Connect with us

Newsdesk

South Asia Must Ramp Up COVID-19 Action to Protect People, Revive Economies

Newsroom

Published

on

Amid the mounting human toll and global economic fallout triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic, South Asian governments must ramp up action to curb the health emergency, protect their people, especially the poorest and most vulnerable, and set the stage now for fast economic recovery, says the World Bank in its twice-a-year-regional update.

Released today, the latest South Asia Economic Focus anticipates a sharp economic slump in each of the region’s eight countries, caused by halting economic activity, collapsing trade, and greater stress in the financial and banking sectors.  

In this fast-changing and uncertain context, the report presents a range forecast, estimating that regional growth will fall to a range between 1.8 and 2.8 percent in 2020, down from 6.3 percent projected six months ago. That would be the region’s worst performance in the last 40 years, with temporary contractions in all South Asian countries. In case of prolonged and broad national lockdowns, the report warns of a worst-case scenario in which the entire region would experience a negative growth rate this year.

This deteriorated forecast will linger in 2021, with growth projected to hover between 3.1 and 4.0 percent, down from the previous 6.7 percent estimate.

“The priority for all South Asian governments is to contain the virus spread and protect their people, especially the poorest who face considerably worse health and economic outcomes,” said Hartwig Schafer, World Bank Vice President for the South Asia Region. “The COVID-19 crisis is also an urgent call-to-action moment to pursue innovative policies and jumpstart South Asian economies once the crisis is over. Failure to do so can lead to long-term growth disruptions and reverse hard-won progress in reducing poverty.”

The impact of the pandemic will hit hard low-income people, especially informal workers in the hospitality, retail trade, and transport sectors who have limited or no access to healthcare or social safety nets. The report notes that the COVID-19 shock will likely reinforce inequality in South Asia. As played out across the region, the sudden and large-scale loss of low paid work has driven a mass exodus of migrant workers from cities to rural areas, spiking fear that many of them will fall back into poverty. While there are no signs yet of widespread food shortages, the report warns that a protracted COVID-19 crisis may threaten food security, especially for the most vulnerable.

In the short term, the report recommends preparing weak healthcare systems for greater COVID-19 impacts, as well as providing safety nets and securing access to food, medical supplies, and necessities for the most vulnerable. To minimize short-term economic pain, the report calls for establishing temporary work programs for unemployed migrant workers, enacting debt relief measures for businesses and individuals, and easing inter-regional customs clearance to speed up import and export of essential goods.

Once lockdown restrictions are loosened, South Asian governments should adopt expansionary fiscal policies combined with monetary stimulus to keep credit flowing in their economies. Since many South Asian countries have limited fiscal space, these policies should target people worst hit by the freeze on economic activity. The report urges governments to adopt temporary spending measures and coordinate with international financial partners to avoid unsustainable long-term debt levels and fiscal deficits.

“After tackling the immediate COVID-19 threat, South Asian countries must keep their sovereign debt sustainable through fiscal prudence and debt relief initiatives,” said Hans Timmer, World Bank Chief Economist for the South Asia Region. “And looking beyond the present crisis, lie great opportunities to expand digital technologies for payment systems and distant learning to unlock remote areas in South Asia.”

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, economic circumstances within countries and regions are fluid and change on a day-by-day basis. The analysis in the report is based on the latest country-level data available as of April 7, 2020.

The World Bank Group is taking broad, fast action to help developing countries strengthen their pandemic response, increase disease surveillance, improve public health interventions, and help the private sector continue to operate and sustain jobs. It is deploying up to $160 billion in financial support over the next 15 months to help countries protect the poor and vulnerable, support businesses, and bolster economic recovery.  

