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Reducing Gender Gap Boosts Sri Lankan Economy

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The World Bank Vice President for South Asia Region, Hartwig Schafer concluded his three-day visit to Sri Lanka on Friday with a commitment to work with public and private sectors to create the space for women to access work and remain at work. Evidence suggests that Sri Lankan women are excelling in higher education and outlive men, but they are not part of the workforce. This comes at great cost to economic growth.

During the visit the Vice President met with the President of Sri Lanka, HE Maithripala Sirisena, Prime Minister, Hon. Ranil Wickramasinghe, Minister of Finance, Hon. Mangala Samaraweera, State Minister of Finance, Hon. Eran Wickremaratne, the Mayor of Colombo, HW Rosy Senanayake and the Governor of the Central Bank of Sri Lanka, Indrajith Coomaraswamy. He also interacted with community groups, project officials, private sector, development partners, civil society groups and completed a field visit to learn about a planned project to mitigate flood risk in Colombo. He also launched the latest edition of the Sri Lanka Development Update (SLDU), a report on the key developments over the past six months in Sri Lanka’s economy, placed in a longer term global context. On the last day, he participated in an exhibition and awards ceremony for female photographers at the Colombo Municipal Council.

“Getting more women into jobs is not only a development imperative, but there’s also a strong business case” said Schafer highlighting Sri Lanka’s achievements in human capital development and economic growth amidst challenges and risks. “Sri Lanka specifically could grow its economy by as much as 20 percent in the long-run by closing the gender gap in the workforce” emphasized Schafer quoting data from an IMF study.

Schafer concluded his visit with a meeting with His Excellency, the President of Sri Lanka. The VP reaffirmed the World Bank’s commitment to continue the over Six-decade long partnership with the country.

Earlier, Schafer visited a future project site along the Kelaniya river, the third largest river basin in Sri Lanka providing around 80 percent of drinking water to residents of Colombo. Schafer met with the project officials and communities to understand the current challenges due to changing weather patterns, flash floods and loss of life and livelihoods. Around 740,000 people are at risk of a 5 year flood with around $240 million flood related losses estimated. He observed the potential investments that could mitigate flood risk as well as improve the quality of drinking water and quality of life alongside the river.

During meetings with the Prime Minister, Minister of Finance and the Central Bank Governor, Schafer discussed the Government of Sri Lanka’s reform agenda. Schafer congratulated the Government’s achievements in reforms and moving up to the top 100 rank in the Doing Business index. Inland revenue act, the fuel pricing formula, national audit act and the active liability management act were among the noteworthy reform achievements. They also discussed the remaining challenges of stabilizing financial system, risk management and building fiscal resilience.

The State Minister of Finance and the Mayor of Colombo engaged in conversations around increasing women’s participation in the workforce on the sidelines of two events; the launch of the SLDU and an event to award women photographers, which was a part of a year-long partnership campaign to press for progress in reforms to increase women’s participation in the workforce. The World Bank will continue to work with both public and private sector partners through its operations in Sri Lanka to press for progress to create the space for women to get into work and remain at work.

Background: IBRD and IDA portfolio commitments currently total US$ 1728.5 million (as of January 2019) with 14 operations under implementation. Currently, nearly 60 percent of commitments comprised lending in the sustainable development cluster (urban, climate resilience, agriculture, environment and water) and another 36 percent in human development (education, health and social protection). Sri Lanka graduated from IDA at the end of IDA17 and currently receives transitional financing from IDA18 (FY18-20) amounting to US$407 million.

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North Macedonia’s Growth Projected Higher, but Economy Still Faces Risks

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The Western Balkans region is rebounding from the COVID-19-induced recession of 2020, thanks to a faster-than-expected recovery in 2021, says the latest edition of the Western Balkans Regular Economic Report, Greening the Recovery.

The outlook for the region has improved significantly, with GDP growth now projected to reach 5.9 percent in 2021, after a 3.1 percent contraction in 2020. Growth in the region is projected at 4.1 percent in 2022 and 3.8 percent in 2023.

The poverty rate for the region is projected to resume its pre-pandemic downward trend and fall by around 1 percentage point to 20.3 percent, close to its 2019 level.

