India

Providing road access to all: how India is turning a distant dream into reality

Providing road access to all: how India is turning a distant dream into reality

For many decades now man has been able to go to the moon. Yet down here on earth, many people are still unable to travel to nearby towns, because of the lack of decent roads. The world over, about a billion people live without access to an all-weather road. And many more have perhaps lost the access they once had because floods, heavy rains, cloudbursts, landslides and other extreme weather events have damaged the roads or they have not been maintained. Can we ever think of a world free of poverty without addressing this fundamental challenge?  
 
Let’s look at the case of India where 500,000 km of rural roads have so far been built by the country’s flagship rural roads program (PMGSY). These roads, connecting some 120,000 settlements, have already started transforming the rural areas of the country.

Photo Credit: Shaju John/World Bank


These roads form part of a core network of 1.1 million that India is seeking to build through its ongoing $35 billion PMGSY program to provide about 179,000 rural settlements with road access. The project has been designed to deliver high-quality, sustainable roads in a timely and cost-effective manner. PMGSY’s main source of funding is a special tax on diesel. Since the PMGSY began, the World Bank has been working closely with the Indian government through a series of projects and knowledge initiatives, with funding of about US$1.8 billion.

by · Tuesday, 1 August 2017 · India
Stitching Dreams: In Tamil Nadu, Rural Women Show the Way to Start Up India

Stitching Dreams: In Tamil Nadu, Rural Women Show the Way to Start Up India

In our travels across rural Tamil Nadu we met many women who had a great deal of experience in working in the large garments factories of the state – in Tiruppur and Chennai. But, after getting married their family responsibilities forced them to leave their jobs and return to their villages. Now these young women have put their years of experience to use and are setting up small enterprises in their home villages, sewing garments for India’s huge domestic market. It is a win-win situation for all. Working out of thatched huts and refurbished cowsheds, the newly-minted women entrepreneurs not only turn in a tidy profit but also create much-needed employment for others. The large garment manufacturing companies, faced with crippling shortages of skilled labor, now outsource orders to these units. Today, these fast-growing women’s enterprises have not only opened up new avenues for rural women to work, boosting female labor force participation, but also added a new grassroots and gender dimension to the idea of Start Up India.   
 
As we entered the small hut of rammed earth thatched with coconut leaves, the sounds we heard belonged to a different world. Amidst the whir of industrial sewing machines, nine young women were busy stitching bolts of fabric into men’s shirts, destined for India’s vast domestic market for low-cost garments.  
 

Once a large cow shed, a garment unit today.

This was Inam Koilpatti village in India’s southern state of Tamil Nadu. Even though many villages in the state were rapidly urbanising, this village still had many huts, and prosperity was yet to arrive.
 
Two young women, Indhurani and Gurupakkiam, ran this tiny unit. Born with an entrepreneurial spirit, these women have unwittingly given a much-needed boost to the idea of ‘Start Up India’ in this poor region.
 
“We were both working at a company in Thalavaipuram,” they began. (Thalavaipuram is an emerging garments hub nearby.) “But, with family responsibilities it was getting hard for us to travel 20 km to work. Three years ago we approached our employer with a proposition. We would set up a unit in our village, if he would give us orders,” they narrated.

by · Wednesday, 26 July 2017 · India
How much should Bhutan worry about debt?

How much should Bhutan worry about debt?

Construction of the Dagachhu Hydropower Plant in Bhutan. Photo Credit: Asian Development Bank

In many respects, Bhutan has been a development success story. Its people have benefitted from decades of sharp reductions in poverty combined with impressive improvements in health and education. The country is a global model in environmental conservation. It is the first carbon negative country; Bhutan’s forests, which cover over 70% of the country, absorb more carbon dioxide than is produced by its emissions.

The Kingdom of Happiness also must grapple with the reality of managing budgets, creating infrastructure, and preparing its citizens to be able to create and take advantage of jobs of the future. To do that, we are working with closely with Bhutan to build the foundations for a more prosperous future through the cultivation of a vibrant private sector economy and supporting green development.

At the same time, Bhutan has invested generously in hydropower energy production to create a reliable and lasting source of green energy for its people. It also benefits from exporting excess electricity to neighboring India, whose energy needs continue to increase at a rapid pace with their growing economy.

In large part due to the hydropower investments, Bhutan’s public debt was 107 percent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) as of March 2017. Hydropower external debt was at 77 percent of GDP with non-hydropower external debt accounting for 22 percent of GDP. Questions have arisen on whether this level of debt is sustainable and what should be done to address it.

by · Monday, 24 July 2017 · Bhutan, India
How much should Bhutan worry about debt?

How much should Bhutan worry about debt?

Construction of the Dagachhu Hydropower Plant in Bhutan. Photo Credit: Asian Development Bank

In many respects, Bhutan has been a development success story. Its people have benefitted from decades of sharp reductions in poverty combined with impressive improvements in health and education. The country is a global model in environmental conservation. It is the first carbon negative country; Bhutan’s forests, which cover over 70% of the country, absorb more carbon dioxide than is produced by its emissions.

