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Transforming the MENA will require focusing on the region’s young people

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The Arab world is facing severe political, economic and security challenges, which countries have to address together with the international community, said Abdelfattah Said Hussein Alsisi, the President of Egypt.

Efforts “can only be successful through close cooperation between governments, the private sector and civil-society organizations so that the root causes of these challenges can be diagnosed and the means of overcoming them determined. In this way the aspirations of the Arab peoples for progress and development will be realized.”

Transforming the Middle East and North Africa will require focusing on the region’s young people, President Alsisi said. “Enhancing the role of the youth can no longer be considered a luxury. It has become an imperative. Their energy should be channelled in the right direction to drive production and realize the desired progress and development.” This will require public-private cooperation, the president argued. “The challenge posed by the issue of investing in youth is not just an item on the agendas of governments, but a key issue that should constitute an area of cooperation and integration of efforts between the government and business sectors. We are all in the same boat.”

Engaging youth must be part of efforts to achieve peace, stability and sustainable development, amid social and political stresses, Alsisi noted. “The intellectual stagnation emanating from extremism and religious and sectarian fanaticism is increasing in severity, as a result of despair, frustration and the decline in values of justice in all its forms. Therefore, our efforts to eliminate extremism and terrorism must be coupled with endeavours towards realizing a future where freedom, equality and pluralism prevail, and that is free of oppression, injustice and exclusion.”

Speaking after Alsisi, Mahmoud Abbas, President of the Palestinian National Authority and Chairman of the Palestinian Liberation Organization Executive Committee, echoed the Egyptian president’s concerns about sectarian conflicts. “These are causing divisions in all countries,” he warned. “This has led to several terrorist groups using religion as an excuse for perpetrating criminal acts.” On the prospects for a two-state solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, Abbas expressed hope that “we will be able to overcome difficulties and hardships” to achieve an agreement that will “enable our people to obtain their freedom and independence”.

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Economic Improvement  by Enhancing  Operations of Pakistan’s Ports

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Seaports play very important role in the economic development of a state. Countries having all weather deep draft ports, equipped with state of the art equipment to handle cargo efficiently are massive source of progression of economy. These attract investors to establish industries in the vicinity to import raw material and export value added goods. It is observed that in the world large cities are located closer to the bigger ports. Modern trend is to handle transit and transshipment cargo. Ports located in the shipping routes like port of Singapore, Salalah & Sohar of Oman etc. have added advantage of handling transshipment cargo. Similarly, ports which can handle transit trade of neighbouring countries especially land locked have additional advantage to handle transit trade. Pakistan has plus1001 km long coast with three commercial ports. Karachi, Bin Qasim and Gwadar. Karachi port is functioning since 1887. Initially it had two wharves West and East, which have 33 berths including 3 oil piers. Ships up to 13.0m draft can be berthed. Out of these five on West and six on East wharves have been leased to Karachi International Container Terminal (KICT) and Pakistan International Container Terminal (PICT) respectively following Land Lord Port Strategy. The recently built south wharf at Kemari Garyone has 1500 m quay wall which can dock mostly container ships up to 16m draft. It is operated by South Asia Pakistan Container Terminal (SAPT) equipped with state of the art cranes and is completely computerized.   Cargo handling capacity of KPT is 125 million tons for all types of cargo, including 4.1 million containers. Last fiscal year, it handled 52 million tons. It has much capacity to handle more cargo.  Railway share to lift cargo is only 5% which needs to be increased. As the port is located at the center of the city, it is causing traffic congestion in Karachi especially in the vicinity of port area because of movement of cargo. It is also hampering the operation of the port. In the past three years it has handled, 229,205 containers as transit cargo for Afghanistan, 139 for CAR states and nil for China. It has handled very less volume of transshipment cargo although South wharf has 16m draft and state of the art facilities. It is mainly because of its location away from the main shipping routes. Railway authorities are carrying out feasibility study to establish a Dedicated Freight Corridor (DFC) to increase the lifting capacity of cargo from KPT to Pipri on Public Private Partnership (PPP).  From there, the cargo to upcountry can be taken on trucks and rail. It will increase the efficiency of the port, augment the railway share and also considerably reduce the traffic congestion in Karachi.  

