getting senior people together in one place.

What will Doha bring? Can it make headway against the very strong currents now running through the global financial system? Will rich country donors be able to afford aid? On this and other issues see my WIDER Angle article with George Mavrotas – Development Finance: New Opportunities for Doha. We explore the topic further in our new UNU-WIDER book Development Finance in the Global Economy: The Road Ahead (Palgrave).


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