REAL GDP AT MARKET PRICES IN PERCENT
CountryFiscal year2019(e)2020(f)2021(f)2022(f)
AfghanistanDecember to December2.9-5.9 to -3.83.3 to 3.95.2 to 6.2
BangladeshJuly to June8.22.0 to 3.01.2 to 2.92.8 to 3.9
BhutanJuly to June3.92.2 to 2.92.0 to 2.53.1 to 3.5
IndiaApril to March6.14.8 to 5.01.5 to 2.84.0 to 5.0
MaldivesJanuary to December5.2-13.0 to -8.56.3 to 7.35.0 to 5.5
Nepalmid-July to mid-July7.11.5 to 2.81.4 to 2.92.7 to 3.6
PakistanJuly to June3.3-2.2 to -1.30.3 to 0.93.2 to 3.3
Sri LankaJanuary to December2.6-3.0 to -0.50.2 to 1.22.0 to 2.5
  REVISION TO FORECASTS FROM OCTOBER 2019
CountryFiscal year2019(e)2020(f)
AfghanistanDecember to December-8.9 to -6.8-0.2 to 0.4
BangladeshJuly to June-5.2 to -4.2-6.1 to -4.4
BhutanJuly to June-5.2 to -4.5-3.9 to -3.4
IndiaApril to March-1.2 to -1.0-5.4 to -4.1
MaldivesJanuary to December-18.5 to -14.00.7 to 1.7
Nepalmid-July to mid-July-4.9 to -3.6-5.1 to -3.6
PakistanJuly to June-4.6 to -3.7-2.7 to -2.1
Sri LankaJanuary to December-6.3 to -3.8-3.5 to -2.5

Notes: The 2020 and 2021 numbers represent the lower and upper bound of the forecast range. For India, 2020 refers to FY19/20. e: Estimate f: Forecast. Source: World Bank

Continue Reading
Comments

EU Politics

Commission sets new plan to support green and digital transition and EU recovery

Newsroom

Published

on

Today, the European Commission adopted a Communication on a new European Research Area for Research and Innovation. Based on excellence, competitive, open and talent-driven, the new European Research Area will improve Europe’s research and innovation landscape, accelerate the EU’s transition towards climate neutrality and digital leadership,  support its recovery from the societal and economic impact of the coronavirus crisis, and strengthen its resilience against future crises.

The Commission set out strategic objectives and actions to be implemented in close cooperation with the Member States, in order to prioritise investments and reforms in research and innovation, improve access to excellence for researchers across the EU and enable research results to reach the market and the real economy. Additionally, the Communication will further promote researchers’ mobility, skills and career development opportunities within the EU, gender equality, as well as better access to publicly funded peer-reviewed science.

Executive Vice-President for A Europe Fit for the Digital Age, Margrethe Vestager, said: “The EU is already leading innovation through its research and scientific excellence. We want to build on that and step up our efforts towards achieving breakthrough market-driven innovations that will contribute to a green digital Europe and will boost growth, job creation and our competiveness in the global scene. Today we are setting a new ambition for a European Research Area to facilitate cooperation and contribute to a more competitive European industry.

Mariya Gabriel, Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth, said: “We live in times when scientific activities require faster and effective collaborations. We need to strengthen the European Research Area. An area embracing all of Europe, because knowledge has no territorial boundaries, because scientific knowledge grows with collaborations, because knowledge is trusted if there is open scrutiny of its quality. It has also more chances to achieve peaks of excellence and support an innovative and risk taking industry to shape a resilient, green and digital future.”

Launched in 2000, the European Research Area has made major achievements over the past years – yet, today’s context prompts us to rethink how to strengthen its role, better define and implement its key objectives, as well as make it more attractive as a common space for creating valuable research and innovation. Moreover, Europe is currently facing significant societal, ecological and economic challenges that are aggravated by the coronavirus crisis. Research and innovation is therefore crucial in addressing these challenges, delivering on Europe’s recovery and speeding up the twin green and digital transitions.

Objectives of the new European Research Area

Building on Europe’s innovation leadership and scientific excellence, the new European Research Area aims to incentivise better coordination and cooperation among the EU, its Member States and the private sector; lead to more investments in research and innovation; strengthen mobility of researchers, their expertise, and the flow of knowledge;

The Communication defines four strategic objectives:

  1. Prioritise investments and reforms in research and innovation towards the green and digital transition, to support Europe’s recovery and increase competitiveness.

EU support towards research and innovation is foreseen through various programmes, such as the Horizon Europe, the Cohesion policy, and the Next Generation EU. To bring about the required positive change and ensure quality of results, EU support must be complemented by investments from Member States and the private sector. The Communication reaffirms the target of 3% of GDP to be invested on EU research and innovation and prompts further cooperation among Member states, and alignment of national efforts, by setting a target of 5% of national public funding to joint research and development programmes and European partnerships, by 2030.  