The Kingdom of Happiness also must grapple with the reality of managing budgets, creating infrastructure, and preparing its citizens to be able to create and take advantage of jobs of the future. To do that, we are working with closely with Bhutan to build the foundations for a more prosperous future through the cultivation of a vibrant private sector economy and supporting green development.

At the same time, Bhutan has invested generously in hydropower energy production to create a reliable and lasting source of green energy for its people. It also benefits from exporting excess electricity to neighboring India, whose energy needs continue to increase at a rapid pace with their growing economy.

In large part due to the hydropower investments, Bhutan’s public debt was 107 percent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) as of March 2017. Hydropower external debt was at 77 percent of GDP with non-hydropower external debt accounting for 22 percent of GDP. Questions have arisen on whether this level of debt is sustainable and what should be done to address it.

by · Monday, 24 July 2017 · Bhutan, India

WATCH | US State Dept: PH ranks with Iraq, Afghanistan, India, Pakistan in terrorism incidence

Abella elaborated that terrorist in the country was not solely an issue of theology, but is also rooted in poverty: “We recognize that poverty in Mindanao …

by · Thursday, 20 July 2017 · Afghanistan, India, Iraq, Pakistan, Philippines

WATCH | US State Dept: PH ranks with Iraq, Afghanistan, India, Pakistan in terrorism incidence

Abella elaborated that terrorist in the country was not solely an issue of theology, but is also rooted in poverty: “We recognize that poverty in Mindanao …

by · Thursday, 20 July 2017 · Afghanistan, India, Iraq, Pakistan, Philippines

Palace: Poverty in Mindanao spawns terrorism

Of the 104 countries that were attacked by terrorists, 55 percent of these took place in Iraq, Afghanistan, India, Pakistan, and the Philippines.

by · Thursday, 20 July 2017 · Afghanistan, India, Iraq, Pakistan, Philippines
The future of Thai railways: 5 fundamental questions

The future of Thai railways: 5 fundamental questions

Train at Hualumphong station in Bangkok, Thailand. Photo: Seksan Pipattanatikanunt

Good public transportation can fundamentally improve people’s lives. It can give people more access to economic opportunities, increase productivity, and boost growth. Every day, people use public transportation to go to work, send children to schools, or visit families and relatives in the provinces. Many of these trips happen by rail.
 
Although Thailand’s rails are small compared to other modes of transport, almost 40 million people make trips on intercity railways and 200 million trips on urban railways each year.
 
How are Thailand’s railways doing? Recent analysis by the World Bank’s Thailand Systematic Country Diagnostic report identify gaps in infrastructure, including railways, as an important factor undermining competitiveness especially in the greater Bangkok region, the heart of Thai manufacturing and exports. Old, single tracks with locomotives from the 1960s, and some of the latest ones from the 1990s, have gone past their efficient life and may result in safety issues. There are over 100 derailment accidents and more than 150 railway/personal vehicle accidents each year.
 
Still, Thailand remains an attractive investment destination, and good public infrastructure reforms are beginning to help improve the logistics systems for businesses. One of these reforms is to improve and modernize the railway sector so that freight transportation costs are reduced, levels of service are better, and overall transportation costs are low. These investments have the potential to address key transport bottlenecks that currently impede investment and economic growth.
 
The experiences in many countries show that there is no one-size-fits-all solution to successful railway reform. International experience, including from countries such as India and Poland, suggests a common framework that can help identify customized solutions for a particular country. We found that asking these five questions work all over the world when one thinks about railway reform.
 
The starting question is always what or whom will the railway carry, and how will it add service to people and value to the economy? Trains could be carrying intercity passengers, tourists, minerals, agricultural products or other containers. Railways, with their high, initial fixed investment and low incremental cost for any one additional passenger or ton of freight, can be highlight efficient when there is a steady flow of passengers or goods, and when congestion costs are high. A World Bank study in 2014 estimated that the cost of traffic congestion in Kuala Lumpur can be as high as 1.1-2.2% of GDP. For Thailand, improving urban transportation can help save money and time for more productive activities.
 
Secondly, what needs to change for the railway to be competitive? It might mean improving services so that it’s faster, more reliable, cleaner and comfortable. Maybe the price needs to be lower, which is only possible if the cost structure of the railway is reduced. Many of Thailand’s poor and elderly people, especially in rural areas, rely on mini-vans and cars to travel as they cover a much wider route and is more reliable than trains which doesn’t always come on time or often gets delayed. Improving train services and speed can help make travelling by rail the option of choice for Thailand.
 
The third question is what are the technical solutions that would make the railway market competitive and financially viable? Factors to consider could be changing a scheduled train operation to improve reliability, downsizing the labor force to reduce costs, focusing on urban and rural areas that need it most and reducing coverage area if needed, or getting public or private investors to subsidize costs. In Australia, a tourist overnight train was introduced to capture the tourism market. Similarly, the State Railway of Thailand, may consider enhancing intercity lines with schedules to serve people better.
 
