Archive for the ‘Bangladesh’ 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

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.

Talk the talk – but not walk the walk

1 December, 2008

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.

Parks for the Poor

11 November, 2008

Yes, having some greenery around you can improve your chances in life. A new study in the Lancet finds that living near parks or woodland improves life expectancy and health, regardless of income class. People living in poorer areas are more likely to die earlier and to suffer more ill-health than the UK average. This income-related inequality in health is less pronounced in populations with greater exposure to green space, according to the study by Richard Mitchell and Frank Popham from the universities of Glasgow and St Andrews (see this BBC report).

Victorian Britain saw great efforts to bring green space to the poor. The first children’s playground was created in a Manchester park in 1859. Many of Britain’s inner city parks went into decline from the mid-twentieth century, and their regeneration began in earnest in the late 1980s. Manchester’s St Michael’s Flags and Angel Meadow Park is an example. The area became notorious in the 19th century for the mass burial of the poor whose families could not afford a proper funeral.

The charity GreenSpace is now working to improve parks and green access in the UK. We also need more efforts in the mega cities of the developing world. On a recent trip to Dhaka I was struck by the lack of accessible greenery. Much appears to have been illegally built over – including one green space now occupied by a truly hideous ‘pleasure park’ which charges for admission.

Green space is also exceptionally important to managing the impact of climate change on urban areas, a theme in Manchester University’s research on sustainable cities (check out John Handley in the School of Environment and Development). So get planting.

A Ribbon for Safe Motherhood

22 September, 2008

Every minute another woman dies during childbirth – or soon after from easily preventable causes. Many die before childbirth, in pregnancy. Death takes mothers, daughters, and wives from their communities, leaving widowers and orphans.

Today in Manchester I heard Sarah Brown and Brigid McConville speak movingly of their work with the White Ribbon Alliance for safe motherhood. WRA is an international alliance with members in 91 countries and National Alliances established in 11 – ranging from Burkina Faso to Bangladesh to Zambia. It is taking the campaign to New York this week for the UN Millennium Development Goal summit to push on the maternal health goal (MDG 5). Improvement has been limited: DFID sums it up:

“. There are two targets: one to reduce maternal deaths and the other to provide universal access to reproductive health. Little progress has been made over the past two decades and MDG 5 is severely off-track”.

Poverty is a cause of maternal death. An African woman has a 1 in 16 chance of dying from a pregnancy while a European has a 1 in 1,800 risk. And maternal mortality is a cause of poverty. The household loses not only a human life, but the income that the woman’s livelihood provides. The Chronic Poverty Report cites health crises, and the associated impact on the household’s resources (including health fees), as a big initiator of the descent into chronic poverty. This makes for hungry and sick children. Orphans are more likely to die after their mother’s death – their chance of death is three times the average for children in the 1-5 age group. One mother’s death thereby ripples across the generations.

Do check out the WRA video for their Promise to Mothers Lost campaign, and read Sarah Brown’s letter in Elle.

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.

The Places We Live

5 August, 2008

More people now live in towns than in the countryside. And up to one-third of the world’s urban population is poor. That’s more than one billion people — and growing. Lacking adequate services and with poor health standards, the slums are home to many of the world’s chronically poor people. Often close to the water line (as in Dhaka) or on hillsides (as in Caracas), slums are vulnerable to natural disasters of all kinds.

The Nobel Peace Centre in Oslo is now running an exhibition by Magnum photographer Jonas Bendiksen.  “The Places We Live” presents 16 homes in four different slum areas: Kibera (Nairobi); Dharavi (Mumbai); Barrios (Caracas); and Kampongs (Jakarta). Nairobi’s Kibera is home to at least one million people, while Dharavi is close to Mumbai’s booming financial centre — a gross example of the rising inequality that takes the shine off India’s “economic miracle”.

Social Protection Can Raise Agricultural Growth

6 December, 2007

Social protection is now a fast-moving story (see our recent post on Brazil’s Bolsa Família). The rural poor are especially vulnerable to income-shortfalls — reflecting their shortage of assets, dependence on rain-fed agriculture, and a lack of insurance mechanisms. Farm workers with nothing but their wage (in cash and kind) are at high risk, making them often chronically poor (see the Chronic Poverty Report). By reducing risk, well-designed cash transfer programmes can encourage poor people to venture into new (and better) livelihoods. Injecting cash into the local economy also stimulates demand, much of which is spent on local goods and services. The multiplier effects then further encourage the growth of output and employment. A recent ODI briefing paper on ‘Linking Social Protection and the Productive Sectors’ from their social protection team argues that agricultural policy is in disarray in many countries and that a revitalized agriculture needs new approaches; social protection and its ability to reduce vulnerability and promote growth should be a major part of any new national policy. At the same time, some social protection programmes are better than others. The Chars Livelihoods Programme in Bangladesh gets high marks from the ODI briefing paper as does Mexico’s Oportunidades but India’s National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) suffers from not providing enough skill enhancement (thereby diminishing its potential growth-enhancing effects) and some dishonest local practices.