South Asia needs 1 mn new jobs per month: World Bank

By Sudeshna Sarkar, IANS,

Kathmandu : To ward off poverty and promote growth, South Asia needs to create one million new jobs every month for the next 20 years, the World Bank warned Friday.

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To meet the target, no easy task on its own, the eight countries in the region would have to accelerate reforms, including ending conflict, controlling corruption, addressing electricity crises and bettering the education level.

A report released by the bank in Washington late Thursday — More and Better Jobs in South Asia — says India, Nepal, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, the Maldives, Pakistan and Sri Lanka will need to add between 1 and 1.2 million additional jobs every month for the next 20 years to contribute to growth, equity, and peace in the region.

Between 2000 and 2010, South Asia created nearly 800,000 jobs per month. But despite growth, the region is still home to the largest number of the world’s poor — a half billion people.

It also has the second lowest female participation rate in the labour force. While Nepal and Bhutan have greater participation by women, the largest countries have the lowest female participation rates with Pakistan at the bottom (22 percent), followed by India (30 percent) and Bangladesh (31 percent).

Though the region will be the largest contributor to the global workforce over the next two decades, accounting for about 40 percent of the increase in the global labour force, it will have to speed up reforms to meet the challenge of providing better jobs.

The report names several key factors that have led to South Asian workers lagging behind South East Asia.

Since 2000, South Asia has ranked as the most conflict-affected among all major regions in the world. Four of the top ten countries in terms of direct deaths due to armed conflict in 2008 are from the region: Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, and Sri Lanka.

With the exception of Sri Lanka, jobs in high conflict areas are more likely to remain rural and based in agriculture, like Afghanistan and Nepal.

Civil wars, even when they end, create obstacles to job creation. Almost 60 percent of firms in South Asia ranked political instability as a major or severe constraint to doing business.

Most companies said the top three constraints to expansion were electricity, corruption, and political instability. The report found South Asian countries doing significantly worse than comparators on electricity and power cuts and on labour legislation.

Another key factor, education, remains low in the region with well over 25 percent of the labour force in all countries, except Sri Lanka, being virtually illiterate.

South Asia also has some of the highest rates of malnutrition in the world with rates higher even than in Sub-Saharan Africa. There is also a high level of anaemia and iodine deficiency. Poor nutrition results in lower productivity of the labour force.

“Despite significant progress in recent years, the contrast between increasing demand for higher levels of education and the educational attainment of the labour force could not be starker. Education reform is key,” said Reema Nayar, co-author of the report.

“The biggest payoff in quality may well come from addressing poor nutrition and other factors in early childhood before children enter formal schooling.”

(Sudeshna Sarkar can be contacted at [email protected])