The Western Balkans Case
When I travel to the Balkans for work, the journey typically begins with a cab ride to the airport from my home in Vienna. The taxi company I use is run and operated by Serbs living in Austria. It’s a great company: very reliable, clean cars and friendly drivers who are always keen to discuss the politics and economics of the Balkans. When I arrive in Belgrade, I’m picked up by drivers who have very similar skills to those of their compatriots in Vienna. However, the former have better salaries and opportunities simply because the company they work for operates in an environment that is much more conducive to nurturing and growing a business. In Austria, unlike in Serbia, a company can operate efficiently, is subject to a relatively fair tax treatment and knows the industry standards it needs to comply with. In turn, this explains to a large extent why workers, at any given levels of skills, are more productive in Austria – a basic intuition which William Lewis develops in his book The Power of Productivity, projecting the gains that Mexican construction workers make when moving to the USA.
The Western Balkans Case
In January, World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim urged the audience at the World Economic Forum in Davos to look closely at a young, promising form of finance for climate-smart development: green bonds. The green bond market had surpassed US$10 billion in new bonds during 2013. President Kim called for doubling that number by the UN Secretary-General's Climate Summit in September.
Just a few days ago—well ahead of the September summit—the market blew past the US$20 billion mark when the German development bank KfW issued a 1.5 billion Euro green bond to support its renewable energy program.
Last week the New York Times featured an editorial suggesting that the World Bank should become a remittance center. Remittances are the "largest and arguably most effective antipoverty effort in the world.....financed by the poor themselves...,” it stated. “But the cost to transfer those billions is likely to rise soon...[as] big banks are leaving the money-transfer business, including Bank of America, Citigroup and JPMorgan Chase."
"If banks can’t profitably transmit remittances — and won’t do so as a low-margin courtesy — then other secure, low-cost options must be found. One solution would be for the World Bank to become a remittance center.”
A puzzle: Sanitation is one of the most productive investments a government can make. There is now rigorous empirical evidence that improved sanitation systems reduce the incidence of diarrhea among children. Diarrhea, in turn, harms children’s nutritional status (by affecting their ability to retain nutrients). And inadequate nutrition (stunting, etc.) affects children’s cognitive skills, lifetime health and earnings. In short, the benefits of sanitation investment are huge. Cost-benefit analyses show rates of return of 17-55 percent, or benefit/cost ratios between 2 and 8.
But if the benefits are so high (relative to costs), why aren’t we seeing massive investments in sanitation? Why are there 470 million people in East Asia, 600 million in Africa and a billion people in South Asia lacking access to sanitation? Why are there more cellphones than toilets in Africa?
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- Public Sector and Governance
In September, the world’s top scientists said the human influence on climate was clear. Last month, they warned of increased risks of a rapidly warming planet to our economies, environment, food supply, and global security. Today, the latest report from the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) describes what we need to do about it.
The report, focused on mitigation, says that global greenhouse gas emissions were rising faster in the last decade than in the previously three, despite reduction efforts. Without additional mitigation efforts, we could see a temperature rise of 3.7 to 4.8 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial times by the end of this century. The IPCC says we can still limit that increase to 2 degrees, but that will require substantial technological, economic, institutional, and behavioral change.
Let’s translate the numbers. For every degree rise, that equates to more risk, especially for the poor and most vulnerable.
I discussed our most recent Russia growth outlook at a roundtable at the Higher School of Economics Conference on Apr. 2 with a number of Russian and international experts. This conference is one of the most important and prestigious economic conferences in Russia, and traditionally, the World Bank co-sponsors it as part of its outreach to other stakeholders.
The room was packed...
The price of sending international remittances has reached a new record low in the first quarter of 2014. The global average cost of sending money across borders was recorded at 8.36 percent. This figure is used as a reference point for measuring progress toward achieving the so-called “5x5” objective – a goal endorsed by the G8 and G20 countries – to reduce the cost of sending remittances by five percentage points, to 5 percent, by the end of 2014.
Most indexes of international remittance costs – published by the World Bank in the new, ninth issue of the Remittance Prices Worldwide report, which was released on March 31 – indicate good progress in the market for remittances.
The global average cost is significantly lower when weighted by the volume of money that flows in each of the report’s country-to-country pairs. The weighted average cost is now down to 5.91 percent, following a further decline in the last quarter. For the first time, the weighted average has fallen below 6 percent.
Nearly one-third of the remittance-sending countries included in Remittance Prices Worldwide have now achieved a reduction of at least 3 percentage points. Those countries include such major sources of remittances as Australia, Canada, Germany, Italy and Japan. This is also the case for 39 out of 89 of the remittance-receiving countries.
When Jane Otai said there are flying toilets in slums of Nairobi, most of her audience, like me, was trying to figure out what she meant.
A few others laughed softly. Because there are no toilets, she said, “people just do it [in bags] and throw it on the rooftops.” And it is really difficult for women and girls, she added.
Join me in a Twitter Chat on why global food prices remain high on Dec. 4 at 10 a.m. ET/15:00 GMT. I'll be tweeting from @worldbanklive with hashtag #foodpriceschat. Ask questions beforehand with hashtag #foodpriceschat. Looking forward to seeing you on Twitter.
Today there are 842 million who are hungry. As the global population approaches 9 billion by 2050, demand for food will keep increasing, requiring sustained improvement in agricultural productivity. Where will these productivity increases come from? For decades, small-scale family farming was widely thought to be more productive and more efficient in reducing poverty than large-scale farming. But now advocates of large-scale agriculture point to its advantages in leveraging huge investments and innovative technologies as well as its enormous export potential. Critics, however, highlight serious environmental, animal welfare, social and economic concerns, especially in the context of fragile institutions. The often outrageous conditions and devastating social impacts that “land grabs” bring about are well known, particularly in severely food-insecure countries.
So, is large-scale farming—particularly the popularly known “super farms”—the solution to food demand challenges? Or is it an obstacle? Here are the 10 key questions you need to ask yourself to better understand this issue. I have tried to address them in the latest issue of Food Price Watch.
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