The defining images of South Asia’s battle against Covid-19 are hundreds of thousands of migrants, many with children on their shoulders, trudging from New Delhi, Kathmandu or Dhaka to their far-flung villages. They are daily wage earners engaged in construction, small enterprises, plying rickshaws or street selling in the informal sector. With lockdowns and economic activity shut down to combat the virus, these migrants lost their low-paying jobs and were forced to flee to their rural homes. Those who remained in these cities face food insecurity, rising joblessness and risk falling deeper into poverty.
The exigencies of combatting the coronavirus pandemic on a war-footing -- Prime Minister Narendra Modi has announced a nationwide stay-at-home lockdown for 21 days to break the chain of transmission -- has certainly deflected attention from equally pressing challenges confronting India. The nation’s capital witnessed horrific communal violence when the US President was visiting India, triggering international outrage, including from the South. The economy also deserves attention as growth has been decelerating since 2016-17. With the virus shock, the pace of expansion will contract as the economy shuts down and slides into recession.
Brazil is one of the world’s largest producers and exporters of coffee, sugar, beef, soya, cotton, and ethanol but due to its environmental and water footprint it ranks low on sustainability. Brazilian agriculture’s contribution to the loss of rainforest is a case in point – the Amazon lost as much as 3,465 square miles of forest due to fires last year – triggering widespread international outrage over the lax environment policies that allowed all of this to happen. Its large commercial cattle herd is also a source of greenhouse gas emissions. Brazil’s challenge is to make its model of agricultural development more environment-friendly.
Paradoxically, when the number of people suffering from undernourishment or hunger has risen in the world, so, too, have those afflicted by overweight and obesity. Latin America’s second largest economy, Mexico, for instance, is currently battling one of the world’s largest epidemics of obesity and its success is bound to be emulated by countries of the South. The numbers involved are staggering. The director-general of the National Institute of Public Health, Dr Juan Rivera told the Financial Times that “seventy five percent of adults and 35 percent of children and adolescents are overweight or obese… The State has a duty to protect public health.”
Thanks to tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran, major oil producers couldn’t come to an agreement in Doha to freeze their output to January levels to raise oil prices. The current low oil prices have a lot to do with the grim outlook for global economic growth while supply is growing. China, the second largest economy in the world, is slowing down. Not surprisingly, global oil demand is much lower at 94.8 million barrels a day vis-à-vis supply of 96.3 million barrels a day in the first quarter of 2016 according to the International Energy Agency.
For the first time, an all-female flight crew recently operated a Royal Brunei Airlines jet from Brunei to Jeddah in Saudi Arabia. Such a feat certainly appears noteworthy in a country where gender segregation is pervasive. When women are still not permitted to drive a car; where there are separate entrances for men and women in banks, is there a possibility of an all-female crew operating a Saudi Airlines plane from Jeddah to Brunei? Not immediately, as there are disturbing signs that the limited gains on the gender front might face reversals.
The steep fall in global oil prices has hit Gulf economies severely. Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates (UAE), Qatar, Bahrain are expected to run huge budget deficits as shrinking revenues from selling cheaper oil cannot fund their mounting expenditures. As they tighten their belts, the brunt of adjustment will be felt by migrants, who constitute the bulk of the labour force. Reforms include cutting fuel, power, water, education subsidies and a value-added tax (VAT). This will affect migrants and reports indicate family members are returning home.
South Asian integration remains a distant dream as some member countries like Nepal resent India’s big brotherly dominance in the region. They perceive that they have no stakes in India’s rise as an economic power. Ensuring unrestricted market access perhaps would have made a big difference in this regard. Their resentment has only deepened as this hasn’t happened. Instead they have registered growing trade deficits with India! The on-going travails of the Himalayan kingdom vis-a-vis India exemplify the problematic nature of integration in a region that accounts for 44 per cent of the world’s poor and one-fourth of its’ population.
The crash in oil prices is not the only challenge confronting the Gulf States in West Asia. Economic disorder and lack of opportunity are contributing to instability in the region, stated Bahrain’s minister for industry, commerce and tourism, Zayed Al Zayani, while kicking off the recent IISS Bahrain Bay Forum. He emphasized the need for “unprecedented” economic reform across the Gulf in the wake of the lower oil revenues. These policies include the generation of millions of jobs for the youth in these economies that continue to depend heavily on expatriate labour from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Philippines.
With Goldman Sachs folding up its haemorrhaging BRIC fund, is it curtains for the acronym that defined the investment bankers’ fancy for emerging markets? It certainly appears so after China’s stock market crash and a fast slowing economy triggered fears that the dragon will set off the next global recession.
Times are a-changing for Bihar, a state popularly described as a state of mind. The recent elections have brought back Nitish Kumar as the chief minister for the fifth time. Since his first innings as a developmental CM from 2005, he has transformed Bihar from being an archetype of India’s backwardness to one of its fastest growing states. Besides improving governance, he has also politically empowered women in that benighted state. Not surprisingly, the women’s vote was decisive for his electoral success. He now has the historic opportunity to shift gears towards sustainable gender-based development.
Delhi’s shame is that it’s the rape capital of India. The recent brutal rape of minors only underscores the tragic fact that nothing has changed since December 16, 2012 when a 23-year old physiotherapy student was gang-raped in a moving bus and triggered a nationwide outrage.
Reflecting President Barack Obama’s pivot to Asia, the US, Japan and 10 other Pacific Rim nations have inked a Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement. This is the largest mega free trade agreement (FTA) in two decades and represents 40 per cent of the global economy.
The third India-Africa Forum Summit to be held in New Delhi later this month – in which 54 African countries will participaate – is expected to result in a deeper engagement between India and Africa. This summit takes place at a time when both need each other more than ever before. Both remain bright spots in a bleak and blighted growth landscape. Out of 189 countries, only 63 are expected to grow by 4 per cent and more this year, 36 of which are in Africa. But many countries there are adversely impacted by China's diminishing appetite for commodities and shrinking trade. India is currently one of the fastest growing economies in the world.
India’s stance on sustainable development goals is evolving as there are differing voices on what should be done. Over the next 15 years, the global development agenda will be preoccupied with the ambitious challenge of achieving 17 SDGs and 169 targets. The SDGs follow the Millennium Development Goals which were conceptualized as a set of eight goals on diverse development dimensions including poverty alleviation, gender equality, health and environmental sustainability. The buzz in the development community is that as the relative success of MDGs is a result of China’s super-rapid growth, the relative success of the SDGs will be because of India.
India faces a serious challenge of dealing with joblessness despite statistically being the world’s fastest growing economy. The spread, depth and intensity of the problem, especially among the educated youth, is not reflected the latest unemployment number of 4.9 per cent in 2013-14. This estimate captures the chronically unemployed – those who sought or were available for work for the major part of the year – but it rarely figures in public discourse as the rate is relatively low and stable over time. Another reason is that the economy continues to generate employment opportunities even if they are largely casual or temporary in the informal sector.
Women account for less than half of India’s population but their participation in the workforce is way below that of men. They account for 27 per cent of the workforce. If – and it is a big if – their number were to increase to the same level as men in the workforce, the country’s output of good and services would expand by 27 per cent, argues Christine Lagarde, managing director of the Internatgional Monetary Fund.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi had a meeting with India Inc. to discuss the global economic crisis and how the country can seize the emerging opportunities. The National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government does believe this crisis is indeed an opportunity as the economy’s fundamentals remain strong.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi's 'Make in India' programme is inspired by the East Asian manufacturing export success story of development. Earlier, when he was chief minister of the state of Gujarat, he expressed an ambition of modeling the state on South Korea.