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New normal in South Asia: Structural changes and social reforms

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How COVID-19 will impact the South Asian economy has been a topic of curiosity since the beginning of the pandemic. 

The second panel discussion of the ‘4th Bangladesh Economic Summit’ took place on 27th February. 

This session focused on ‘New Normal in South Asia: Structural Changes and Social Reforms’ and was moderated by Dr. Selim Raihan, Professor of Economics at the University of Dhaka. 

Dr. Farida C Khan, Professor of Economics at the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs, Dr. Mihir Pandey, Associate Professor of Economics at the Rajmas College, University of Delhi, and Dr. S.M. Turab Hussain, Associate Professor at Lahore University of Management Sciences, were present as panellists and discussed the lockdown realities of their respective countries. 

Dr. Farida C Khan highlighted the pre-COVID concerns like poverty, gender gap, land scarcity, export dependency, youth unemployment, and many more. She tried to shed light on different aspects that got an intense hit during the COVID pandemic as well as the newly arisen problems. 

How the deficit in the healthcare sector put this region in a crucial position was also discussed. 

Dr. Khan also mentioned the positive sides of our economy; she tried to highlight the backlashes of the COVID pandemic on the economic sector of South Asia that has caused major economic shifts. 

Dr. Pandey agreed with Dr. Khan in this regard and mentioned how India also suffered badly during the pandemic due to a lack of proper preparation to combat this deadly virus. 

According to him, the reverse migration of foreign worker issues alongside the increasing unemployment affected the Indian economy severely. He believes that ensuring better social protection for migrant workers and proper implementation of it can be a good way to tackle this issue. 

In answering the question of how the pandemic has altered the aspiration and attitude of people, Dr. Turab Hussain said that a massive digitalisation has taken place during the pandemic. 

Even though there is a class disparity and urban people have better access to online-based activities, an overall shift in lifestyle has become much more visible. 

Dr. Turab also described how micro or localised lockdowns were implemented in Pakistan, which helped its economy incredibly. Even though Pakistan was facing issues regarding premature industrialisation, the COVID pandemic could not affect its economy as much as its neighbouring countries. 

However, this discussion was not limited to economic effects of pandemic and social changes. Dr. Farida Khan tried to provide a detailed plan that can pave the way forward to sustainable development and powerful recovery. 

Healthcare reform, financing the marginal communities, making a better working environment and labour force management were some of the important suggestions that she gave. 

All the panellists emphasised the importance of proper information provision, building up a better data structure and sustainable online platforms for an effective recovery. They believe that ensuring a more promising remote working capacity will be a remarkable step towards building a strong labour force. 

The discussion was followed by a question-answer session from the audience. The importance of regional economic activities and export-import to ensure an integrated economy in the future was one of the major takeaways from the session. 

The panellists mentioned that the pandemic was an opportunity for countries in the South Asian Region to work together, which perhaps they missed yet again. 

The session was concluded with the hope of improving regional cooperation to combat the problems of foreign exports that struck us badly during the pandemic.

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