South Asia

India © Mohamad Al Arief/World Bank
South Asia remains the world’s fastest-growing region although capital inflows declined, inflation has been on the rise, and remittances from oil-exporting countries started to weaken. Economic growth rose to 7.0 percent in 2015, up from 6.8 percent in 2014, and is projected to accelerate to 7.1 percent in 2016 and 7.2 percent in 2017. Growth was especially strong in India, which continues to lead in performance among large emerging market economies.

Strong growth has translated into declining poverty and impressive improvements in human development. The proportion of people living on less than $1.90 a day was estimated at 18.8 percent as of 2012. Hundreds of millions still live slightly above the poverty line; however, more than 200 million live in slums, and about 500 million go without electricity. In addition, many countries in the region suffer from extreme forms of social exclusion and huge infrastructure gaps, and the larger countries are experiencing increases in inequality. Development in the region will be key to meeting global poverty and prosperity goals.

World Bank assistance

The Bank delivered 37 projects totaling $8.4 billion in fiscal 2016, including $3.6 billion in IBRD loans and $4.7 billion in IDA commitments, of which $100 million was from the IDA Scale-up Facility. Lending included such transformational operations as the $1.5 billion Swachh Bharat Mission Support Operation, which seeks to end open defecation in India; a $920 million package of IDA and IBRD funding that supports competitiveness and structural reform in Pakistan; the $360 million Bangladesh Regional Waterway Transport Project; and the $250 million Trans-Hindukush Road Connectivity Project in Afghanistan. The Bank also delivered 166 analytical and advisory services and approved 10 large Recipient-Executed Trust Fund (RETF) operations, $500 million of which went to Afghanistan.

Focusing on the drivers of sustainable growth

Sustainable growth of more than 7 percent a year is needed in South Asia if the region is to meet its goals by 2030. To help it do so, the Bank’s regional strategy focuses on private sector development (emphasizing infrastructure, job creation, and urbanization); social and financial inclusion (emphasizing labor force participation and gender); governance and security; and enhanced regional cooperation. The Afghanistan Trans-Hindukush Road Connectivity Project, the India Bihar Transformative Development Project, and the Pakistan Power Sector Reform Development Policy Credit are examples of operations aligned with these pillars.

Adopting a new Regional Gender Action Plan

This year the Bank adopted a new Regional Gender Action Plan for South Asia covering fiscal years 2016–20. It prioritizes closing gender gaps and improving human capital outcomes, spurring economic empowerment, and giving women voice and agency. The cornerstone of the plan is efforts to increase female labor force participation rates; create more and higher-skill jobs for women; and make finance, trade, and private enterprise more inclusive of women. The $290 million Bihar Transformative Development Project in India will mobilize women from the poorest households in self-help groups and federations so that they can gain access to formal credits, join farmer producer groups, and increase household savings.

Addressing global climate change

South Asia is the recipient of more than 33 percent of the Bank’s lending addressing climate change and 40 percent of its lending for disaster risk management. A $113 million Weather and Climate Services Regional Project, for example, aims to increase Bangladesh’s capacity to deliver reliable weather, water, and climate information services by strengthening hydrometeorological monitoring and forecasting and improving early warning systems. Bank support will enhance agro-meteorological services to farmers in order to increase their productivity and help them to cope with weather and climate extremes.

Supporting jobs, improving governance and security

The $100 million Punjab Jobs and Competitiveness Program for Results for Pakistan seeks to improve the business environment and support high-potential industrial clusters in Punjab. The $75 million Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) Temporarily Displaced Persons Emergency Recovery Project is supporting the recovery of families affected by the security crisis in these areas, promoting child health, and strengthening emergency safety net delivery systems. The $41 million Second Public Financial Management Reform Project is strengthening Afghanistan’s procurement, treasury, and audit systems.

Producing cutting-edge knowledge

The Bank published several important reports this fiscal year. Leveraging Urbanization in South Asia: Managing Spatial Transformation for Prosperity and Livability argues that the inadequate provision of housing, infrastructure, and basic urban services, as well as a failure to deal with pollution, are constraining the potential of the region’s cities to fully realize the benefits of agglomeration. Stitches to Riches? Apparel Employment, Trade, and Economic Development in South Asia investigates the potential for expanding and improving jobs in the labor-intensive apparel sector.

