South Asia’s GDP is expected to grow 6.8 percent in 2022 and 5.8 percent in 2023. But the impacts of the war in Ukraine have weakened this recovery—which was already uneven and fragile—contributing to inflation, deterioration of current account balances, and rising debt. Poverty rates are expected to recover in line with economic growth—the number of poor people living on $3.20 a day or less across the region is forecast to range between 615 million and 704 million in 2022, which is lower than in 2019, before the pandemic.
South Asia is highly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change and natural disasters. More than half of the region’s population—750 million people—were affected by at least one climate-related disaster over the past two decades. Inequality exacerbates these impacts, as poor, vulnerable, and marginalized people bear the highest burden of these shocks and have the fewest means to recover.
World Bank assistance
The World Bank approved $9.0 billion in lending to the region for 44 operations in fiscal 2022, including $4.8 billion in IBRD commitments and $4.2 billion in IDA commitments. We also approved 33 advisory services and analytical products for eight countries, totaling $6 million. These provided technical advice on issues such as pandemic preparedness and vaccination, debt management, job creation, female labor force participation, air pollution, disaster risk management, and climate resilience.
In South Asia, we are focused on accelerating investments in human capital to drive inclusive development; promoting green growth; and strengthening resilience across the economy, markets, and society.
Responding to crises
We continue to support the people of Afghanistan following the August 2021 political crisis through the multidonor Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund. This finances projects that support community livelihoods, food security, and primary health care, with a focus on women and girls. These projects are implemented by UN agencies and international nongovernmental organizations. We also moved quickly to support the people of Sri Lanka through the worst economic crisis in decades by reallocating financing from existing projects to meet emergency needs in health, social protection, agriculture, and energy.
Accelerating investments in human capital
Despite major progress, South Asia faces large and persistent human capital deficits. These have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 crisis, which has slowed progress or wiped out gains entirely. On average, children born in the region today can expect to attain only 48 percent of their full potential. To address these gaps, we are helping strengthen health systems, expand access to primary care, and build stronger social protection systems that are targeted and responsive in the wake of shocks. We also support education policies that ensure learning for all, build skills for future needs, and improve access to labor markets.
In India, a $125 million project is helping the state of West Bengal develop a consolidated social registry that will expand coverage and access to social assistance for poor and vulnerable groups. In Pakistan, we are supporting a series of operations at the federal and provincial levels to improve primary health and education outcomes, boost livelihoods, deepen targeted social safety nets, and strengthen crisis preparedness.
Despite decades of economic growth, rising education, and declining fertility (though still high compared with the rest of the region), Pakistani women still face significant barriers to opportunity. Our program in Pakistan supports policy reforms to improve women’s economic participation by extending access to fair wages and social security for informal home-based workers, most of them women; improving access to child care, separate toilets, and transportation for women workers in the formal sector; achieving equal pay; and ending sex-based discrimination. Our analytical work explores how countries in the region can help tackle barriers to women’s labor force participation and boost the quality of jobs in both the formal and informal sectors.
Building resilience across the economy
We help countries unlock new sources of opportunity, growth, and jobs by supporting private sector–led solutions, better debt and investment transparency, access to markets and credit for SMEs, and digital transformation. Our research examines ways that countries can move away from manufacturing-led growth toward a services-led development model that strengthens long-term resilience.
In Bangladesh, we are helping build a stronger fiscal and financial sector, modernize taxes, and foster a globally competitive export industry. We are also supporting cash transfer platforms that can respond faster to extreme climate events, such as floods and cyclones. In Nepal, a $150 million operation is helping increase financial sector stability, diversify financial solutions, expand access to financial services, and open up capital, insurance, and disaster-risk financing markets. It also supports policy measures that introduce principles and incentives for green lending.
Promoting green growth
About 80 percent of South Asia’s major cities are exposed to floods, and rising sea levels pose storm surge risks for low-lying, densely populated coastal areas. Water and food systems are particularly stressed—more variable rainfall and higher temperatures are causing water scarcity, reducing crop productivity, and affecting food prices, nutrition, and farmers’ livelihoods. The changing climate could sharply diminish living conditions for up to 800 million people across the region.
In fiscal 2022, we launched our South Asia Climate Roadmap to help countries address climate risks, deliver more and better jobs, and reduce poverty by leveraging opportunities for climate action. This includes shifting to more efficient and livable cities, investing in clean energy systems, and promoting climate-smart agriculture. In Bangladesh, a $120 million project is helping protect crops and fisheries through better flood management as well as climate-smart irrigation and drainage; these efforts are promoting food security, boosting livelihoods, and improving productivity. In Sri Lanka, a $92 million project is modernizing forecasting for weather, floods, and landslides; improving early warning systems; and investing in flood-resilient infrastructure, benefiting more than 11 million people. And in Bhutan, we are strengthening resilience to climate change and natural disasters through an innovative risk assessment that will inform investments in agriculture and road construction.