Port Bin Qasim is also located in Karachi which is functioning since 1980. It has 18 berths, 16 are operated by the terminal operators. Maximum permissible draft is 13.0 m. It has cargo handling capacity 83 m tons where as it has handled 55.0m in fiscal year 2022. It can handle all types of cargo including LPG, LNG and coal. It has taken the shape of energy hub of Pakistan. However, railway has lifted 12% of the total cargo in the last fiscal year which needs to be increased. This port in the past three years has handled 23,360 containers for Afghanistan, 51 for CAR states, and none for China as a transit cargo, while the transshipment cargo was only 6415 containers which is nominal for such a big port. Since this port is also not on the main shipping routes, therefore it has not been able to attract transshipment cargo. The volume of transit trade handled is also not impressive. 

The Gwadar port has strategic location at the mouth of the Persian Gulf, just outside the Strait of Hormuz, in the proximity of main shipping routes. Its location is considered most suitable to operate as a transshipment hub.  It is functional since January 2007. The primary objective is to act as an alternate port of Pakistan, operate as transshipment hub, handle transit trade of China, Afghanistan, and CAR state, along with facilitating the supply of cargo to the hinterland of Pakistan and the development of Balochistan province, especially the Gwadar region. Its main features include quay wall of 602 meters (3 multipurpose berths including RO-RO), 100 m service berth, design depth 13.8 meters and alongside berth of 14.5 m. However, the present average depth is 11.5 m.  The backup area is 383,000 square meters, sufficient to stack cargo destined for Pakistan, transshipment and transit. The Port of Singapore Authority (POSA) was the first Concession Holder to operate the port from Feb 2007 to Feb 2013 which handled only 162 ships in six years.  The second Concession Holder from Feb 2013 till to date is China Overseas Port Holding Company (COPHC) which has handled 223 ships in 9 years till June 2021. Total transit cargo handled for Afghanistan in the years 2020 and 2021 is 110355 tons and nil for China and Car states. It has not yet started handling transshipment cargo.

 The sea ports in Karachi have hinterland connectivity by Eastern route by motor way to Burhan interchange except Sukkur to Hyderabad which is under construction. However, two-way dual carriage way is available in this portion. From Burhan to Khunjerab pass there is motor way/ express way up to Mansehra, from here on ward up to Khunjerab Pass via Gilgit, either it is a two-lane road or a two-way dual carriageway which is being used by 22 wheeler trucks. Similarly, from Karachi up to Khyber Pass the road network is available for the 22 wheeler tucks up to Khyber Pass via Burhan interchange. These ports have rail connectivity up to Havelian and Peshawar from here the cargo can be transported by trucks to Khunjerab and Khyber passes. Gwadar port has connection by road with Afghanistan and Western province of China by western route via Quetta to DI Khan. This portion has either two lane road or two-way dual carriage way which is suitable for 22 wheeler trucks. From D I Khan to Burhan, motor way is operational. From Burhan to Khunjerab and Khyber passes road network is operational as described before. The volume of transit trade handled by the three ports is nominal as described earlier. Our government needs to actively pursue the governments of China, Afghanistan, and CAR states for the handling of their trade through Pakistani ports. The route is much shorter and our ports are well equipped and have the capacity to handle their trade. Moreover, the security conditions in Afghanistan have much improved.  Gwadar port has right location to operate as a transshipment hub. Containers shipped from the Far East, Red Sea, and African countries on the bigger ships destined for the Gulf countries and other regional ports can be unloaded here and shipped on feeders to these ports and vice versa.  However, to make Gwadar port functional for transshipment, the channel depth is required to be increased to the designed depth 14.0 m on priority. Functioning of the Special Industrial Zone at Gwadar may be given due importance.  State-of-the-art cranes and associated equipment need to be installed by the concession holder, COPHC. Moreover, the telecom network, especially Wi-Fi needs improvement in the Gwadar area. The ports in the vicinity of Gwadar, like Salah, Sohar, Duqm of Oman, and Jebel Ali of UAE are likely to give tough competition, which can be overcome by offering ease of business and competitive rates. To conclude, Ports in Karachi and Gwadar have capacity and are amply equipped, and have connectivity with China, Afghanistan, and CAR states to handle their cargo. The government needs to actively negotiate with these governments to handle their trade. Gwadar port has right location in the proximity of shipping routes to operate as a transshipment hub. However, dredging of the channel by Gwadar Port Authority, and installation of state of the art equipment by the Concession Holder, COPHC needs to be done on priority. The increased operations of ports will certainly enhance the economy of Pakistan in addition to creation of jobs which are also a dire need in the present economic conditions.

