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Global Economic Prospects in South Asia: Broad-Based Upturn. For How Long?
Recent developments: Growth in South Asia slowed to a still strong 6.5 percent in 2017, in part reflecting businesses’ adjustment in India to the country’s new Goods and Services Tax and to the adverse impacts of natural disasters across the region. India is estimated to grow 6.7 percent in fiscal year 2017/18, which ends March 31, slightly down from the 7.1 percent of the previous fiscal year. This is due in part to the effects of the introduction of the Goods and Services Tax, but also to protracted balance sheet weaknesses—including corporate debt burdens and non-performing loans in the banking sector—weighing down private investment.   Pakistan’s growth is forecast to tick up to 5.5 percent in FY 2017/18, which ends June 30, with strong activity in construction and services, a recovery in agricultural production, and robust domestic demand supported by strong credit growth and investment projects. However, the current deficit widened to 4.1 percent of GDP, amid weak exports and buoyant imports. In Sri Lanka, activity expanded at an estimated 4.1 percent in 2017, slightly below expectations as a result of severe weather disruptions. Bangladesh’s growth for FY 2017/18, which ended June 30, is anticipated to slow to 6.4 percent from 7.2 percent in the preceding fiscal year. 
Economics Students Unite in Bangladesh to Explore Paths Toward One South Asia
Chittagong, January 18, 2018 – The 14th  South Asia Economic Students’ Meet (SAESM) commences in Chittagong, Bangladesh today, embracing the arrival of over 110 top economics undergraduates and faculties from seven countries in South Asia towards the realization of a more integrated South Asia. Rising economists from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka will engage in vigorous academic competitions and research presentations on South Asia’s development opportunities under the theme of regional integration in South Asia. The meet will also include discussions by professors and World Bank experts on how greater regional integration in South Asia can help countries achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). “South Asia is a region with immense potential and youthful energy waiting to thrive,” said Selim Raihan, SAESM Organizer for Bangladesh and Executive Director for the South Asia Network on Economic Modeling (SANEM). “Building trust among neighbors through students can help lay the foundation for lasting relationships that will benefit growth, poverty reduction and prosperity in the future.”SAESM Chittagong will include essay presentations and defense by students on their essays submitted for SAESM, a quiz on economic knowledge, as well as a ‘budding economist competition’’ that selects the brightest young economist through the best written and oral defense. Hosted this year by SANEM, participants come from a variety of South Asian universities including Dhaka University (Bangladesh), Delhi University (India), Lahore University of Management Sciences (Pakistan), University of Kabul (Afghanistan), Royal Thimphu College (Bhutan), and Tribhuvan University (Nepal). Recognizing its unparalleled efforts in facilitating regional academic and cultural exchange, the World Bank Group has supported SAESM for many years in the forms of financing, logistical support, external communications as well as speeches and competitions. “Regional Integration in South Asia is a work in progress, but there are many grounds for optimism, including the growing realization that most of the gains from regional integration remain under-exploited.  To help realize some of these gains, the WBG is supporting country governments in South Asia to deepen cooperation with their neighbors in several areas including energy, trade and investment, and connectivity,” said Sanjay Kathuria, Lead Economist for the World Bank. “Gains are likely to be incremental because this is a complex and long-term agenda. Youth can bring a business-like, uncluttered approach to provide greater momentum to the process of creating One South Asia.” Since SAESM was piloted in New Delhi, India in 2004 by a group of university professors, it has been hosted rotationally by organizers in India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and Bhutan. Afghanistan sent its first batch of delegates in 2014. “When we started SAESM, our objective was to bring together brilliant young economists from across South Asia and engage them in intensive academic exchange. Over the years SAESM has itself ‘graduated’ numerous dazzling talents and sent them worldwide,” said Raihan. Follow #SAESM developments on Twitter though the hashtag #OneSouthAsia
A Helpline for GBV Survivors in Nepal Transmits Hope and Support
