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Sri Lanka

The “plastic bridge”: a low-cost, high-impact solution to address climate risk

Oliver Whalley's picture
Photo: Anthony Doudt/Flickr
Bridges are critical links in the transport network. In their position across waterways, they are exposed to the full effects of flooding and landslides, and are often the first pieces of infrastructure to be damaged in the event of a disaster. They also typically take weeks or months to repair.  Besides causing expensive damage to the infrastructure itself, disruptions in connectivity also have a much broader impact on economic productivity and people’s ability to access essential services. As many places are expected to witness more intense and frequent rainfall as a result of climate change, the risk to bridges will only worsen: more rainfall will lead to bigger river flows and more damage to bridges, especially those designed to handle smaller storms.

At each end of a bridges is a structure which supports the weight of the deck. These are known as abutments, and they are often the first part of the bridge to fail. Blockage of the main channel by debris can cause water to look for the path of least resistance around the sides of the bridges, thus placing the abutments at risk.

Traditional bridge construction requires the installation of piles for the foundations of abutments—a lengthy and expensive process that involves specialist materials, skills and equipment.

But there is another promising solution: Geosynthetic Reinforced Soil (GRS) abutments. These allow for rapid and resilient construction of bridge abutments using locally available materials, without specialized equipment. With GRS, bridges can be constructed in as little as five days (Von Handorf, 2013) and at a cost 30-50% lower than traditional approaches (Tonkin and Taylor, 2016) .

GRS abutments are based on ‘geogrids,’ a high density mesh made out of polyethylene (plastic). Layers of soil and geogrid are combined to create a solid foundation for the bridge deck. Construction can be completed with basic earthmoving and compaction equipment, and a range of local fill materials can be used with guidance from geotechnical specialists.

Women can play a greater role in realizing South Asia’s potential

Annette Dixon's picture
Mumbai Train
The suburban train system in Mumbai is used by millions of women and men everyday, who rely on safe transport to access education and job opportunities. 

Last week, I took a journey on Mumbai’s suburban train system, which carries a staggering 8 million women and men, equivalent to the entire population of Switzerland, every day to where they live, work, and spend time with family and friends. Although stretched, the system has reduced mobility constraints and increased independence for millions of women who rely on safe transport to access education and job opportunities; contributing to the city’s dynamism and growth. There are similarly inspiring examples from all countries in South Asia.

As we mark International Women’s Day, we celebrate the progress made in improving women’s inclusion and empowerment, while seeking to better address continuing challenges, which are estimated to cost South Asian economies $888 billion, through devising and implementing solutions that will bridge remaining gaps.

Much to be proud of­a lot more remains to be done

South Asian countries have seen encouraging increases in greater access and gender parity in education. At the same time, the region has achieved substantial decreases in maternal and child mortality. Countries have made great strides in healthcare access through training more female healthcare workers while providing affordable care for mothers and children. The region also boasts many inspiring female leaders and role models, as well as the countless individuals positively contributing to their communities and societies against difficult odds. 

However, much more needs to be done in order to nurture all women and men to realize their potential. As South Asian countries become more prosperous, their growth trajectory will be less assured if hundreds of millions of women remain excluded from education and employment opportunities. South Asian countries will need to substantially expand their workforce in order to meet their economic growth goals and, at the same time, adequately support their increasingly large populations. Studies show that only around 1 out of 4 women in South Asia participate in the labor force, about half of what is typical in middle-income countries in other regions. Too many women face restrictions in decision-making, mobility, public safety; and far too many experience gender-based violence—the most egregious cases making headlines around the world. What can help bridge these gaps?

Pulling the chain: Business solutions for managing human fecal waste

Krishna Chaitanya Rao's picture
To understand why innovation in fecal sludge management matters, ask yourself this: In 15 years, when almost 5 billion people are using on-site sanitation, solutions like pit latrines and septic tanks, what will the world do with all the fecal waste? About half that many people use onsite sanitation today, and we already have a hard time keeping up.

The ABCs of digital jobs in South Asia

Anna O'Donnell's picture
How Can South Asia’s Youth Plug into Digital Jobs of the Future?

Over the past several years, innovations in information and communication technologies have fundamentally changed the nature of work.

This has created new opportunities in digital employment for workers and employers in South Asia and beyond.

So what are the pathways to this new employment?

During a recent Facebook live chat on digital jobs, we explored three themes related to the digital jobs of the future. First, we discussed where the digital jobs of the future are. Second, we discussed how South Asia is uniquely positioned to benefit from the growth of these jobs. And finally, we discussed how to get started in the digital economy by finding relevant training and learning opportunities.