The Bank held a South-South Knowledge Exchange forum in Beijing in November 2015. Delegations from South Asia shared lessons from Pakistan’s Benazir Income Support Program and from BRA C’s Manoshi program in Bangladesh for maternal, newborn, and child health, which was implemented in urban slums. Extensive knowledge exchange also took place in the energy sector.

Further Information: World Bank's South Asia Region homepage »

Improving road connectivity in Afghanistan

Afghanistan suffers from significant transportation infrastructure gaps in terms of connectivity and accessibility. The total length of Afghanistan’s road network is about 123,000 kilometers, but nearly 80 percent are not all-season roads, meaning that during some seasons, weather conditions can make them impassable. In addition, about 63 percent of the population is more than 2 kilometers away from an all-season road. These gaps result in the relative isolation of parts of the country and negatively affect regional and internal integration and trade. More than 90 percent of freight and almost 85 percent of intercity passenger traffic in the country is carried by roads.

To help realize the region’s development potential and alleviate these transportation challenges, the $250 million Trans-Hindukush Road Connectivity Project is helping to develop existing mountain crossings into dependable, all-season roads. Currently, there are only two road crossings over the Hindukush mountain range: the Salang highway, which carries most of the cross-Hindukush traffic, and an unpaved secondary crossing between Baghlan and Bamiyan. The project will carry out civil works for the upgrading of 152 kilometers of the Baghlan-to-Bamiyan road to a paved road, as well as the rehabilitation of 87 kilometers of the Salang road and tunnel. It will allow passengers and goods to cross the Hindukush mountain range throughout the year—a vital transportation need.

Regional Commitments and Disbursements for Fiscal 2014-16

  Commitments (millions) Disbursements (millions)
  Fiscal 2014 Fiscal 2015 Fiscal 2016 Fiscal 2014 Fiscal 2015 Fiscal 2016
IBRD $ 2,077 $ 2,098 $ 3,640 $ 1,165
$ 1,266 $ 1,623
IDA $ 8,458 $ 5,762 $ 4,723 $ 4,271 $ 3,919 $ 4,462
Note: Portfolio of projects under implementation as of June 30, 2016: $48.5 billion.




Indicator 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015
Total population (millions) 1,652 1,675 1,698 1,721 1,744
Population growth (annual %) 1.4 1.4 1.4 1.4 1.3
GNI per capita (Atlas method, current US$) 1,318 1,417 1,454 1,496 1,533
GDP per capita growth (annual %) 4.8 4.2 4.8 5.4 5.8
Population living below $1.90 a day (millions) 362 309 - - -
Life expectancy at birth, females (years) 68 69 69 70 -
Life expectancy at birth, males (years) 66 66 66 67 -
Youth literacy rate, females (% ages 15-24) 79 79 79 79 -
Youth literacy rate, males (% ages 15-24) 87 87 87 87 -
Carbon dioxide emissions (megatons) 2,328 - - - -
Monitoring the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)
SDG 1.1 Extreme poverty (% population below $1.90 a day, 2011 PPP) 22.2 18.8 - - -
SDG 2.2 Prevalence of stunting, height for age (% children under 5) - - - 37 -
SDG 3.1 Maternal mortality ratio (modeled estimate, per 100,000 live births) 218 208 198 189 182
SDG 3.2 Under-5 mortality rate (per 1,000 live births) 62 59 57 55 53
SDG 4.1 Primary completion rate (% relevant age group) 90 91 - - -
SDG 5 Ratio of female to male labor force participation rate (modeled ILO estimates, %) 39 39 39 39 -
SDG 5.5 Proportion of seats held by women in national parliaments (% total) 20 20 20 19 19
SDG 6.1 Access to safe drinking water (% population with access) 90 91 91 92 92
SDG 6.2 Access to basic sanitation facilities (% population with access) 41 42 43 44 45
SDG 7.1 Access to electricity (% population) - 78 - - -
SDG 7.2 Renewable energy consumption (% total final energy consumption) 42 41 - - -
SDG 17.8 Individuals using the Internet (% population) 9 12 14 19 24

 ILO = International Labour Organization; PPP = purchasing power parity; - = not available. Visit for data updates.