The regionwide recovery is due to strength in both domestic and external demand. A sharp rebound in domestic consumption and in travel across Europe helped boost remittances as well as tourism inflows during the 2021 peak summer season. A strong recovery in advanced economies also provided a boost to demand for the region’s exports.

For North Macedonia, this translates into a growth projection of 4.6 percent for 2021, much higher than the forecast in spring. “This positive outlook is still surrounded by downside risks, with the pace of immunization low and supply chains still disrupted, while financial conditions have started tightening,” said Massimiliano Paolucci, World Bank Country Manager for North Macedonia and Kosovo.

However, the recovery remains fragile. Early warning signals from the labor market call for close policy attention. Job losses from the recession and its aftermath have disproportionately affected women and youth, which may set back efforts to raise the region’s perennially low rates of labor force participation. Youth unemployment rose to 37.7 percent in 2021, up 5.4 percentage points from June 2020, further worsening youth employment prospects.

“As the Western Balkans countries look to a post-pandemic future, their policy approach will need to focus on addressing key impediments to job creation and economic transformation, including green transition,” said Linda Van Gelder, World Bank Regional Director for the Western Balkans. “All six countries would benefit from reforms in the business environment, governance, and digitalization, which would contribute to growth and close the gap with EU countries.”

The report also looks at the macro-fiscal challenges and drivers of greening the region’s growth. The Western Balkans now find themselves at a key decision point regarding the impending green transition.

Global strides toward climate action are causing fundamental changes in society. Consumer and investor preferences are shifting, green technologies and new business models are disrupting more markets, and green policies are reshaping economic landscapes. As such, greening a country’s economy is becoming a decisive factor in international competitiveness and the ability to attract international finance and investments.

The Western Balkans are no exception. Still characterized by a development model tilted toward familiar brown industries, moving toward a green growth pathway is far from easy, especially in the short term. Yet, the green transition offers significant opportunities for the Western Balkans – including closer integration into Euro-centric global value chains and access to significant EU resources to help fund a green transition.

Effectively managing this green transition, including the many policy tradeoffs, will need to be a core focus of policy attention for the Western Balkans in the years ahead.

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Rush for new profits posing threat to human rights

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The finance industry’s demand for new sources of capital worldwide to satisfy investors, is having a serious negative impact on the enjoyment of human rights, a group of UN-appointed independent rights experts have warned

Among the rights at risk from increasing speculation in the financial markets by hedge funds and other investment funds, are the right to safe drinking water and sanitation, food, adequate housing, development, and a healthy and sustainable environment, among others.  

Exploiting the marginalized 

In a statement, the independent Special Rapporteurs and other experts, expressed their concern over the gradual encroachment of financial speculators into new areas of the economy, putting human rights at risk

They highlighted in particular, trading in areas essential for the enjoyment of human rights of marginalized, indigenous peoples, Afro-descendant and peasant communities, persons with disabilities and persons living with Albinism, as well as those living in areas of conflict. 

The experts also pointed out that so-called financialisation – the growth in new financial instruments since the 1980s managed by new financial services – has a disproportionate impact on the enjoyment of their rights by women and girls, who are systematically victims of discrimination. The impact on older people was also highlighted. 

Effect on housing 

According to a former Special Rapporteur on adequate housing, in recent years massive amounts of global capital have been invested in housing as a commodity, as security for financial instruments that are traded on global markets, and as a means of accumulating wealth. 

However, when the 2008 global financial crisis hit, many houses suddenly lost much of their value, and individuals and families were made homeless overnight. 

The expert also pointed out that in the Global South, informal settlements in Southern cities are regularly demolished for luxury housing and commercial development intended for the wealthiest groups of the population

This process of financialisation of assets, has only been reinforced during the COVID-19 pandemic, the expert said. 

‘Speculative food bubble’ 

In agricultural markets, the experts described how the same big international banks responsible for the global financial crisis, invested billions of dollars in food futures, generating an increase in the prices of raw materials such as wheat, corn and soybean, which doubled and even tripled in a few months, creating a new speculative food bubble

According to the World Bank, between 130 and 150 million more people were pushed into extreme poverty and hunger, mainly in low-income countries depending on food imports to feed their populations. 

The experts highlighted how the financialisation of housing and food has exacerbated inequalities and exclusion, disproportionately affecting heavily indebted households and those on low incomes. 

