More than 33% of people living in extreme poverty globally reside in South Asia. The poorest countries in the region, Afghanistan, Nepal and Pakistan presented GDP per capita rates of $544, $972 and $1,555. Respectively, this is a result of issues across these countries such as poor infrastructure, poor economic practices, political uncertainty and poverty. For many countries in South Asia, like India, Bangladesh and Pakistan, the COVID-19 caused millions of people to fall back into poverty. Policymakers must now reverse the increased food and commodity prices that result in economic insecurities in order to mitigate poverty in South Asia.
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, South Asia countries made “significant progress” to help communities move out of poverty. Between 1990 and 2015, its poverty rate declined from 52% to 17%. The Asian Development Bank has projected that the trade-dependent economies of Southeast Asia will recover from the effects of the pandemic, growing to 5.1% in 2022 from 4.4% in 2021, therefore, helping to mitigate poverty in South Asia.
There are multiple reasons why South Asian countries have high levels of poverty and low GDP rates. According to The Conversation, governments do not allocate enough state resources on social development, such as education and health. In addition, “limited effectiveness” goes into delivering public services to the communities, such as health and education, or implementing policies to reduce poverty.
Further, government investment to improve public services, such as making tax systems more efficient and increasing vaccine availability in local health services, would improve the nation’s economy and help mitigate poverty levels. Countries with higher levels of state capacity have done relatively better to control the spread of COVID-19 and reduce mortality rates.
The World Bank Strategy
Now, the “impressive” reduction in poverty can connect to South Asia’s growing economy, as it is the world’s second-fastest-growing economy. According to the U.N. Chronicle, “India, Bangladesh and Nepal lowered their poverty rates by 7%, 9% and 11%” in the 1990s. India is South Asia’s largest economy and could grow by 8.3% in the 2021-2022 fiscal year with aid from public investment and incentives to boost manufacturing.
International organizations aided South Asia nations during the pandemic. They ensured the nations were able to mitigate the effects of COVID-19 and limit the number of people vulnerable to poverty. For example, the World Bank focused on promoting inclusive and sustainable growth, investing in people and strengthening resilience in South Asia.
The World Bank also provided $922 million to purchase and deploy COVID-19 vaccines in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. In Pakistan, the World Bank supported efforts to implement nutrition-sensitive cash transfers for the most vulnerable populations and policy actions to help put children back in school. Meanwhile, a COVID-19 Emergency Response and Health System Preparedness Project is working on multiple projects, including equipping hospitals as pandemic response centers in Sri Lanka.
Additionally, in Nepal, the World Bank focused on the agriculture sector by allocating $80 million to strengthen rural market linkages and promote entrepreneurship. International efforts are a vital resource to help mitigate poverty in South Asia.
If policymakers allocate resources toward programs that help sustain their growing economy and mitigate the negative results of COVID-19, South Asia communities could have a better chance of avoiding poverty.
– Makena Roberts