The principle of excellence, which entails that the best researchers with the best ideas can obtain funding, remains the cornerstone for all investments under the European Research area.

  1. Improve access to excellent facilities and infrastructures for researchers across the EU.

Member States’ research and innovation investment remains uneven, which translates into gaps in scientific excellence and innovation output that need to be bridged. The EU already supports lagging countries, including with tailor-made support on the ground, and Horizon Europe will further ensure so, through enhanced collaborations with more experienced counterparts, in order to improve access to excellence. The Commission proposes that Member States, lagging behind the EU average research and innovation investment over GDP, direct their efforts to increase their investments by 50% in the next 5 years.

To this end, mobility opportunities for researchers to access excellence and expand their experience will be created through dedicated training and mobility schemes between industry and academia. In order to reflect the progress towards research based on excellence, Member States lagging behind the EU average on highly cited publications should reduce the gap to the EU average by at least one third in the next 5 years.

  1. Transfer results to the economy to boost business investments and market uptake of research output, as well as foster EU competitiveness and leadership in the global technological setting.

In view of speeding up the transfer of research results into the real economy and supporting the implementation of the new Industrial Strategy, the Commission will encourage and guide the development of common technology plans with industry that will allow crowding in more private investments in key international projects. This will foster the development of competitive technologies in key strategic areas, while securing a stronger European presence in the global scene.

In parallel, following a detailed monitoring exercise, the Commission will explore the possibility of developing a networking framework that will build on existing entities and capacities, such as centres of excellence or Digital Innovation Hubs, to facilitate collaboration and exchange of best practices by 2022. Still in this two-year framework, the Commission will update and develop guiding principles, which will ensure that innovation can be valorised and rewarded, as well as a code of practice for the smart use of intellectual property, to ensure access to effective and affordable intellectual property protection.

  1. Strengthen mobility of researchers and free flow of knowledge and technology, through greater cooperation among Member States, to ensure that everyone benefits from research and its results.

The EU will aim to improve career development opportunities to attract and retain the best researchers in Europe as well as incentivise researchers to pursue a career outside academia. To this end, it will also deliver, by the end of 2024, in partnership with Member States and research organisations, a toolbox of support for researchers’ careers. The toolbox will consist of the following elements: a Researchers Competence Framework to identify key skills and mismatches; a mobility scheme to support exchange and mobility of researchers across industry and academia; targeted training and professional development opportunities under Horizon Europe; and, a one-stop shop portal for people to more easily find information and manage their learning and careers.

The EU will work towards accomplishing the above strategic objectives, in close cooperation with the Member States, through 14 actions that are linked to each other and will be instrumental in realising the European Research Area. Furthermore, the Commission will drive a European Forum for Transition, a strategic discussion forum with Member States that will support them in the coherent implementation of these four objectives. The Commission will also propose, by the first half of 2021, that Member States adopt a Pact for Research and Innovation in Europe, which will reinforce their commitment to shared policies and principles and indicate the areas where they will jointly develop priority actions.

As part of its initiatives to support the recovery and build a green and digital Europe, the Commission, in addition to the new European Research Area, adopted today a new Digital Education Action Plan, to adapt education and training systems to the digital age, as well as a Communication on the European Education Area as a driver for job creation and growth.

Background

The European Research Area was launched in 2000 with the aim of better organising and integrating Europe’s research and innovation systems and enhancing cooperation between the EU, the Member States, their regions and their stakeholders. It also aimed for the free circulation of researchers, scientific knowledge and technology throughout the EU and focused on stimulating cross-border cooperation and on improving and coordinating the research and innovation policies and programmes of the Member States. 

In 2018, the Council of the European Union made a call to revamp the European Research Area in 2020 with a new Commission Communication. In December 2019, Member States advised on the future of the European Research Area through an opinion of the European Research and Innovation Committee.

As part of the EU response to the coronavirus pandemic, the Commission introduced the ERAvsCorona Action Plan in April of this year. Building on the overall objectives and the tools of the European Research Area, the action plan is a working document developed jointly by the Commission and national governments. It covers short-term actions based on close coordination, cooperation, data sharing and shared funding efforts.