Promoting regional integration and cooperation
We promote regional cooperation to improve economic connectivity, climate resilience, and human development. Our Regional Investment Pioneers in South Asia report analyzes barriers to intraregional investments and recommends policy actions, and our report on South Asia’s Digital Opportunity explores how digital transformation offers pathways to a more robust regional economy.
In Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, and Nepal, we are supporting the rehabilitation of 3,500 km of inland waterways and interlinking them with roads and railways. We also launched a multiphase program to accelerate transport and trade connectivity in the eastern part of the region, with an initial investment of over $1.1 billion in Bangladesh and Nepal. Our Climate Innovation Challenge and the TechEmerge Resilience India Program support pilot solutions to address climate needs and boost disaster resilience. We also engage through regional forums for collective action, including WePower, a network of women professionals in the energy and power sectors, and the South Asia HydroMet Forum, a platform to improve weather information and climate services.
Further Information: South Asia Homepage >
Regional Commitments and Disbusements for Fiscal 2020–22
| ||COMMITMENTS ($ MILLIONS)||DISBURSEMENTS ($ MILLIONS)|
|Portfolio of operations under implementation as of June 30, 2022: $57.4 billion.|
SPOTLIGHT: Helping Bangladesh protect against rising seas and a changing climate
Once a country with catastrophic death tolls from cyclones, Bangladesh has become a world leader in coastal resilience, achieving impressive economic growth while boosting preparedness against storms that pummel its coast with growing frequency. Situated at the head of the Bay of Bengal—a magnet for cyclones and a storm surge amplifier—this river-delta nation of 165 million people now has a network of shelters, an early warning system that can quickly evacuate millions of people, and embankments that protect over 6,000 km of vulnerable coastline.
To assist these efforts, the Bank helped build and rehabilitate over 1,000 shelters to protect more than 1.2 million people during cyclones, as well as 550 km of paved roads that improve access for surrounding villages. The shelters serve as primary schools in regular weather and can withstand winds of over 260 km an hour. Behind brightly painted classroom murals are walls made of reinforced concrete; floors below are designed to hold more than a thousand people, with space also for livestock. In addition, solar panels and rainwater receptacles ensure a supply of electricity and water. Outside of the cyclone season, these facilities are a vibrant community focal point, serving as meeting places, polling stations, and medical offices. They include accessibility ramps for people with disabilities.
We also supported Bangladesh’s Cyclone Preparedness Program, an early warning system with more than 76,000 volunteers who are trained in disaster preparation, half of them women. In thousands of remote communities along the coastline and inland, the volunteers can access up-to-date forecasting and help usher households to the shelters, as when Cyclone Yaas made landfall in May 2021. Bangladesh has also strengthened its system of 139 coastal polders, or dikes, which provide a first line of defense. Since 2013, the Bank has helped rehabilitate over 700 km of embankments, along with drainage networks and protective infrastructure, to safeguard against storm and tidal surges, saline intrusion, and coastal erosion.
As chair of the 48-member Climate Vulnerable Forum for 2020–22, Bangladesh is helping map out a sustainable and resilient pathway for countries that are vulnerable to climate change. Under the Bangladesh Delta Plan 2100, the government committed in 2018 to investing 2.5 percent of the country’s GDP annually, about $6 billion, to shore up resilience and promote social and economic development. In November 2021, Bangladesh also launched the world’s first-ever Climate Prosperity Plan to enhance resilience, grow the economy, create jobs, and boost renewable energy. The country’s success in building resilience is saving countless lives, and it offers a roadmap for long-term investments in adaptation, community mobilization, and disaster preparedness.
|Total population (millions)||1,391||1,639||1,878|
|Population growth (annual %)||1.9||1.4||1.1|
|GNI per capita (Atlas method, current US$)||445||1,147||2,104|
|GDP per capita growth (annual %)||2.2||5.9||7.1|
|Population living below $1.90 a day (millions)||577b||425||262|
|Life expectancy at birth, females (years)||64||68||71|
|Life expectancy at birth, males (years)||62||66||69|
|Carbon dioxide emissions (megatons)||1,073||1,877||2,784|
|Extreme poverty (% of population below $1.90 a day, 2011 PPP)||39.6b||25.9||15.2|
|Debt service as a proportion of exports of goods, services, and primary income||17||7||16|
|Ratio of female to male labor force participation rate (%) (modeled ILO estimate)||37||34||31|
|Vulnerable employment, total (% of total employment) (modeled ILO estimate)||80||78||69|
|Under-5 mortality rate per 1,000 live births||93||62||39|
|Primary completion rate (% of relevant age group)||69||87||92|
|Individuals using the internet (% of population)||0||7||39|
|Access to electricity (% of population)||56||73||96|
|Renewable energy consumption (% of total final energy consumption)||49||39||36|
|People using at least basic sanitation services (% of population)||18||43||69|
|People using at least basic drinking water services (% of population)||82||86||91|
Note: ILO = International Labour Organization; PPP = purchasing power parity.
a. The most current data available between 2014 and 2021; visit http://data.worldbank.org for data updates.
b. 2002 data. For poverty estimates, see the regional groups on https://pip.worldbank.org.