Here’s an overview of our discussion in five points:
 
1. What are digital jobs?

Digital jobs fall into two categories: jobs within the IT or digital industries, and what are termed digital society jobs. Digital industry jobs include those such as computer programmer, mobile app developer, graphic designer and other jobs where information and communication technologies are the core tool to perform the job functions. However, technology is also changing what we call digital society jobs, where technology is maybe not core to the job functions, but makes more you more efficient and productive, and improves access to markets and networks.

2. What is driving the emergence of these new digital jobs?

The rapid rise in connectivity that is linking more and more people to the internet is changing employment. Today, many jobs can be performed through computers, with workers telecommuting from almost anywhere in the world. Many business processes are being broken down into task based work, and which can be farmed out to people with the skills to do them, anywhere the world. Some of these tasks need higher-level skills, and can pay well – especially compared with many developing countries’ wage levels. But there are also simpler tasks that many more people, even those with limited skills, can do. This mix creates the opportunity to include more people in the global digital economy, while also creating pathways towards better paying and higher quality work for those who perform well and pick up in-demand skills.

Partnering to measure impacts of private sector projects on job creation

Alvaro Gonzalez's picture
Worker in Ghana
For the poor and vulnerable of the world, jobs are key to ending poverty and driving development. But not all jobs are equally transformational.  
Photo: Jonathan Ernst / World Bank

Jobs are what we earn, what we do, and sometimes even who we are. For the poor and vulnerable of the world, jobs are key to ending poverty and driving development. But not all jobs are equally transformational. Good jobs add value to society, taking into account the benefits they have on the people who hold them, and the potential spillover effects on others. For example, inclusive jobs, such as those that employ women, can change the way families spend money and invest in the education and health of children.  

Voices of Youth: Restoring my belief in One South Asia

Nishant Khanal's picture
 7 people, people smiling, people standing and outdoor
Students from Nepal are in their national dress and preparing for their cultural show at the 13th South Asia Economics Students' Meet (SAESM) held in Kathmandu, Nepal last week. SAESM brought together top economic undergraduates to share research, learn from one another, experience a neighboring country, and make friends. 

Last November, when the SAARC summit that was supposed to be held in Pakistan was canceled, I thought regional cooperation in South Asia would lose its momentum. Tensions between members not only postponed the SAARC Summit, but also hampered the South Asian Economics Students (SAESM) meet. SAESM was scheduled to be held in India in December where I was supposed to be a participant. I started believing in news, media and opinion pieces that said ‘there’s no future for South Asian integration as there is so much mistrust in the region.

After a concerted effort from the economics professors from across South Asia with the support of the World Bank, the 13th SAESM of economics students (selected based on top paper submissions) was successfully held in Kathmandu last week. The meet brings together students to share their research, learn from one another, participate in academic competition, and make friends from across the region. Despite regional dynamics, SAESM has never missed any year since its inception in 2004, and it may well be unique in that respect in South Asia.

Involving communities to achieve sustainable development

Annette Dixon's picture
Discussing community priorities
Former refugee Jeyaranjini discusses community initiatives with her local project officer in northern Sri Lanka.
Photo Credit: Joe Qian/World Bank

Jeyaranjini lives near Kilinochchi in Northern Sri Lanka with her husband and daughter. They have been rebuilding their lives through the North East Local Services Improvement Project (NELSIP), which uses a Community Driven Development (CDD) approach to tailor projects based on community needs in this conflict affected region. 

The project has helped build 611 km of roads, 23 km of storm drains, 400 community public spaces such as markets, parks, and playgrounds, as well providing improved access to water and electricity across Sri Lanka.

“Each community member used to be alone, but now we learn, exchange ideas, and make decisions together,” she said.

South Asia has a strong tradition of local participation

Let me offer a couple of other examples: Nepal’s Self Governance Act in 1999 decentralized services delivery to villages and districts. In Afghanistan, Community Development Councils (CDCs) receive funds, in which they then manage to support their villages.

In post-disaster contexts, CDD has shown to be fast, flexible and effective at re-establishing basic services. In fragile or conflict-affected states (FCS), the approach has also helped rebuild trust within communities, and between communities and governments.

Projects incorporating CDD approaches give control over planning and investments to community groups, and aim to empower communities to deliver services to the poor and vulnerable.

CDD principles can contribute to the realization of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), a roadmap for the international development community to  promote sustainable economic, social, and environmental development by 2030.