Continue Reading

Environment

Bernice Notenboom calls for action to tackle “the biggest threat we face – climate change”

Newsroom

Published

on

“The pandemic gives us some hope because we have proven that we can all join together. But, why do we overrate the pandemic and underrate climate change?,” Noteboom highlighted during The Emergency Plenary of the 9th European Conference on Sustainable Cities & Towns – Mannheim2020.

Mayors of Florence (Italy), Bergen (Norway) and Tirana (Albania) shared the emergencies they are facing.

 
A number of cities and regions around the world have declared climate emergencies and expressed their commitment to take action on climate change. During the Emergency Plenary of the Mannheim2020 conference, polar explorer Bernice Notenboom shared video footage from her polar explorations to visualise this emergency and asked leaders to take action.

The urgency is bigger than ever,” remarked polar explorer, filmmaker, and climate journalist Bernice Notenboom during the Emergency Plenary of the 9th European Conference On Sustainable Cities & Towns – Mannheim2020, while presenting the imminent consequences of climate change.

In a compelling presentation addressing the current environmental challenges worldwide, the journalist called on world leaders to keep global warming under controllable levels. “We need good leadership. Climate change doesn’t smell, it doesn’t have a taste, we can’t see it, but it is the biggest threat that we face,” Notenboom said, adding that “everybody will be affected, no matter where they are in the world.”

Comparing the sanitary crisis of the COVID-19 pandemics to the climate emergency, Notenboom highlighted the importance of working together to build a safer world to live in. “The pandemic gives us some hope because we have proven that we can all join together, put all the money in it, and even we are able to get our air pollution under control. Why can’t it be like this all the time? Why do we, if you ask me, overrate the pandemic and underrate climate change, which is a much bigger threat to the whole world?,” Notenboom questioned.

Climate change is real. It’s not a slow movie, it comes to us like a tsunami, just like COVID-19 did,” she highlighted.

Notenboom ended her presentation by calling on the over 2,200 registered participants to learn from each other and take action.

Inspired by Notenboom’s call to learn from one another’s experiences, Dario Nardella, Mayor of Florence; Marte Mjøs Persen, Mayor of Bergen (Norway), and Erion Veliaj, Mayor of Tirana (Albania) shared insights on the main climate emergencies their cities are facing, and how they are preparing for, and overcoming them.

The Mayor of Florence explained how the city responded to the corona crisis by offering services and supporting the third sector, and remarked that “it is not only time for emergency aid, but it’s also time to rethink things, and to build back better.

The Mayor of Tirana highlighted how a recent earthquake which struck the city provided them with an opportunity to create better neighbourhoods for citizens.

While, Marte Mjøs Persen, Mayor of Bergen, shared her worries “about our planet and our cities’ future”, which are affected by, among other things, more rain, higher temperatures, and rising sea levels, she stressed that “the planet needs our help”.

The conference continued with discussions on the tension between limited global resources, and an economic system that relies on constant growth. Economists, cities and other experts are looking into ways to urgently transform our societies, whilst making sure that no one is left behind.

The 9th European Conference on Sustainable Cities & Towns – Mannheim2020


Over 2,200 participants have registered to participate in the 9th European Conference on Sustainable Cities & Towns – Mannheim2020, the flagship European conference on local sustainable development. These participants joined from 39 countries in Europe, plus an additional 50 countries outside of Europe.

The conference builds on the legacy of the Basque Declaration, and asks, how can we take sustainability transformation forward? It acknowledges that we are in need of profound transformation across all aspects of society, and offers plenaries and policy panels to debate the various facets of this transformation. This is complemented by in-depth Solution and Toolbox Sessions (on Friday, 2 October), which will bring these high-level discussions to the local level, with concrete proposals.

On 1 October at 09:30 CEST, as part of the Green Deal Plenary of the Mannheim2020 conference, the Mannheim Message will be formally presented to the European Commission. The Mannheim Message is a call to involve local governments as real dialogue partners for policy development, not just implementation partners for policies that have been developed without them.

Continue Reading

Newsdesk

Achieving gender equality key to restoring economic resilience in Asia

Newsroom

Published

on

Business leaders and policymakers in Thailand said today that top priority must be given to empowering women in the workplace if Asia and the Pacific is to recover from the economic damage of the coronavirus pandemic.

