“Do you have any bread?”
“What happened to the water/electricity/heat?”
Every time I learn of another natural disaster – the people killed and injured, homes destroyed, livelihoods lost – I know we must act to reduce the tragic impact instead of waiting for the next disaster strikes.
We have that chance with this year’s World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction in Sendai, which seeks to finalize the successor to the Hyogo Framework for Action (HFA2) that guides policymakers and international stakeholders in managing disaster risk. The conference is an opportunity to set new milestones in disaster risk reduction and fighting poverty.
The cost of natural disasters already is high – 2.5 million people and $4 trillion lost over the past 30 years with a corresponding blow to development efforts.
In Asia, rapid urbanization combined with poor planning dramatically increases the exposure of cities, particularly those along densely populated coasts and river basins. Typhoon Haiyan, which killed more than 7,350 people in the Philippines in 2013, directly contributed to a 1.2 percent rise in poverty.
Every minute, dozens of people in East Asia move from the countryside to the city.
The massive population shift is creating some of the world’s biggest mega-cities including Tokyo, Shanghai, Jakarta, Seoul and Manila, as well as hundreds of medium and smaller urban areas.
This transformation touches on every aspect of life and livelihoods, from access to clean water to high-speed trains that transport millions of people in and out of cities during rush hour each weekday.
Those unfamiliar with the fast growing emerging economies of East Asia are likely to think that governments in these countries let market forces and capitalism roam free, red in tooth and claw. That was certainly my impression before coming to work in the region, and generally that held at the outset of our work by the group of us that wrote a new World Bank report “East Asia Pacific At Work: Employment, Enterprise and Wellbeing” .
The report shows just how wrong we were. We could be forgiven this impression—many of us had come from assignments in Latin America and the Caribbean or in Europe and Central Asia, where the distortions and rigidities from labor regulation and poorly designed social protection are rife, and where policy makers cast envious looks at the stellar and sustained employment outcomes in East Asia.
Well, it turns out that although they came relatively late to labor regulation and social protection, many governments in the region have entered this arena with gusto. We were surprised to find that, going just by what is written in their labor codes, the average level of employment protection in East Asia is actually higher than the OECD average.
As a wave of newly resource-rich countries, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, looks to the best means of managing resource wealth, one compelling recommendation has come to the fore: to distribute at least some portion of resource revenues to the public through direct dividend payments (DDPs). The case is laid out in papers published at the Center for Global Development by Todd Moss and the World Bank’s Shanta Devarajan and Marcelo Giugale. The DDP proposal has several foundations. Payment technology has increased the feasibility of large-scale transfers, as Alan Gelb and Caroline Decker explain. There are already cases of developing countries scaling up identity card systems associated with cash transfers quite quickly. As for rationale, given the poor track record of public expenditure efficiency, especially in resource-rich countries, it seems clear that general welfare could be targeted more effectively through DDPs, and without any of the distortionary effects or distributional flaws of price subsidies. Finally, from a political economy perspective, DDPs coupled with taxation could restore the accountability of a government to its citizens, which is otherwise weakened by its ability to draw on revenues directly from the source.
Mongolia’s mining revenues are set to soar in the coming years, but here people talk about the need to save for the future.
Surely building infrastructure, educating young Mongolians, improving healthcare and creating jobs is important? Surely by achieving these development goals Mongolia is providing for the next generation? These are great questions. Mongolia must do these things. But they in turn depend on efforts to prevent boom and bust and provide financial assets for future generations. Saving some of the revenues in good times is part of effective natural resource management.
Financed by the mining boom, government spending on new infrastructure in Mongolia has increased 35-fold in the past 10 years. But you would not know this from driving the pot holed streets of Ulaanbaatar or inhaling the smog filled air of the city, particularly in the ger areas.
A new World Bank report I co-authored examines why this increased spending is not resulting in equivalent benefits for the citizens of Mongolia in terms of better roads, efficient and clean heating, and improved water and sanitation services.
Ten years ago, the first Better Air Quality (BAQ) conference brought policy makers, experts, and advocates to Hong Kong to review the status of air quality in Asia and to recommend how to improve it. Today we are here once again to kick off the seventh BAQ in ten years, organized by the Clean Air Asia (formerly Clean Air Initiative for Asian Cities), Hong Kong Environmental Protection Department, and Hong Kong Polytechnic University. The theme of BAQ 2012 is “Growing Cities, Healthy Cities,”
Since the first meeting, we can say with certainty that the average air quality in Asian cities have improved despite their economic growth. The yearly average PM10 (particulate matter less than 10 microns) concentration for cities in the about 20 Asian countries engaged in the Clean Air Initiative for Asia was above 80 µg/m3 (microgram per m3) in year 2000. Now it is around 50 µg/m3. Although there are huge differences in air quality between countries and cities within the Asia region, the overall trend over the last decade is that most of the countries and cities have shown progress.
Most Asian countries have established, tightened and expanded ambient air quality standards (AAQS). A decade ago, only few Asian countries had standards, now there is regular air quality monitoring and air control programs.
Increased cross-learning and cooperation among developing countries has been a remarkable feature of the global economy in recent decades. It's been some time now since knowledge and technology flowed only from advanced economies ("North") to developing ones ("South").