We recently brought a team of technologically savvy students together and worked hard for two days with very little sleep to develop an application to respond to sexual violence. The hard work paid off when our team was awarded first place in a Hackathon at the American University of Central Asia (AUCA).
This year, the annual Doing Business Report – by far the most anticipated and cited World Bank publication – celebrates its 15th year. Starting in 2003, the fledgling report, which covers about 130 countries, has grown into its teens garnering admiration and criticism in equal measure. Some absolutely love it, while others argue that its flaws outweigh its strong points.
Regardless, nobody can deny that the Doing Business report has been a major catalyst for reforms across the world – 3,200 reforms of business regulation have been counted to date, spurred by the Report and carried out in line with the methodology of its indicators.
With every calamity comes an opportunity: to rebound and rebuild stronger than before.The economies of Central Asia faced such an opportunity following the major economic shock they experienced at the end of 2014. The collapse in commodity prices affected not only oil-producing countries – highlighting the narrow production base on which their prosperity rests – but also oil importers, whose growth depends largely on remittance-fueled demand.
All countries in the region experienced significant welfare losses. In 2015-16, the volume of imports declined 15% in both Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, and 25% in Kyrgyzstan – a clear sign that households and firms were constrained.
After the initial shock, however, the economies of Central Asia rebounded. This was thanks to supportive fiscal and monetary policies, namely fiscal expansion and relatively lose monetary policy. Growth has picked-up: for Central Asia, as a whole, it is now projected to reach 4.4% in 2017, against 2.8% the year before. Inflation has returned to manageable levels: in Kazakhstan, it has plummeted down from the double-digit rates seen after the fall in oil prices, confirming that the previous spike was merely a one-time adjustment.
But, have the countries of Central Asia done enough to shift the focus from structural constraints to durable prosperity? According to the recently released Economic Update for Europe and Central Asia, important challenges still lie ahead.
“At 14:28:04 on May 12, 2008, an 8.0 earthquake struck suddenly, shaking the earth, with mountains and rivers shifted, devastated, and parted forever….” This was how China’s official report read, when describing the catastrophic consequences of the Sichuan earthquake, which left 5,335 students dead or missing.
Just two years ago, in Nepal, on April 25, 2015, due to a Mw 7.8 earthquake, 6,700 school buildings collapsed or were affected beyond repair. Fortunately, it occurred on Saturday—a holiday in Nepal—otherwise the human toll could have been as high as that of the Sichuan disaster, or even worse. Similarly, in other parts of the world—Pakistan, Bangladesh, Philippines, Haiti, Ecuador, and most recently Mexico—schools suffered from the impact of natural hazards.
For many countries, damages and losses related to transport are a significant proportion of the economic impacts of disasters, often more than destruction to housing and agricult+ure in value terms. For example, a fiscal disaster risk assessment in Sri Lanka highlighted that over 1/3 of all damages and losses over the past 15 years were to the transport network. In addition, climate change increases the damages and losses.
In the Kyrgyz Republic, where 96% of all cargo travels by road, any disaster-related disruptions to the road network would have severe repercussions on the economy. The Minister of Transport and Roads, Mr. Zhamshitbek Kalilov, is charged with protecting these systems from all kinds of natural hazards, from avalanches to floods.
Held in Tokyo, the week-long exchange brought together World Bank clients and teams from 16 countries across all regions to share concepts and practices on resilient transport, including systems planning, engineering and design, asset management, and contingency programming. The exchange drew upon the experience of several countries and international experts who showcased innovative approaches and practical advice on how to address risk at every phase of the infrastructure life-cycle.
Assessments make a lot of people nervous, and I’m not just talking about the students who have to take them. As a psychometrician (assessment expert) and World Bank staffer, I’ve worked on assessment projects in more than 30 countries around the world over the past 10 years. Time and again, I’ve found great interest in student assessment as a tool for monitoring and supporting student learning coupled with great unease over how exactly to go about ‘doing’ an assessment.
Recently, the OECD released the results for PISA 2015, an international assessment that measures the skills of 15-year-old students in applying their knowledge of science, reading, and mathematics to real-life problems. There is a sense of urgency to ensure that students have solid skills amidst modest economic growth and long-term demographic decline in Europe and Central Asia (ECA).
Places with cold climates need access to a reliable and efficient heat supply for the health of their population. But in developing countries, the majority of rural and peri-urban households do not have access to centralized heating or gas networks. Instead, they use traditional heating stoves that use solid fuels like coal, wood, and dung for heating. These stoves are often inefficient (with thermal efficiency as low as 25%-40% compared to 70% or above for efficient stoves) and emit large amounts of pollutants (e.g., CO and PM2.5), causing indoor and outdoor air pollution with negative health and environmental impacts.
Global competition to attract foreign and domestic direct investment is so high that nearly all countries offer incentives (such as tax holidays, customs duty exemptions and subsidized loans) to lure in investors. In the European Union, the 28 member states spent 93.5 billion euros on non-crisis State Aid to businesses in 2014. In the United States, local governments provided and average of US$80.4 billion in incentives each year from 2007 to 2012.
In order to better understand the prevalence of incentives worldwide, the Investment Climate team in the Trade & Competitiveness Global Practice of the World Bank Group reviewed the incentives policy of 137 countries. Results showed that all of the countries that were surveyed provide incentives, either as tax or customs-duty exemptions or in other forms. Table 1 (below) shows the rate at which these instruments are used across advanced and emerging economies. For instance, tax holidays are least common in OECD countries and are most prevalent in developing economies. In some regions they are the most-used incentive.
However, despite offering incentives, few countries meet all the requirements of a fully transparent incentives policy. These include: mandating by law, and maintaining in practice, a database and inventory of incentives available to investors; listing in the inventory all aspects of key relevance to stakeholders (such as the specific incentive provided, the eligibility criteria, the awarding and administration process, the legal reference and the awarded amounts); making the inventory publicly available in a user-friendly format; requiring by law the publication of all formal references of incentives; and making the incentives easily accessible to stakeholders in practice. A T&C study now under way on incentives transparency in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region showed that none of the eight countries analyzed has a fully transparent incentives policy. (See Graph 1, below.)
Numbers don’t lie. That’s why, in our day-to-day lives, we rely heavily on numbers from household surveys, from national accounts, and from other traditional sources to describe the world around us: to calculate, to compare, to measure, to understand economic and social trends in the countries where we work.
But do we perhaps rely too much on numbers to gain an understanding of people’s lives and the societies in which they live? Do numbers really tell us the whole story, or give us the full picture?