Archive for the ‘Asia’ Category

The demographic landscape in South Asia

19 June, 2012

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

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

6 March, 2009

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.

Climate Change in Bangladesh – BBC Photos

7 December, 2008

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.

Unpacking the Sri Lankan Conflict with PACT

19 October, 2008

Sri Lanka’s conflict is now one of the world’s longest running. Its ramifications spread beyond Sri Lanka itself. The Centre for Poverty Analysis’s PACT web site hosts a ‘live debate’ on the issues. The time line of historial events and the exploration of its successive phases are especially useful. It unpacks the layers of complexity and could well help the peace process to renew itself.

p.s. CEPA also hosts a resource portal on poverty in Sri Lanka. And for research relevant to Sri Lanka do check out the BWPI and CPRC web sites.

Institutions for Pro-Poor Growth

12 October, 2008

How institutions do and do not work for development is intensely debated, especially the link to economic growth. And state-business relations are of immense importance. For the latest research check out the redesigned website of Institutions for Pro-Poor Growth (go here).

IPPG is running a panel session at the Development Studies Association Annual Conference in London on 8 November (go here), with Adrian Leftwich, Kunal Sen, and John Morton. And Kunal Sen is giving a lecture ‘What a Long, Strange Trip It’s Been: Reflections on India’s Economic Growth in the Twentieth Century’ at the British Association of South Asian Studies in November (details here)

Other IPPG highlights include discussion papers on:

‘Land Tenure, Farm Investments and Food Production in Malawi’ by Ephraim Chirwa, Universty of Malawi

‘Exploring the Politics of Land Reforms in Malawi: A Case Study of the Community Based Rural Land Development Programme (CBRLDP)’ by Blessings Chisinga, University of Malawi

‘Informal Institutions in Transition: How Vietnam’s Private Sector Boomed without Legal Protection’ by Liesbet Steer (ODI) and Kunal Sen (University of Manchester)

It’s Called the Girl Effect

18 September, 2008

CARE has a neat video on the huge impact of educating girls: “It’s called the girl effect”. Indeed it could be an investment with one of the largest returns — for both the individual and their society.

Larry Summers found that  on average wages increase by more than 10% to 20% for each additional year of schooling (with the returns being especially high in Africa and South Asia, where literacy is lower: go here). He calculated that there was a much higher return to society from investing in the human capital of girls than in such ‘hard’ infrastructure as electric power plants. And then there are the positive effects on infant mortality, maternal mortality, and the position of women in their societies. Summers did his calculations back in the early 1990s, and subsequent research has continued to confirm the substantial benefits of girls’ education.

For further work in this area go to the BWPI working paper series. Farhad Hossain and Tonya Knight discuss the use of micro-credit for education in Bangladesh in ‘Financing the Poor: Can microcredit make a difference?’. The Grameen bank provides education loans (as well as scholarships for its clients). Increased female education has contributed to improving their social status over the last three decades: this is evident in the number of women who now have jobs in banking and other service sectors in Bangladesh.

Also check out the work of Ruth Levine and Nancy Birdsall at CGD. A good site for advocacy and research, especially on what the IMF and World Bank are up to, is Gender Action.

Gateway to Microfinance

17 September, 2008

If you have never visited the microfinance gateway, visit it here. It has the latest news in the microfinance area. Recent headlines include:

  • African Union urges politicians to stay away from microfinance (i.e. don’t engage in political meddling)
  • Record Bank expansion in Kenya ( the number of Kenyans with bank and savings accounts tripled last year, from 3.3 million to 10.1 million)
  • The Asian Development Bank has set a new poverty line (the new estimates show a fall in poverty across the region).

There is also an interview with Fazle Abed, founder and chair of BRAC. He describes BRAC’s approach as not just ‘microfinance-plus’, but ‘microfinance multiplied’. Abed sums up this approach as:

“At the heart of BRAC’s approach to development is organizing the poor. Organizing the poor into microfinance groups builds community and enables them to address the constraints they face. BRAC’s “multiplied” approach leverages the power within these groups to develop a sustainable, social entrepreneurial approach to deliver essential services to the poor. BRAC helps the group build essential linkages that integrate members into the society and market while ensuring they receive fair treatment, prices and practices”.

The micro-financiers amongst you should also check out the latest BWPI working papers, including Farhad Hossain and Tonya Knight on ‘Financing the Poor: Can Microcredit Make a Difference’, which takes an in depth look at Bangladesh. We have papers on microfinance in Barbados and India, as well.

Add another 400 Million People to the Global Poverty Numbers

29 August, 2008

The World Bank has just upped its estimate for global poverty (go here). The Bank now estimates that 1.4 billion people in developing countries — one in four of the developing world’s population — were living on less than US$1.25 a day in 2005. The previous estimate was 985 million — the “bottom billion” (this was based on an international poverty line of $1 a day). The full paper by Shaohua Chen and Martin Ravallion is here.

What all this means is that poverty has been higher from 1981 to 2005 (the period covered by the Bank’s research). Poverty in 1981 is now estimated to have been 1.9 billion people (one in two of the developing world’s population at the time).

So why has the Bank changed its numbers? Mainly because the cost-of-living in the developing world is higher than previously estimated. The International Comparison Project (ICP) has been collecting price data for years, and has released new estimates. This led the Bank to recalculate its poverty numbers. Previously 1993 cost-of-living data was the latest available and was used to generate the 985 million number.

Comparing the prices of goods and services across countries is tricky. Using current exchange rates is unsatisfactory — because currencies move relative to each other for all kinds of reasons. Hence the ICP calculates ‘purchasing power parities’ (PPPs). So the release of new PPPs led to the revised poverty estimates. However, Sanjay Reddy reckons the Bank’s poverty estimates are still too low (go here for his critique). As Duncan Green says: “Pity the Poor Number Crunchers”.

All this is before the recent run-up in food prices which is driving many into chronic poverty. The Bank is taking urgent action in Bangladesh. But expect many more people to join the world’s poor by the end of the year.

Countdown to CPR2 begins

23 June, 2008

The second chronic poverty report is released on 8 July, folks. A launch will take place at Houses of Parliament. It will be available to download from the CPRC web site, and we are launching as well in Bangladesh, Brussels, Washington DC and Uganda (with more to come). Watch this space for further news.

You’ve Got to Serve Turkeys to The Poor Too

10 March, 2008

Celebs-in-philanthropy is the latest thing (see this NYT Sunday Magazine piece, featuring Natalie Portman). One disgruntled PR guy sums it up on Gawker: “You can’t just get $20 million a picture, you’ve got to serve turkeys to the poor too.” Hollywood is one tough scene.

Last month a different kind of celebrity died. No movie star but a friend to India’s lepers and harijans: Baba Amte. Born into a wealthy landowning family in Maharashtra, Baba Amte’s life changed when he stumbled across a leper dying in the gutter.

A moving tribute in The Economist describes his reaction thus: “He was outraged at the fear he felt: fear of touching, as if he shared the common belief that lepers were paying for their sins and would infect anybody who came close. Where there was fear, he told himself, there was no love; and when an action was not done in love, it had no value. Deliberately, he went back to the gutter to feed the leper and to learn his name, Tulshiram. He then carried him home to care for him until he died, and began—once he had had training in Calcutta—to work in leper clinics all around the town”.

Baba Amte hated the word charity (go to YouTube here). True he fed the poor, and got them back on their feet. But above all he wanted to give them the dignity of work. And that is what he did with the thousands who passed through his ashrams He would have hated being called a celebrity. But we should celebrate a life well-lived.


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