Applying speculative logic in these areas violates the human rights of people in poverty, exacerbates gender inequality and aggravates the vulnerability of marginalized communities, they said. 

Commodifying nature 

The growing monetization and commodification of ecosystem services, such as carbon storage, were also noted by the experts. 

They warned that it threatens the sustainability of ecosystems, marginalizes natural and cultural values that have no apparent economic value, and weakens the control of indigenous peoples and local communities over their territories

The right to pollute and destroy nature is gradually being legitimized and commercialized, they said. 

They also pointed out that addressing the climate emergency often ignores both the impacts on people in poverty, and undermines the human rights and livelihoods of the poorest. 

The eviction of indigenous peoples from forests or the replacement of complex old-growth forests with monocultures of fast-growing non-native tree species was highlighted as an example of this. 

Treating housing, food, or the environment, as assets to be traded by hedge funds and other financial actors in financial derivatives markets, represents a direct attack on people’s exercise and enjoyment of human rights such as the right to housing, to food, to a healthy environment, or to drinking water and sanitation, the experts stated. 

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Bosnia and Herzegovina Should Focus on Job Creation

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The Western Balkans region is rebounding from the COVID-19-induced recession of 2020, thanks to a faster-than-expected recovery in 2021, says the latest edition of the Western Balkans Regular Economic Report, Greening the Recovery.

The outlook for the region has improved significantly, with GDP growth now projected to reach 5.9 percent in 2021, after a 3.1 percent contraction in 2020. Growth in the region is projected at 4.1 percent in 2022 and 3.8 percent in 2023.

In Bosnia and Herzegovina, real GDP is expected to grow 4 percent in 2021 after contracting 3.2 percent in 2020. As BiH’s economy rebounds in 2021, improvements in labor market participation and employment will remain key for growth to translate into poverty reduction.

Addressing bottlenecks causing persistent long-term unemployment, such as enhancing formal labor market participation, especially for women, and reducing skills mismatches for youth will be key. The report also notes that institutional and governance reforms remain important challenges on Bosnia and Herzegovina’s development path and on the road to EU membership.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has made the implementation of much needed structural reforms in BiH all the more urgent,” says Christopher Sheldon, World Bank Country Manager for Bosnia and Herzegovina and Montenegro. “The World Bank is committed to helping the governments in BiH develop long-term solutions that will build a more resilient, inclusive economy in the post-pandemic era, by improving human capital, enhancing the efficiency of the public sector, enabling the growth of the private sector and reducing the vulnerabilities of the country to climate change.”

The regionwide recovery is due to strength in both domestic and external demand. A sharp rebound in domestic consumption and in travel across Europe helped boost remittances as well as tourism inflows during the 2021 peak summer season. A strong recovery in advanced economies also provided a boost to demand for the region’s exports.

However, the recovery remains fragile. Early warning signals from the labor market call for close policy attention. Job losses from the recession and its aftermath have disproportionately affected women and youth, which may set back efforts to raise the region’s perennially low rates of labor force participation. Youth unemployment rose to 37.7 percent in 2021, up 5.4 percentage points from June 2020, further worsening youth employment prospects.

“As the Western Balkans countries look to a post-pandemic future, their policy approach will need to focus on addressing key impediments to job creation and economic transformation, including green transition,” said Linda Van Gelder, World Bank Country Director for the Western Balkans. “All six countries would benefit from reforms in the business environment, governance, and digitalization, which would contribute to growth and close the gap with EU countries.”

The report also looks at the macro-fiscal challenges and drivers of greening the region’s growth. The Western Balkans now find themselves at a key decision point regarding the impending green transition.

Global strides toward climate action are causing fundamental changes in society. Consumer and investor preferences are shifting, green technologies and new business models are disrupting more markets, and green policies are reshaping economic landscapes. As such, greening a country’s economy is becoming a decisive factor in international competitiveness and the ability to attract international finance and investments.

The Western Balkans are no exception. Still characterized by a development model tilted toward familiar brown industries, moving toward a green growth pathway is far from easy, especially in the short term. Yet, the green transition offers significant opportunities for the Western Balkans – including closer integration into Euro-centric global value chains and access to significant EU resources to help fund a green transition.

Effectively managing this green transition, including the many policy tradeoffs, will need to be a core focus of policy attention for the Western Balkans in the years ahead.

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