The figures are out for us to see: according to the Nepal Demographic Health Survey 2016, nearly one third of all married women in Nepal have experienced violence perpetrated by their partners, the most common violence being physical and emotional. Thirty four percent of such women have sustained injuries due to the violence. However, in a country with such alarmingly high numbers of gender-based violence (GBV), the number of women coming forward to report it is quite low. The Survey notes that 66 percent of women who have experienced sexual violence have never even told anyone or sought help to resist and stop the violent. This is not surprising, as legal and psycho-social remedies for GBV survivors is limited, not confidential enough, and even the process of reporting incidents can get cumbersome. The survivors often face social stigma and familial pressures. But the National Women Commission (NWC) of Nepal is about to change that – by establishing a 24-hour toll-free helpline ‘Khabar Garaun 1145’ (Inform Us) for GBV survivors. Starting from December 10, 2017, anyone can call in and anonymously report their own incident, or even an incident they have witnessed, to receive coordinated and sustained support. The helpline allows GBV supporters to register their complaints, and also connects them to the service providers, including the Nepal Police, One-Stop Crisis Management Center, and civil society organizations (CSOs) that provide shelter, healthcare, legal aid and psycho-social counselling. This integrated helpline will also introduce an online Case Management System (CMS) that uses technology to register, manage, and track cases referred to service providers. By storing the details of the incident, the CMS will eliminate the need for the survivor to recount the incident on every visit, reducing the risk of re-victimization of the survivor. A first of its kind in Nepal, the helpline began with a simple idea in 2013. At a World Bank organized Violence Against Women Hackathon, innovators got together to find IT-based innovative solutions to address GBV in Nepal. The three winning applications were combined to create the FightVAW online platform, designed to improve the coordination among GBV service providers in the Kathmandu district. This captured the attention of Mohna Ansari, former spokesperson of the NWC, who saw the platform’s potential to improve GBV response services in Nepal. Four years later, with support from the World Bank’s Integrated Platform for Gender Based Violence Prevention and Response project, the Commission is ready to launch the helpline. For Ansari, the launch of the helpline marks the culminations of years of hard work. “This is a way forward for Nepali women and GBV victims in general,” she said, “It will help them live a life without fear.” This principle of addressing gender outcomes strategically and with practical results is also the principle of the South Asia Regional Gender Action Plan. The plan identifies prevention and response interventions against GBV, and offers support to innovative pilots that focus on raising awareness and strengthening response efforts to GBV. As one of its pilot projects, the helpline aims to position itself as a lifeline to transmit hope and practical assistance for GBV survivors.  While remedial services need to be strengthened and upgraded to ensure best possible care for GBV survivors, an efficient and supportive mechanism to address their pressing concerns is definitely a positive step forward.       
Embroidering a New Future for Pakistan's Rural Artisans
On November 11, 2017, the foyer area of Lahore's Al Hamra art gallery wore a festive look. The space was dressed with exquisite collections, designs and embroidered textiles from South Punjab and Sindh. Overhead, hundreds of colourful thread spools interspersed with scores of embroidery frames creating a 'sky of Pakistan's embroidery'. Traditional sitar music played in the background, adding to the grand display of Pakistan’s embroidery tradition. Sitting amidst dignitaries, designers, business persons and development professionals was Shamshad Bibi, a traditional artisan from a remote village in Pakistan's Sindh province. She peered expectantly at the runway, as did everyone else in the room. Moments later, Moammar Rana, a popular Pakistani actor walked in wearing an elegant black kurta paired with an intricately embroidered tribal shawl. A buzz went around the room, as excited guests scrambled to take a look. Shamshad Bibi was thrilled too, albeit for a slightly different reason. Rana was wearing her creation. Actor, Moammar Rana, in a tapestry of colours, traditional skill and perseverance - the Rang project Hunar ke Rang or 'colour of skills' is a marquee event organized every year by the Indus Heritage Trust (IHT) to celebrate Pakistan's glorious craft traditions and their unsung rural practitioners. Besides the one-of-a-kind fashion show, the event features an exhibition showcasing various collections, interactions with traditional artisans on traditional techniques, and discussions with sector experts from across South Asia. Hunar ke Rang 2017, which is the second annual event, featured the running stitch collection, the Soojni collection, the tribal collection and the Daftry (office) range of stationery products - the four distinctive collections of the Rang project. "RANG aims to empower artisans by supporting them to set up their own producer groups as well as higher level artisan institutions and enterprises. We have worked with the artisans and supported them in the creation of as many as 17 cluster enterprises and worked with them in developing businesses and supply chain skills. RANG has reached out to national and international designers to work with the artisans and create more than 3000 innovative prototypes that we are now aggressively marketing through various channels," said Siddiqa Malik, Chairperson, IHT.