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International Cooperation to Address Economic Inequality and Promote Sustainable Development

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Economic inequality is a pervasive issue that has plagued societies across the world for centuries. The gap between the rich and the poor has widened over the years, leading to numerous social and economic challenges. The impact of economic inequality on sustainable development cannot be ignored, as it poses a threat to social stability, economic growth, and the environment. International cooperation is crucial in addressing economic inequality and promoting sustainable development across the globe. It refers to the unequal distribution of wealth, income, and resources among individuals and communities. Economic inequality can lead to poverty, poor health outcomes, limited access to education, and limited social mobility. Economic inequality is a complex issue that affects various aspects of social and economic development. A recent report by Oxfam International indicates that the world’s richest 1% possess more than twice the wealth of 6.9 billion people. This inequality has far-reaching consequences, including poverty, poor health outcomes, limited access to education, and limited social mobility. Sustainable development aims to address these challenges by promoting economic growth, reducing poverty, and ensuring social and environmental sustainability.

      International cooperation is essential in addressing economic inequality and promoting sustainable development. The global nature of economic inequality requires collective action and collaboration among nations and international organizations. By working together, countries can pool their resources, share knowledge, and develop strategies to address economic inequality and promote sustainable development. The success of international cooperation in tackling transnational issues like economic inequality can serve as a valuable lesson for countries like Pakistan that are facing similar challenges.

The Challenge of Economic Inequality:

-Economic inequality refers to the unequal distribution of wealth, income, and resources among individuals and communities. It is a significant challenge faced by many countries, including Pakistan. The effects of economic inequality on society are far-reaching and can have severe consequences.

-One of the most visible effects of economic inequality is poverty. Those who are most affected by economic inequality are often those who have the least access to resources, which makes it difficult for them to meet their basic needs. As a result, they are unable to access healthcare, education, and other essential services. Poverty can also lead to hunger, malnutrition, and poor health outcomes.

-Economic inequality can also limit access to education, particularly for those from low-income backgrounds. This can create a cycle of poverty and social exclusion, making it difficult for people to access higher-paying jobs and improve their economic situation. In turn, limited access to education can also limit social mobility and perpetuate economic inequality across generations.

-Another significant effect of economic inequality is the limited access to healthcare. People from low-income backgrounds are often unable to afford quality healthcare and are more likely to suffer from chronic illnesses. This creates an unequal burden on healthcare systems, and ultimately affects the overall health of the population.

-Economic inequality also threatens sustainable development by hindering economic growth and development. Countries with high levels of economic inequality often experience lower levels of economic growth, as wealth and resources are concentrated in the hands of a few. This can make it difficult for countries to invest in infrastructure, social services, and other initiatives that promote sustainable development.

The Role of International Cooperation:

     International cooperation is crucial in addressing economic inequality because it is a global issue that requires a collective response. Countries must work together to address the root causes of economic inequality, develop policies that promote economic equality, and ensure sustainable development. International cooperation provides an opportunity for countries to share resources, knowledge, and best practices to promote economic equality and sustainable development.

     The World Bank, International Monetary Fund, and United Nations are examples of international organizations that play a significant role in promoting economic equality and sustainable development. The World Bank provides financing, technical assistance, and policy advice to developing countries to promote economic growth and poverty reduction. The International Monetary Fund works to promote global financial stability and provides financial assistance to countries in need. The United Nations plays a critical role in promoting sustainable development through the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals, which aim to end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure prosperity for all.