Currently, the World Bank has 41 active CDD projects worth $6.1 billion in South Asia, including 21 projects in India worth $4.2 billion.

Resuming PPPs in Sri Lanka – now or never?

Amali Rajapaksa's picture



Sri Lanka has, over the past decade, relied primarily on public funds for most of its infrastructure needs that have come by way of borrowing on concessional and non-concessional terms with limited attempts being made to develop infrastructure with the use of private funds. However, the infrastructure gap continues to widen with the growing limitations in borrowing capacity, and the government is under pressure to deliver infrastructure adhering to practices of good governance and transparency.

The recent budget shed light on several areas where the government could engage the private sector through public-private partnerships (PPPs). Could this bring about accelerated development in infrastructure that the limited amount of public finance alone would not be able to handle?

We gave Sri Lankan microenterprises wage subsidies to hire workers: 8 years after starting, here’s what happened

David McKenzie's picture

In my very first experiment, Suresh de Mel, Chris Woodruff, and I gave small grants of capital to microenterprises in Sri Lanka. We found that these one-time grants had lasting impacts on firm profitability for male owners. However, despite these increases in firm profits, few owners made the leap from self-employed to hiring others.
In 2008 we therefore started a new experiment with a different group of Sri Lankan microenterprises, trying to see if we could help them make this transition to becoming employers. Eight years later, I’m delighted to finally have a working paper out with the results.

Building the foundation for better early childhood care and education in Sri Lanka

Renu Warnasuriya's picture
 
Playtime of the students of the Nipuna preschool in Welampitiya, Sri Lanka
Playtime of the students of the Nipuna preschool in Welampitiya, Sri Lanka. Credit: Renu Warnasuriya / World Bank
The Little Rose preschool is situated at the base of a fifty-foot high landfill in Colombo’s Kolonnawa Division. Despite being next to one of Sri Lanka’s largest waste sites, the one room preschool is spotless. Inside, 23 children from ages 3 to 5 sit on colorful plastic chairs, dressed immaculately in ‘Little Rose’ uniforms.

Running a preschool in one of Colombo’s biggest slums isn't easy, but head teacher R. A. Shalika Sajeevani exudes positivity. “The children don’t always bring snacks, so once a week, I make lunch for all of them at my home. It’s not a big deal – I cook for my own two sons anyway, I just put in a little extra for them,” she says.

The students  are supposed to pay LKR 500 ($3.40) per month as school fees, but most are only occasionally able to do so. In spite of this, Sajeevani ensures that the preschool doors are open to all children in the neighborhood as many parents in this underserved community cannot afford to pay.

She pays her assistant and covers other expenses from the money collected and retains the rest as salary, a meagre amount of LKR 5,000 ($34) a month. Though this is barely enough to survive in Sri Lanka’s fast growing capital, she has come to work everyday for the last ten years.
 
3.	Students of the Sri Sambuddhaloka Preschool sit down to have morning snacks
Students of the Sri Sambuddhaloka Preschool settle down on the floor for their mid-morning snack. With minimal facilities, this school is currently serving 97 toddlers from one of Colombo’s many low income communities. Credit: Renu Warnasuriya / World Bank

Challenges in Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE):

In a country with a well-structured free education system covering primary, secondary, and tertiary education, the state has traditionally provided little in terms of preschool education and care. However, evidence and experience has shown that ECCE improves school readiness and learning outcomes, which ultimately translates into better occupational status and earnings and yields much higher rates of return on investment.

According to the recent report, “Laying the Foundation for Early Childhood Education in Sri Lanka: Investing Early, Investing Smartly, and Investing for All”, Sri Lanka’s public spending on education as a percentage of its economy was the lowest in South Asia and its spending on early childhood education (ECE) is significantly lower than the global average.

While the country boasts of a near universal primary school enrollment rate, only about half of its 3 to 5 year-olds are enrolled in preschools which  are not primarily covered by the state. Around 60 percent of preschools are run by the private sector and 24 percent by the  other organizations and religious groups.   

Income and location are found to be among the key determinants of access to ECCE. Children from the richest 20 percent of the population are 17 percent more likely to be enrolled in preschools than children from the poorest 20 percent. Enrollment rates in urban areas is 10 percent higher than enrollment in rural or estate areas. Many centers in the country do not have adequate learning materials and quality teachers, coupled with the lack of standardized curricula and teaching facilities. Many teachers to their credit, have to depend on their own creativity to develop activities and teaching methods.    
 


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