World Bank Approves Credit to Support Livestock Development
KATHMANDU, December 7, 2017 – The World Bank has approved a credit of US$80 million for a Livestock Sector Innovation Project. The project will support the objectives of the Government of Nepal’s Agriculture Development Strategy (ADS, 2015) which underpins the role of livestock for sustained agriculture and economic growth, poverty reduction, and improving food and nutrition security. 200,000 livestock producers across 271 Municipalities will directly benefit from the project. At least 45 percent of the primary beneficiaries will be women.  In addition, about 500 small and medium-sized agro-enterprises will benefit from production and post production value chains. Of Nepal’s population engaged in agriculture, 70 percent keep livestock. But productivity remains low. The demand for livestock and livestock products, particularly milk and meat, has outstripped supply.  Nepal’s average annual imports correspond to a bill of about US$40 million. The project will channel its support through three main channels: (i) creating an enabling regulatory and institutional environment; (ii) enhancing livestock productivity by improving the quality and quantity of livestock services; and (iii) strengthening key strategic livestock value chains and improving access to business development services. “4 in every 5 Nepalis who work the farms are women," said Takuya Kamata, the World Bank’s Country Manager for Nepal. “But women are often short-changed when it comes to ownership of assets, decision-making and economic gains.  This new project will encourage women to participate in all aspects of planning, implementation and monitoring,” he said. The project will also help address poor practices in the livestock sector that lead to high greenhouse gas emissions and other environmental impacts.  It will also support an emphasis in the ADS on increased resilience to climate change as a cornerstone for improved productivity of land and labor. “High animal mortality rates, poor feeding and manure management, inefficient use of water and nutrient loading all contribute to high greenhouse gas emissions,” said Purna Bahadur Chhetri, Senior Agriculture Specialist at the World Bank. “The impact of climate change is visible in large annual variations in crop and pasture production, impacting of the availability of livestock feed,” he said.
Nepal: Livestock Sector Innovation Project
KATHMANDU, DECEMBER 7, 2017 - The World Bank has approved the following project today:Nepal Livestock Sector Innovation Project IBRD Credit: US$ 80 MillionTerms: Maturity=38 years, Grace=6 yearsProject ID: P156797 Project Description: The development objectives of the project are to increase productivity, enhance value addition, and improve climate resilience of smallholder farms and agro-enterprises in selected livestock value-chains in Nepal.