     International cooperation is essential for tackling transnational issues like economic inequality. Economic inequality is not limited to one country or region; it is a global issue that requires a collective response. Countries must work together to develop policies that promote economic equality, reduce poverty, and ensure sustainable development. Through international cooperation, countries can share resources, knowledge, and best practices, and develop strategies to address economic inequality on a global scale.

Recent Examples of Successful International Cooperation:

     The SDGs cover a broad range of issues, including poverty, hunger, health, education, gender equality, clean water and sanitation, renewable energy, and climate action. The SDGs have had a significant impact on promoting sustainable development by providing a framework for countries to develop policies that address economic inequality and promote sustainability.

     The Paris Agreement on climate change is another example of successful international cooperation in promoting sustainable development. The Paris Agreement, adopted in 2015, is a global agreement aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions and limiting the global temperature rise to below 2°C above pre-industrial levels. The agreement is the result of years of negotiations and represents a significant achievement in international cooperation on climate change. The Paris Agreement has been ratified by 190 countries and is seen as a critical step towards promoting sustainable development and addressing economic inequality.

     International cooperation has also helped address economic inequality and promote sustainable development in other countries. For example, in Kenya, the government worked with international organizations like the World Bank and the United Nations Development Programme to develop policies that promote economic growth and reduce poverty. As a result, Kenya has experienced significant economic growth over the last decade, with poverty rates declining by more than 10%.

     Similarly, in Colombia, the government worked with international organizations like the Inter-American Development Bank to develop policies that promote sustainable development and reduce poverty. The country has made significant progress in reducing poverty, and its economy has grown significantly in recent years.

     In Pakistan, international cooperation has also played a critical role in promoting sustainable development and addressing economic inequality. For example, the World Bank has provided financing and technical assistance to Pakistan to support initiatives that promote economic growth and poverty reduction. The United Nations Development Programme has also worked with the government to develop policies that promote sustainable development and reduce poverty.

Pakistan’s Efforts to Address Economic Inequality and Promote Sustainable Development:

     Pakistan faces several challenges related to economic inequality and sustainable development. The country has a large population, with a high poverty rate, and faces significant environmental challenges such as water scarcity, air pollution, and climate change.

     Despite these challenges, Pakistan has made progress in addressing economic inequality and promoting sustainable development. Pakistan has adopted the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and has developed a National Action Plan to implement them. The country has made progress in achieving some of the SDGs, such as reducing the number of out-of-school children and improving access to clean water and sanitation.

     Pakistan has also made efforts to reduce carbon emissions and promote renewable energy. The country has set a goal to generate 30% of its electricity from renewable sources by 2030. Pakistan has also launched several initiatives to promote energy efficiency, such as the installation of LED lights and the development of energy-efficient buildings.

     International organizations such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) have played an essential role in providing financial assistance to support Pakistan’s economic development and poverty reduction efforts. The World Bank has provided financial support for initiatives such as the Benazir Income Support Programme, which provides cash transfers to poor households, and the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Education Sector Plan, which aims to improve access to education in the region.

     The IMF has also provided financial assistance to Pakistan to support economic reforms aimed at promoting sustainable development and reducing economic inequality. In 2019, the IMF approved a $6 billion loan to Pakistan to support economic reforms, including measures to reduce the fiscal deficit, promote tax reforms, and improve the business environment.

Conclusion:

     In conclusion, international cooperation is crucial in addressing economic inequality and promoting sustainable development. Through collective action, international organizations such as the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, and United Nations have played a critical role in supporting countries’ efforts to achieve economic equality and sustainable development. The successful examples of international cooperation, such as the Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement on climate change, provide valuable lessons for countries like Pakistan.

     Pakistan has made progress in addressing economic inequality and promoting sustainable development through international cooperation, such as adopting the SDGs, reducing carbon emissions, and receiving financial assistance from the World Bank and IMF. However, Pakistan still faces significant challenges related to poverty reduction and environmental sustainability, and continued efforts are needed to promote sustainable economic growth and development.

