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Why low oil prices are also bad news for the poor in Central Asia

Aurelien Kruse's picture
Trade & remittancesThe conventional wisdom is that low world prices for oil only hurt rich exporting countries, while generating a windfall for poor net importer economies.

However, in Central Asia, the story is more complicated. This is because the region’s poorer countries, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, depend critically on Russia through trade and remittances.

Falling remittances, reflecting the weakness of the Russian Ruble

According to just-released Russian Central Bank data, outward remittances from Russia fell sharply in the first half of the year, in USD terms. In the first six months of 2015 (relative to the same time in 2014) private transfers from Russia to Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan are reported to have fallen by over 45% and 30% respectively. While less exposed, Uzbekistan has experienced a loss of even greater magnitude: -48%.

On the importance of snow and joint climate action in Central Asia

Kulsum Ahmed's picture
Kyrgyz Republic / World Bank

If you think about it, snow is a pretty amazing thing. It is nature’s way of storing water in the winter, and then using it in the summer when it is needed, namely during the growing season. If it gets too warm, the water does not stay locked up as snow till the summer. Too much warmth also means that more snow and ice may melt than usual, resulting in floods. But at the same time, if the water comes down the mountain too abundantly and too early, there may not be enough water during the growing season, causing drought-like conditions.

Kazakhstan, Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan are among the Europe and Central Asia Region’s most vulnerable countries to climate change. In these five landlocked Central Asian countries, water resources depend on glaciers and snow pack. In this region, we have already seen average annual temperatures increase since the mid-20th century by 0.5°C in the south to 1.6°C in the north, and impacts are already being observed, from melting glaciers in upland areas (where glaciers have lost one-third of their volume since the 1900s), to droughts and floods in the lowlands (where weather-related disasters are estimated to cause economic losses from 0.4 to 1.3 percent of Gross Domestic Product per year for Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Kyrgyz Republic, for instance).
The future looks even more challenging. According to a World Bank report Turn Down the Heat: Confronting the New Climate Normal,” the region’s glaciers, which account today for 10 percent of the annual stream flow in the Amu Darya and Syr Darya basins, are projected to lose up to 50 percent in volume in a 2°C warmer world, and potentially up to 75 percent in a 4°C warmer world. Melting glaciers and a shift in the timing of rivers’ flow will result in a lot more water in the rivers but this excess availability will not be in sync with growing season’s water needs.  In the second half of the century, there would then be too little water flow in the rivers when the glacier volume is reduced.  The timing of peak flow of key rivers is projected to shift towards spring with a 25 percent reduction in flow during the critical crop growing season. The report also projects increased heat extremes which mean more of a reliance on irrigated agriculture (the report projects a 30 percent increase in irrigation demand) leading to an increase in water demand, exactly when water availability becomes more unpredictable. In this region, water is also connected to energy security, given the reliance on hydropower, creating further challenges.

The reforms behind the Doing Business rankings

Cecile Fruman's picture

In Mozambique in 2003, it took an entrepreneur 168 days to start a business. Today, it takes only 19 days. That kind of transformation has major implications for ambitious men and women who are seeking to make a mark in business, or, as is often the case in Africa, seeking to move beyond a life in agriculture. In economies with sensible, streamlined regulations, all it takes is a good idea, and a couple of weeks, and an entrepreneur is in business.

This week, the World Bank Group launched its annual Doing Business 2016 report, which benchmarks countries based on their progress undertaking business reforms that make it easier for local businesses to start up and operate.

For the second straight year, Singapore topped the list, with New Zealand, Denmark, the Republic of Korea, and Hong Kong SAR, China, coming in closely behind.