World Bank Approves Additional Financing for Post-Earthquake Housing Reconstruction
KATHMANDU, December 15, 2017 – The World Bank has approved US$300 million in additional finance for the Earthquake Housing Reconstruction Project. This supplements a US$200 million credit approved by the Bank on June 29, 2015. The additional finance will help the Government of Nepal meet a share of the financing gap in its housing reconstruction program under implementation following the devastating earthquakes of 2015. The impact of those earthquakes is estimated at 35 percent of Nepal’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) with recovery needs of about US$ 7 billion. From a preliminary estimate of 500,000 households in 2015, the total number of eligible and enrolled beneficiaries has increased to 650,000 households. The government has also increased the housing grant to NPR 300,000 (approximately US$3,000) per household from the earlier NPR 200,000 (approximately US$2,000) to reflect increased construction costs. With these updates, the financing gap in the government’s housing reconstruction program has widened to over US$1.2 billion. The additional credit will finance hazard-resistant reconstruction of an additional 96,000 houses. The original Bank credit covers the reconstruction of 55,000 houses. Over 73,706 houses have been reconstructed to date. Reconstruction has started with another 177,000 houses. “Nepal requires critical investments in resilient recovery,” said Takuya Kamata, the World Bank’s Country Manager for Nepal. "This will help avoid new disaster risks and ensure Nepal’s continued progress in key development indicators.  Such investments will also strengthen disaster preparedness and improve the capacity to respond, he said. With the additional finance, the Earthquake Housing Reconstruction Project will continue to transfer the housing grants directly to the bank accounts of beneficiaries. “This remains a key principle in order to ensure that the right beneficiary gets the right tranche amount upon verification,” said Kamran Akbar, Senior Disaster Risk Management Specialist at the World Bank. A World Bank administered Multi-Donor Trust Fund (MDTF) supports the implementation of the Earthquake Housing Reconstruction Project. Other MDTF partners include the US, the UK, Switzerland and Canada. Japan and India also provide parallel financing to support housing reconstruction.
Nepal Post-Earthquake Housing Reconstruction Project Additional Financing
WASHINGTON, DECEMBER 15, 2017 - The World Bank has approved the following project: Nepal Post-Earthquake Housing Reconstruction Project  IDA Credit: US$ 300 MillionTerms: Maturity=38 years, Grace=6 yearsProject ID: P163593 Project Description: The objective of the project is to provide housing grants for residents to rebuild houmes with greater hazard resilience. The additional financing will provide housing grants to an additional 96,000 beneficiaries, in addition to the 55,000 covered by the original project. 
Dhankuta Dazzles with Its Cleanliness Drive
As the clock strikes 6 AM, a municipal tractor in Hile, Dhankuta winds its way across town, collecting waste destined to a landfill 13 kilometers downhill. While most Nepali towns still struggle with solid waste problems, Dhankuta has established a well-managed disposal system that even makes money.  In July 2017, Dhankuta was declared the ‘cleanest city’ in the country, bagging the top spot worth NRs. 1,000,000 in an annual contest sponsored by the Government of Nepal’s Solid Waste Management Technical Support Center (SWMTC). Dhankuta was placed second in the contest last year, which awards numbers to municipalities based on their efforts in solid waste management, drainage and sewerage system, greening and beautification. “We were not particular about cleanliness up until about a decade ago,” says Lal Chandra Gongba Tamang, former President of the Dhankuta chapter of Federation of Nepalese Chamber of Commerce and Industries (FNCCI). “People littered plastic everywhere.  That choked our drains and frequently spattered filth on our streets.” When problems became untenable Dhankuta locals got together to discuss solutions. That was in the year 2009. In the years since, they established a landfill in Salleri, at the foothills of a forest  – spread over an area of 30 ropanis (around 642 sq.ft.) at a cost of NRs. 40 million – to handle 10 tons of waste every day for the next 25 years. Then they declared Dhankuta ‘plastic-free’. Today the municipality is visibly spick-and-span. Garbage cans dot the streets and are emptied regularly. Dhankuta residents consider cleanliness as part of their regular civic duties. The municipality employs 16 sanitation workers, who visit different routes each day to ensure all wards under the municipality are covered. They sweep up public places and street corners every day, while the streets in front of houses and shops are swept clean by owners themselves. According to a report published by the World Bank in 2015, nearly 7000,000 tons of waste is annually generated in Nepal’s cities. Out of this, less than 50 percent is collected, while most of the waste is haphazardly dumped. Although solid waste management can make up to 50 percent of a municipality’s annual budget, many municipalities do not earn any revenue while providing waste management services.  