While countries around the world reap the benefits of an expanding digital environment, development challenges persist, adversely impacting low-income countries from achieving that same rate of growth.
The 2016 World Development Report (PDF) recently highlighted these findings in addition to three factors that contribute to a government’s responsiveness towards these digital changes.
According to the report, public services tend to be more amenable to improvements through digital technologies if the proposed system allows for fluid feedback, a replicable development process, and an outcome that can be easily measured and identified.
Central Asia is a fascinating region with a diverse natural environment and a rich food culture. A visitor to the region might be surprised, therefore, to discover that access to “sufficient, safe and nutritious food” on a daily basis can be challenging for many people.
A highly agrarian region, with over 40% of the population living in rural areas, Central Asia faces a number of food security challenges – shaped by both traditional and modern food practices. While undernourishment, mostly driven by traditional diet, remains a challenge in countries such as Tajikistan and the Kyrgyz Republic, obesity and over-weight attributed to recent welfare improvements and newly-opened access to a wide variety of non-traditional foodstuffs, have already become a concern in many countries of the region.
Since October 29, 2015, Central Asia experienced fifteen earthquakes of moment magnitude 5.0 or greater, which on average amounts to an earthquake every 6 days. Among these events are two notable ones that occurred on December 7th and 25th of 2015. The first earthquake was a 7.2 magnitude event in Murghob district of Tajikistan.
This was the largest earthquake in the country since the 1949 Khait earthquake and it brought widespread damage throughout the Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Region, Tajikistan's largest province located in the Pamir mountains. Losses consisted of 2 fatalities caused by landslides, multiple injuries, complete or partial destruction of over 650 houses and 15 schools and kindergartens, damages to several health centers and a small hydroelectric power station, and loss of livestock. Estimates suggest that 4,000 people have been displaced and over 124,000 were affected by the earthquake, leaving many people homeless over the harsh winter period.
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%.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
- Kyrgyz Republic
- Europe and Central Asia
- South Asia
- Private Sector Development
- Public Sector and Governance
- Information and Communication Technologies
- Open Data initiative
- Open Data Government Toolkit
- Open Data Ecosystem
- open data portal
- open data
- Open Data for Development
- Open Data for Business
- information and communication for development (ICT4D)
- economic growth
- economic development
- New Delhi