The CEOs of 110 companies in Thailand signed and announced new commitments to the Women’s Empowerment Principles (WEPs) during a ceremony to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the principles. They committed to broaden and strengthen gender-responsive business practices, including gender-equal corporate leadership, inclusive, safe workplaces and equal pay for work of equal value. More than 3,600 companies worldwide have signed the WEPs, established by UN Women and United Nations Global Compact. Before today, only 11 companies in Thailand had signed on.

Narumon Pinyosinwat, Thailand’s Deputy Minister of Labour, said today’s event will help boost women’s labour force participation in Thailand. She said women now make up 45 percent of the country’s total workforce. But it is estimated that by 2040, up to 17 million jobs (44 per cent of all jobs) in Thailand could be at risk of automation – and due to gender inequality, women are more likely to lose those jobs. That is why the Ministry of Labour has made women’s economic empowerment a top priority, Narumon said.

“The framework of [UN Women’s] WeEmpowerAsia programme is a leading example through which we can work together, to make our voices heard, and reinforce the gender-inclusive business culture and narrow gender gaps across industries,” she said.

H.E. Pirkka Tapiola, Ambassador of the European Union to Thailand, commended the 110 companies at the event for their collective commitment and presented the EU’s perspective on how gender equality charts a direct path towards inclusive growth: “Seeing more and more companies both in Europe and in Thailand become more gender-inclusive is important progress. The commitment and actions by the private sector help build an economy in which women can participate on an equal footing, with a positive impact not only on economic growth, but our societies as a whole.”

Thailand has done comparatively well in putting women into the highest positions in business. Twenty-four per cent of CEOs/managing directors in Thailand are women, compared to an average of 20 per cent worldwide and only 13 per cent in the Asia-Pacific. Thailand has the world’s highest percentage of female chief financial officers – 43 per cent – and the third-highest percentage of female CEOs.

Mohammad Naciri, Regional Director of UN Women for Asia and the Pacific, said the region’s economies can create an opportunity for full recovery by building on the trend towards equality.

“As women make half of the world population, empowering women to achieve gender equality would serve as a key to restoring economic resilience in challenging times,” he said. “UN Women has been at the forefront of the response since the [coronavirus] outbreak, and celebrating the 10th anniversary of the Women’s Empowerment Principles this year, we are dedicated more than ever to collaborating with our reliable partners in Asia and the Pacific region, including Thailand as well as the European Union.”

During the event, participants also discussed how to measure progress on gender diversity policies and highlighted the importance of transparent data and business accountability. Also, new and emerging entrepreneurs described how their companies were fighting gender bias and promoting women’s leadership.

The event was organized by UN Women’s WeEmpowerAsia programme, which is funded by the EU. The programme supports companies in implementing the WEPs and a gender-inclusive business culture in seven countries in Asia, including Thailand.

More than 250 people attended the event, including members of the Thai private, public and social sectors, as well as representatives of UN Women and the European Union.

Continue Reading

Publications

Latest

Reports2 hours ago

How Iraq Can Turn Economic Diversification into Growth and Stability

Nearly two decades after the 2003 war, Iraq finds itself at a crossroads: caught in a fragility trap and faced...

EU Politics3 hours ago

Commission sets new plan to support green and digital transition and EU recovery

Today, the European Commission adopted a Communication on a new European Research Area for Research and Innovation. Based on excellence,...

International Law5 hours ago

Act realistically in the age of realism

To understand the geo-politics of the world in a simpler or lucid way, there is a law, not in Political...

Eastern Europe7 hours ago

Nagorno-Karabakh: Finding the path to peace

The clashes on Sunday, 27 September 2020, in the Nagorno-Karabakh region resulted in the largest number of reported casualties between...

Defense9 hours ago

India’s Test of Hypersonic Technology Demonstrator Vehicle and Implications for South Asia

In September this year, India claimed to have successfully tested scramjet engine technology. This has been indigenously developed for its...

Economy11 hours ago

Belt and Road in Central and East Europe: Roads of opportunities

The second decade of the 21st century put the geoeconomic emphasis and cooperation within the framework of China’s “One Belt,...

Environment13 hours ago

Bernice Notenboom calls for action to tackle “the biggest threat we face – climate change”

“The pandemic gives us some hope because we have proven that we can all join together. But, why do we...

Trending