Dhankuta is, then, an exception to the norm. The Dhankuta landfill site occupies the center of this unique model where three tractors tow in waste from 10 wards every morning. While landfills elsewhere battle stench and filth, the Dhankuta municipality has actually designed and built a garden on top of the buried waste. The bouncy garden, carpeted in green and spotted with pretty seasonal flowers, is the pride of the entire municipality. Locals, especially children, entertain themselves at the mini-park, and over 100 groups of outsiders have visited the ‘garden’ to learn how the model might be copied.When Waste Means Business Locals now recycle and reuse materials they would earlier have thrown into the garbage. The municipality has trained households to segregate biodegradable and non-biodegradable waste. Most households repurpose biodegradables as manure or cattle feed. This has drastically cut down on the waste. Thus, the landfill load has also eased. Bechan Sardar, who drives one of the municipal tractors, explains, “People now realize that bio-degradable waste pollutes, hence only around 10 percent of such waste reaches the landfill.” As the first load arrives, sanitation workers sort through paper, plastic and metal. Then another group reclaims the waste for reuse. The municipality has auctioned off reusables to Kaushal Thapa, a local entrepreneur, for an annual royalty of NRs. 50,000. While this may seem nominal, the enterprise provides regular jobs to nine people, while also producing raw materials for enterprises. Thapa used to run a scavenging business since a decade ago, with his staff visiting houses to collect waste materials. But once the landfill was established, he realized that this could be a valuable source for his business. “I talked to municipal authorities about working together to reduce waste,” Thapa explains. As per their agreement, Thapa’s staff visit the landfill every day and sort reusable waste, which he sells to enterprises as far away as Dharan, Itahari, Biratnagar and even Jogbani in India. “If five tractors of waste was buried in the landfill site earlier, now barely two tractors is buried each day, and the rest is put to good use. I am satisfied with the profits, and happy that I am helping keep my place clean,” Thapa says. 
Cleaning Up Their Act
Dhankuta, a municipality in Eastern Nepal, was declared as the ‘cleanest city’ in Nepal this year. Thanks to its excellent solid waste management initiatives, it bagged the top spot in an annual contest sponsored by the Government of Nepal’s Solid Waste Management Technical Support Center (SWMTC). But there is more to it than simple management – this is actually a triumph of the people who worked to make their city cleaner, one idea at a time.A Worm’s-Eye View Dhankuta residents have adopted an eco-friendly method of upcycling waste – vermicomposting, or producing manure with the help of earthworms – is now commonplace. The municipality has trained over 200 residents in the method. One of the first residents trained, Yashoda Shakya from Zero Point, is now a local expert. The pleasant-faced homemaker is often kept busy with her responsibilities inside her home and out, as a member of various cleanliness and management committees. But she makes it a point to take time out to segregate the waste produced by her household, and cut up the bio-degradable waste into tiny pieces. “This makes it more palatable for the earthworms,” she explains, “We must also avoid putting in waste that is oily, hot or sour.” Shakya precisely follows every step of the process – preparing a bed for earthworms out of sawdust or cotton clothes; spreading finely layered bio-degradable waste over the bed, placing earthworms, and then securing the bin with a jute sack. Within three to six months, the bin produces rich black manure that Shakya spreads over her kitchen garden. Even the water drained from the bin is used as manure for flowers. Her garden in the third floor produces organic onions, garlic, chili, coriander, spinach and tomatoes that her family enjoys throughout the year. “I started this because I love nature, and the idea of managing waste efficiently appeals to me,” she says. “I have reaped multiple benefits. Not only is my house clean, but I use the compost for my thriving kitchen garden and even earn good money from it.” The money is earned through earthworms, which she raises with great