     Therefore, Pakistan needs to prioritize improving the business environment, promoting entrepreneurship, and investing in infrastructure to support economic growth and poverty reduction. The government should also continue to work closely with international organizations and other countries to address economic inequality and promote sustainable development, ensuring a better future for all.

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Women’s mobility must be a key focus in urban policy

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Historically, cities across the world have been designed to fit the needs of able-bodied men, or a neutral, often male, user. Yet, cities are experienced differently by men and women. Women and girls find their access to employment, education, care services and even leisure is constrained when urban mobility systems and public spaces are not safe and inclusive.

Across Indian cities, studies show that concerns about commuting safely during the late evening hours or beyond a particular radius are among the biggest barriers to girls and women going to school, college and work. For instance, a 2020 study in Bengaluru showed that only 2% of women commuters surveyed made journeys after 9 pm. Barriers to mobility can thus thwart women’s long-term aspirations, eroding their financial independence and agency. The threat of sexual harassment deters women from stepping out. For instance, a 2017 study in Delhi showed that women were willing to travel for 27 minutes more each day to take a route that was perceived to be safer. It will thus be important to devise strategies to prevent and penalise sexual harassment in public spaces.

Typically, women travel shorter distances at off-peak hours, and make chained trips, frequently changing between transport modes to complete multiple tasks, balancing domestic errands and employment. Systems are, therefore, needed to collect and analyse gender-disaggregated data to understand women’s mobility patterns and design public transport services accordingly.

It was after the Mumbai Railway Vikas Corporation, working with the World Bank, conducted a detailed study of mobility patterns on suburban trains, that it identified women’s safety as a key priority and devised solutions to make platforms, stations, and trains safer for women. These activities sought to do more than just introduce women-only trains — the Ladies Specials — by addressing the fundamental design of the infrastructure to make it more women-friendly.

Hiring more female staff can make travel safer. In Kochi, for instance, 80% of the metro staff are women, working as station managers, train drivers, ticket vendors, and cleaning staff. Similar initiatives can be taken by other bus and rail agencies to enhance safety.

What’s more, since deep-rooted social norms restrict women’s movement outside their homes, local communities need to be brought on board as partners to help shift the norms around women’s mobility. A number of community-based organisations have been working across cities such as Delhi, Gurugram, and Pune to sensitise communities; they also provide gender sensitisation training for frontline public transport workers.

Under the Nirbhaya Fund, the Centre provides valuable resources to states and central ministries to implement solutions for enhancing women’s safety. Since 2015, eight cities (Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai, Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Ahmedabad and Lucknow) have used these funds to identify hotspots for crime, enhance police capacity for investigating crimes against women and establish one-stop centres for violence survivors.

Moving a step further, the Greater Chennai Corporation established a Gender and Policy Lab, which will support the government of Tamil Nadu in implementing projects under the Nirbhaya Fund to create safer public spaces in the city. An assessment to understand gender differences in mobility was carried out, alongside a safety audit, in Tondiarpet in north Chennai. Installation of CCTV cameras and panic buttons in city buses is also underway, with Chennai’s Metropolitan Transport Corporation establishing a command-and-control centre to monitor incidents of harassment.

Our experience in Chennai and Mumbai, and other cities globally, shows that addressing gender concerns in urban mobility and public spaces requires long-term commitment from multiple stakeholders, with solutions aimed at addressing deep-rooted issues.

Drawing lessons from international best practices and project experiences in India, the World Bank has developed a toolkit for the Indian context, which both government and private agencies can use to make cities safer and more inclusive of women.

The toolkit outlines a four-pillar approach: First, assess the ground situation to understand gender-disaggregated mobility patterns and undertake safety audits; second, strengthen policies with a focus on fare policies and grievance redressal for sexual harassment; third, build capacity and raise awareness both within government agencies and through partnerships with community-based organisations; and fourth, improve infrastructure and services with a special emphasis on women’s safety and inclusion.

Making cities safer can ensure that women and girls have choices — they can choose to stay longer in the office, go to better educational institutions, and even have a wider array of entrepreneurship opportunities — all of which will help increase female labour force participation and, in turn, boost economic performance in India.

 This Opinion piece first appeared in Hindustan Times, via World Bank

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