As railway reform programs take shape, another question to ask is whether and how it will be financially sustainable. If it’s not financially sustainable, how best to make it so. While some of the intercity rail routes in Thailand are sustainable, many are making losses. The intention to make transport affordable for people is laudable, railways can only offer good services in the long run with clear agreements on routes, timetables, pricing, and the level of subsidy. In Poland, while the railway sector has been privatized, a clear agreement has helped to clarify how much support from the government is needed to keep rates affordable. 
 
The last question and probably the most important one is how to implement railway reform? Or asked a different way, what stands in the way of reform now, and how to change that? Some possible options for Thailand may include improving the railway sector governance by clarifying the relationship between the government and the railway companies. Strengthening state-owned enterprises can also help as they account for 30-40 percent of total public investments in Thailand. Introducing competition and engaging the private sector more can mobilize long-term private capital needed for funding well-structured infrastructure projects.
 
Thailand is already taking promising initial steps in railway reforms and public infrastructure investments with dual tracking of existing rail system and modernizing the signaling systems. These public investments can help crowd in further private investment and lift Thailand’s potential growth. Continuing efforts to modernize Thailand’s railway sector will be critical to improving people’s lives and connecting lagging regions to more and better opportunities.
 
A version of this blog appeared in the Bangkok Post.

by · Tuesday, 11 July 2017 · Australia, India, Thailand
A path toward better health for India’s women

A path toward better health for India’s women

In India, Members of a self-help group (SHG) like this one discuss women’s  health issues with female health workers. Credit: World Bank

A little over six years ago, Neelam Kushwaha’s first daughter was born weighing 900 gm at birth, severely underweight. Neelam went into labor while working at the local construction site in Jori village, Rewa, Madhya Pradesh, India. Many people work at such local construction sites in rural areas for daily wages ranging from INR 150-280 (about $2- 4$) per day. Her daughter Manvi, was preterm, and Neelam spent months recovering from child birth complications.

Three years later, when Neelam was pregnant with her younger daughter, Sakshi, she quit wage labor and sought employment at an incense manufacturing unit established by World Bank’s Madhya Pradesh District Poverty Intervention Project (MPDPIP) in 2011. At her new role, she earned more and did not engage in labor intensive work during the final months of her pregnancy. Sakshi was born a healthy 3 kilos.

In the course of my field work supported by South Asia Food and Nutrition Security Initiative (SAFANSI) in 2015, I came across several similar stories.

MPDPIP’s livelihood based approach offered several opportunities towards income supplementation for women self-help groups (SHGs) and rural households through agriculture, dairy/poultry farming and local enterprises, among others.

As evident by Neelam’s experience, MPDPIP’s benefits went beyond income and spilled over into health improvement as well.

I learnt that prior to MPDPIP, childbirth in hospitals was difficult due to prohibitively high costs of travel and hospital stay. Pre-existing government schemes such as the Janani Suraksha Yojana (JSY) offer about INR 1,400 ($20) to rural women who opt for hospital deliveries. However, this payment occurs post-partum, and pre-delivery costs have to be borne upfront by pregnant women.

Post MPDPIP, women were able to opt for hospital deliveries with greater ease due to access to credit from their SHGs. This is particularly relevant for Madhya Pradesh as it has consistently fared poorly with respect to institutional deliveries.

by · Wednesday, 5 July 2017 · India
A path toward better health for India’s women

A path toward better health for India’s women

In India, Members of a self-help group (SHG) like this one discuss women’s  health issues with female health workers. Credit: World Bank

A little over six years ago, Neelam Kushwaha’s first daughter was born weighing 900 gm at birth, severely underweight. Neelam went into labor while working at the local construction site in Jori village, Rewa, Madhya Pradesh, India. Many people work at such local construction sites in rural areas for daily wages ranging from INR 150-280 (about $2- 4$) per day. Her daughter Manvi, was preterm, and Neelam spent months recovering from child birth complications.

Three years later, when Neelam was pregnant with her younger daughter, Sakshi, she quit wage labor and sought employment at an incense manufacturing unit established by World Bank’s Madhya Pradesh District Poverty Intervention Project (MPDPIP) in 2011. At her new role, she earned more and did not engage in labor intensive work during the final months of her pregnancy. Sakshi was born a healthy 3 kilos.

In the course of my field work supported by South Asia Food and Nutrition Security Initiative (SAFANSI) in 2015, I came across several similar stories.

MPDPIP’s livelihood based approach offered several opportunities towards income supplementation for women self-help groups (SHGs) and rural households through agriculture, dairy/poultry farming and local enterprises, among others.

As evident by Neelam’s experience, MPDPIP’s benefits went beyond income and spilled over into health improvement as well.

I learnt that prior to MPDPIP, childbirth in hospitals was difficult due to prohibitively high costs of travel and hospital stay. Pre-existing government schemes such as the Janani Suraksha Yojana (JSY) offer about INR 1,400 ($20) to rural women who opt for hospital deliveries. However, this payment occurs post-partum, and pre-delivery costs have to be borne upfront by pregnant women.

Post MPDPIP, women were able to opt for hospital deliveries with greater ease due to access to credit from their SHGs. This is particularly relevant for Madhya Pradesh as it has consistently fared poorly with respect to institutional deliveries.

by · Wednesday, 5 July 2017 · India