care. She sold 15 kilos worth last year to the municipality – at a decent rate of NRs. 3,000 (USD 30) per kilo. “If each household, especially in city areas, managed their waste in this manner, imagine how clean our streets would be !” she says with the beautiful smile that never seems to leave her face. While the process might seem cumbersome to some, Shakya hastens to assure that it is easy. “All I need is a bin and maybe 15 minutes each day to tend to it,” she says. She also recounts an incident her trainer told them, “Our trainer was on a visit to States, to learn more about this process. When she visited a house and queried where the earthworms were kept, she was astonished to learn that they were right under the couch she was sitting in, in the drawing room! This just proves how odor-free and mess-free this process is.” Shakya’s family is fully involved in the process – her husband helps her sort through waste, while her mother-in-law patiently shreds paper into bits as she sits outside in the courtyard. “They are really helpful, but it’s actually so easy and useful that I don’t mind doing it by myself !” she ends the conversation by turning back to the curry she’s making, seasoned with a generous bunch of coriander plucked fresh from her garden.Nepali First Meanwhile, in Ward Number 5, the Mathlo Kopche Tole Lane Committee (TLO) got together to test something innovative.“We wanted to attract tourists and promote our culture,” explains Govinda Rai, President of the TLO.The committee decided to paint all houses a uniform orange.“The color orange signifies that Dhankuta is famous for its juicy oranges,” Rai explains. “This also unifies all of us in a single bond, reminding us that we are all Nepali first before anything else,” says Komal Rai, Vice President of the Dhankuta Bazar Management Committee. A Man with a Mission One of the prime forces behind the change in Dhankuta is Upendra Khanal, Head of the Environment Division at the Municipality.“Not too long ago locals felt that waste management was singularly the municipality’s duty, and that they were entitled to discard waste as they wanted. Now they realize that that cleanliness benefits everyone,” he says.He then lists his challenges.“The biggest challenge is achieving behavioral change at the household level.  Once people hold themselves to account for the waste they produce, then half the battle is won,” he says.Khanal points to the challenge of sustaining the waste management system, considering that it is expensive and logistically tricky. The municipality collected NRs. 14 Lakh in user fees for solid waste management from households over the last nine months. Till last year, a big chunk of municipal expenses was borne by the World Bank funded Output Based Aid for Solid Waste Management. The program provided subsidies against waste management targets. The municipality now generates a portion of its own revenues, but is actively looking for other ways to ensure long-term sustainability.As the population increases, so will the amount of waste. Dhankuta’s 10 ton of waste per day might seem meager compared to Kathmandu’s 457 metric tons of solid waste per day (CBS data, 2013), but Khanal is aware that the number will multiply quickly, and steps need to be taken beforehand.Khanal also sees the need to build better infrastructure around the landfill, ensure extra amenities to people living nearby, procure a specially designed garbage truck, upgrade to a more advanced waste treatment facility, and provide additional training for the disposal of hazardous waste.Even when talking of an issue generally considered technical and dry, Khanal’s eyes shine with joy and pride. He believes in practicing what he preaches – meaning that up to 70 percent of the energy requirements of his household are met by biogas alone. He also practices vermicomposting, and the vegetables in his kitchen garden are a sight to behold. Last year, he even demonstrated the possibility of managing solid waste to generate energy to the then Prime Minister KP Oli through a television program, and was lauded for his efforts. “We have not met all our goals,” he says frankly, “but we’re getting there, we have definitely made a promising beginning.” Yet, he does not expect the changes to take root overnight.“It’s difficult to let go of old habits,” he says, “No one wants extra work. But once people understand that they have everything to gain, everyone will chip in.”Giving an example of change, Khanal says, “The residents of an inaccessible place called Todke wanted to dispose of their waste correctly, so we encouraged them to build a simple local waste management system. Within a year, mothers noticed that their children were not falling ill as often as they were earlier. This is the subtle but significant transformation we hope to bring about.” 
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