In the developing world, standouts included Kenya and Costa Rica, both of which rose 21 positions; Mauritius, Sub-Saharan Africa’s top-ranked economy; Kazakhstan, which moved up 12 places to rank 41st among all countries; and Bhutan, which topped South Asia’s list of reformers. In the Middle East and North Africa, 11 of the region’s 20 economies achieved 21 reforms despite the challenges caused by a number of civil and interstate conflicts.
The reforms tracked by Doing Business are implemented by governments, but the results show up most in the private sector, which is critical to driving a country’s competitiveness and to creating jobs. Ensuring an enabling environment in which the private sector can operate effectively is an important marker of how well an economy is positioned to compete globally. 
For those of us working with governments to help improve their investment climates – and to create a policy environment in which business regulatory costs are reasonable, access to finance is open, technology is shared, and trade flows within and across borders – the real work begins long before the Doing Business rankings are published.

In the World Bank Group’s Trade and Competitiveness Global Practice (T&C), our mandate is to work with developing countries to unleash the power of their private sector for growth. Much of this work involves reforms in the very areas measured in the Doing Business report: starting a business, dealing with construction formalities, or trading across borders, among other factors.

Our experience working with clients confirms one of this year’s key findings: Regulatory efficiency and quality go hand-in-hand. A good investment climate requires well-designed regulations that protect property rights and facilitate business operations while safeguarding other people’s rights as well as their health, their safety and the environment.

Why do we need to talk more about risk reduction in Central Asia

Joaquin Toro's picture

Imagine yourself in the last century, walking down one of the streets of a large Central Asian city. You are surrounded by architecture dominated by the Soviet style, with common building types stretching across the blocks. As you walk the streets, suddenly, the ground under your feet starts wobbling and everything around you starts shaking. Buildings, trees, and cars start to shake and you cannot walk any more. Instantly, many structures start to collapse and there is dust and screams everywhere. There is chaos and desperation. An earthquake of magnitude 7+ has hit the city.  This story, a true story, has happened several times in each of the Central Asian countries in the last century.

One question, eight experts, part eight: Thomas Maier

Thomas Maier's picture
Almaty, Kazakhstan. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

To gain a better understanding of how innovation in public-private partnerships (PPPs) builds on genuine learning, we reached out to PPP infrastructure experts around the world, posing the same question to each. Their honest answers redefine what works — and provide new insights into the PPP process. This is the question we posed: How can mistakes be absorbed into the learning process, and when can failure function as a step toward a PPP’s long-term success?

Our eighth and final response in this eight-part series comes from Thomas Maier, Managing Director, Infrastructure with the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD).

For countries new to PPPs, there is no doubt a steep learning curve. Fortunately, there is also a growing body of experience that such countries can learn from — the key is to understand the essence of the lessons and then incorporate these changes into the design of government support for PPPs.

Ultimately there is, of course, no substitute for good project preparation, local capacity and the development of solid legal frameworks and local capital markets — we all know these are the building blocks for the long-term success of any country’s PPP program.

Focusing on lessons learned from EBRD’s region, two current examples from Kazakhstan and Turkey come to mind.

Open Data for Business Tool: learning from initial pilots

Laura Manley's picture
Citizens in Nigeria participate in a
readiness assessment exercise to identify
high-priority datasets
Around the world, governments, entrepreneurs and established businesses are seeing the economic growth potential of using Open Data – data from government and other sources that can be downloaded, used and reused without charge.
As a public resource, Open Data can help launch new private-sector ventures and help existing businesses create new products and services and optimize their operations. Government data – a leading source of Open Data – can help support companies in healthcare, agriculture, energy, education, and many other industries.  

​In addition, government agencies can be most helpful to the private sector if they understand the unique needs of the businesses that currently or could potentially use their data.
The World Bank has used the Open Data Readiness Assessment (ODRA) in more than 20 countries to provide an overall evaluation of a country’s Open Data ecosystem. With that information and insight, government agencies can identify strengths and opportunities for making their Open Data more useful and effective. The ODRA covers essential components of any national Open Data program, including:

Part of the #Youthbiz movement? Share your story!

