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Office of the Chief Economist, South Asia Region

South Asia Economic Focus Spring 2023 April 4, 2023

Expanding Opportunities: Toward Inclusive Growth

South Asia’s outlook is shaped by both good and bad news in the global economy. Lower commodity prices, a strong recovery in the services sector, and reduced disruptions in value chains are aiding South Asia’s recovery but rising interest rates and uncertainty in financial markets are putting downward pressure on the region’s economies. Going forward, broad reform programs are needed to put South Asia on a more robust and inclusive growth path. Inequality of opportunity, which is higher in South Asia than in other regions of the world, is both unfair and inefficient. Reducing inequality of opportunity and increasing economic mobility will help broaden countries’ tax base and boost support from the population for the critical reforms.

REPORT December 14, 2022

Striving for Clean Air: Air Pollution and Public Health in South Asia

Nine out of the world’s 10 cities with the worst air pollution are in South Asia. Concentrations of fine particulate matter (PM 2.5) in some of the region’s most densely populated and poor areas are up to 20 times higher than what WHO considers healthy (5 µg/mᶾ). It causes an estimated 2 million premature deaths in the region each year and incurs significant economic costs. Air pollution travels long distances in South Asia and gets trapped in large “airsheds” that are shaped by climatology and geography. This report identifies six major airsheds in the region, analyzes four scenarios to reduce air pollution, and offers a roadmap for airshed-wide air quality management.

REPORT November 10, 2022

Hidden Potential: Rethinking Informality in South Asia

Informality remains widespread in South Asia. Being associated with low earnings and high vulnerability, informality is a major development issue. Yet, there is no consensus on its causes and consequences, with the debate polarized between a view that informality is a problem of regulatory evasion and should be eradicated, and another which equates informality with economic exclusion, blaming a small group of privileged insiders as the main cause for the backwardness of the informal outsiders.


The 10th South Asia Economic Policy Network Conference on Migration in South Asia

The World Bank, the Institute for Integrated Development Studies (IIDS) and the South Asia Economic Policy Network are organizing the “Migration in South Asia” conference on 7-8 November, 2022. Join our two days of hybrid sessions featuring paper presentations, a keynote lecture, policy and expert panel discussions, and a short presentation on the main findings of the World Bank’s South Asia Economic Focus Fall 2022


Hope Over Fate: Fazle Hasan Abed and the Science of Ending Global Poverty

The Office of the Chief Economist for South Asia invites you to join the book launch of Scott MacMillan's Hope Over Fate: Fazle Hasan Abed and the Science of Ending Global Poverty. The untold story of BRAC and its influential founder, it is also the biography of an idea—the idea that hope itself has the power to overcome poverty. “For too long, people thought poverty was something ordained by a higher power, as immutable as the sun and the moon,” Abed wrote in 2018. His life’s mission was to put that myth to rest.

BLOG July 27, 2022

A price tag on carbon can improve lives across South Asia, combat climate change

The area of climate change mitigation and carbon taxation is fraught with complexities, especially for South Asia. Debates on who should share the burden of mitigating climate change seem to suggest that it is unfair to impose carbon taxes on developing countries. After all, most of these countries emit but a small fraction of the existing greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, even as they face the severest challenges from climate change.

The Office of the Chief Economist in the South Asia Region (SARCE) aims to generate knowledge on policy and institutional reforms in South Asia. It provides guidance on strategic priorities and the most pressing development issues facing the region through rigorous economic analysis in the form of research articles and reports.

This mission is accomplished through analysis that challenges conventional wisdom, takes on new, topical and controversial issues, and provides cross-sectoral and region-wide analysis. SARCE supports the initiative to foster a community of economists interested in South Asia, within the World Bank and on the continent.

SARCE translates its research priorities into the following activities, or research pillars, that produce various forward-looking analysis, foster debates and dialogues, and suggest testable experiments, in addition to its up-to-date continuous economic monitoring and support to Global Practices within the Bank. 

  • Win-win-win solutions: Vested interests of advanced economies have for too long characterized climate change solutions. A developing-country perspective on climate change starts with the need to grow more, grow clean, and to build resilience. This activity automatically focuses the discussion on conditions for sustainable growth.
  • The interplay between public and private sector: This activity focusses on answering questions such as how can the need for maximizing development finance be balanced with the need to limit contingent liabilities; to what extent is it feasible and desirable to privatize utilities and what is the impact on consumer fees; and analyze how disruptive technologies can be used to increase energy access and change the interplay between public and private sector.
  • Informality: This activity examines the challenges of raising productivity and reducing vulnerability in the informal sector. It looks at how new digital technologies can help informal firms get better access to markets, how innovative programs can help informal workers build resilience and how institutional change can create a more level playing field between the formal and informal sectors.  
  • Social divides and norms: disparities across gender, opportunity, location in South Asia: Countries in the region are affected by insufficient intergenerational mobility, low female labor force participation, and stark spatial economic gaps. These entrenched disparities – part of what is usually labelled inequality of opportunity – erode cohesion, political stability and negatively impact long term prospects. The goal of our research under this pillar is to pave the way toward a more inclusive and sustainable development in South Asia. This will be achieved by informing policy choices so that they can be more effective in relieving the damage of the pandemic and in breaking with long-term trends of poverty and inequality. 

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