Valerie Lorena's picture

Also available in: Français | العربية

A boat trip from Port Elizabeth to Kingstown, in the Caribbean country of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, is a one-hour trip that locals take several times a day. It was during one of these journeys that the boat of Kamara Jerome, a young Vincentian fisherman, ran out of gas six miles from Bequia City in what is termed locally as the "Bequia Channel." While waiting for help with strong wind gusts and the sun on his head, the idea of developing a boat that would run with wind and solar energy was born. Soon after, the idea became a prototype; a boat using green technology was on the water making 20-year-old Jerome a winner of international innovation competitions and a role model to other Caribbean youth. 
In Mexico, young engineer Daniel Gomez runs a multimillion bio-diesel company originally conceived as a research project for his high school chemistry class. Gomez and his partners - Guillermo Colunga, Antonio Lopez, and Mauricio Pareja - founded SOLBEN (Solutions in bio-energy in Spanish) in their early twenties. 
Although Daniel and Kamara have different educational backgrounds, they do share one important skill, the ability to identify a problem, develop an innovative solution, and take it to the market. In other words, being an entrepreneur, an alternative to be economically active, that seems to work and not only for a few.

More oil from old wells: Innovating for Kazakhstan’s future

Yeraly Beksultan's picture
Although innovation has been a hot topic in Kazakhstan for over a decade now, it’s not always easy getting brilliant ideas “from the laboratory to the market.”
Kazakh scientists navigate this winding, unpredictable road for years and generally come to the realization that great scientific research is not enough in itself. Too often, they face a lack of support when it comes to applying the results of their scientific research in a useful, practical way.
Fortunately, a team of Kazakh scientists at the Private Entity Institute of Polymer Materials and Technology in Almaty has had a somewhat more positive experience. This team has been working on a truly innovative project: developing a solution to improving the recovery of oil from old oil wells in Kazakhstan.
But why, you might ask?

In Kazakhstan, every number counts

Aliya Pistayeva's picture
Mark Twain once said: “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.” It might seem that not much has changed since then.

In Kazakhstan, however, we have tried to change this perception of statistics, starting with the KAZSTAT Project that was launched in 2013 to strengthen the national statistical system.

Helping governments act upon the advice they seek

Jyoti Bisbey's picture
Path along the Ishim River in Astana,
Kazakhstan. Photo: Jyoti Bisbey
“What is different now?” This question echoed through my head during my recent morning runs along the beautiful Ishim River in Astana, Kazakhstan.

I was in Astana on mission to launch the new technical assistance program for Kazakhstan’s PPP policy reform, which addresses bottlenecks that constrain project structuring. This reform is especially important if the country’s Almaty Ring Road PPP is to be effective. Almaty Ring Road has been a thought-provoking transaction because previous attempts to solidify the partnership have not panned out, and grasping the history is important to resolving this successfully. Moazzam Mekam, IFC’s Regional Manager for Central Asia, and I spent many hours brainstorming on scenarios that would allow us to bring all of the stakeholders into agreement.  Most of the time, it felt like we were trying to pull a rabbit out of a hat.
The Almaty Ring Road is Kazakhstan’s only PPP in preparation right now, and it’s in the spotlight during its prequalification stage. The advisory services are provided by IFC; three years of project preparation have been devoted to ensuring that this is the right project to take to market as a PPP.  As the World Bank Group continues to support Kazakhstan on bringing private sector participation into the delivery of public infrastructure services, the reality is that since the 2006 Concession Law, not one PPP project has transpired.  Before the Concession Law, there were three PPP projects, but all of them have had issues. 
As I resumed one of my sunrise runs in this very flat, picturesque, futuristic city, I recalled a recent conversation with Moazzam. He made the point that even when there is a high level of political support for PPPs in the country, institutional and regulatory frameworks are sometimes not ready for PPPs. Capacity and willingness to undertake PPPs at the line ministry/agency level is limited. In instances like this, or when conditions exist in a similar context, we must ask ourselves how to respond, and how to move forward.