The risks created by climate change are well known. Regardless of political views, when the majority of respected and leading science institutions say that climate change is happening, I believe that we have a problem.
From a young person’s perspective, I do not want to inherit a world that is torn apart by an issue that could have been minimized if we all took action. I don’t want a world that is destroyed by inaction and pointless bickering. If we continue to do nothing, or not enough, we will all be living in a world that could have been prevented. Inaction will tear our world apart.
A picture can tell a thousand words but the stunning photos we usually associate with the Pacific Islands often overlook the reality for many who live there. Faced with natural hazards such as cyclones, droughts and earthquakes alongside geographical remoteness and isolation, Pacific Island countries, which make up over a third of small island developing states (SIDS), are some of the most vulnerable nations in the world.
Already this year the Pacific region has been hit by two major disasters; Tropical Cyclone Ian in Tonga in January, followed by flash flooding in Solomon Islands in April. Both disasters had devastating impacts on the economy and livelihoods of local communities. Situated within the cyclone belt and Pacific Ring of Fire, earthquakes, tsunamis and cyclones are frequent. Around 41 tropical cyclones occur each year across the region as well as numerous earthquakes and floods.
The United Nations has declared 2014 as the International Year of Small Island Developing States (SIDS), in recognition of the contributions this group of countries has made to the world, and to raise awareness of the development challenges they confront – including those related to climate change and the need to create high-quality jobs for their citizens.
The Third International Conference on SIDS in September in Apia, Samoa will be the highlight event. The World Bank Group is helping shape the debate on both climate and jobs with a delegation led by Rachel Kyte, the Group Vice President and Special Envoy for Climate Change, and with senior-level participation in the conference’s Private Sector Forum.
Is the global jobs agenda relevant to small islands states?
Tackling the challenges related to the jobs agenda in large and middle-income countries could be seen as the most significant issue for the Bank Group’s new Trade and Competitiveness Global Practice, of which I’m a member. Yet the Minister of Finance of Seychelles recently challenged my thinking on this.
The sentiment among SIDS leaders was that one-size-fits-all solutions will not do when it comes to jobs and growth. Yes, they do want to continue to address the tough fiscal challenges they face, but they want to tackle them while creating job opportunities for their citizens.
Decades of reforms have not helped SIDS grow at a rate similar to the rest of the world: On average, their pace of job creation is about half the global rate. The lack of opportunities felt by many generations resulted in a heavy “brain drain” that exceeds the level seen in other developing countries.
It is becoming very clear that business as usual in SIDS will not do. Creative solutions need to be found now.
Back in March 2014, I had the opportunity to be part of a World Bank team supporting the Tongan government to develop a reconstruction policy after Tropical Cyclone Ian hit earlier this year. To implement the policy, the Ministry of Infrastructure led a series of surveys to inform housing reconstruction. This post, which does not intend to be scientific or exhaustive, is to share some of the key lessons I learned from this experience.
Damage assessments are routine in the aftermath of disasters, but they differ depending on their objectives (Hallegatte, 2012 - pdf). A rapid survey in the wake of a disaster event could help to estimate grossly the direct human and economic losses and damages. This type of survey is best to capture the amplitude and the severity of the disaster. However, such survey could present some flaws, often because the survey will be conducted in a very short time frame with minimal design. On the other hand, a survey conducted a few months after the event is best to understand better the context of the disaster. It also allows a better design and better preparation. But, equally, such survey could include biases. For instance, the time lag between the event and the survey itself could create some level of challenges. Most likely, people would have started to fix their houses or have moved away from the affected area, and that will add a layer of complexity to the survey.
In the morning of January 11, 2014, after an early warning from the Department of Meteorology and the National Disaster Management Office on the upcoming category 5 tropical cyclone Ian, power and radio transmission went off on the Island of Ha’apai, one of the most populated among the 150 islands of the Tongan archipelago in the South Pacific.
The Pacific Islands are inherently prone to hazards due to their geographic location and small size. Each year Pacific Island countries experience damage and loss caused by natural disasters estimated at an average $284 million, or 1.7% of regional GDP (World Bank 2013). In the coming decades, climate change is expected to make things worse through sea level rise and more intense cyclones.
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.
Editor's Note: "Notes From the Field" is an occasional feature where we let World Bank professionals conducting interesting trade-related projects around the globe explain some of the challenges and triumphs of their day-to-day work. The views expressed here are personal and should not be attributed to the World Bank. All interviews have been edited for clarity.
The interview below was conducted with Manjula Luthria, a Senior Economist in the World Bank’s Middle East and North Africa (MENA) regional division of the Human Development Network. Ms. Luthria's work focuses migration, labor mobility, and social protection. She spoke with us about her early experiences as a country economist for the Pacific Islands region, and how lessons learned there have come to inform the programs and projects her unit works on today.
I must admit to being notoriously bad with a mobile phone. I forget to take it with me, leave it in parks and cafés and have never migrated to a smart phone – a simple old Nokia handset is my trusty aide. And on my part this has probably contributed to some skepticism about the discussion of development and mobile phones – which can sometimes seem a little evangelical.
Natural disasters – such as tsunamis, earthquakes, cyclones and floods – are costly to society, in terms of both human destruction and financial losses. Governments ultimately bear the full cost of the havoc wreaked by natural disasters, which can create an enormous strain on limited government budgets, especially in developing countries. This is even before we begin to contemplate the development impact and how the poorest of the poor are disproportionately affected.
Just last week, the world saw the widespread damage that the St. Jude storm inflicted across Europe, and we witnessed its effect on hundreds of thousands of people. Most advanced economies, however, have sufficient capacity to be able to absorb the financial losses inlicted by natural disasters. Higher-income countries enjoy (relatively) efficient public revenue systems and developed domestic insurance markets.
By contrast, developing countries do not have the same degree of access to financial and insurance markets. They face limited revenue streams, limited fiscal flexibility, and limited access to quick liquidity in the wake of an event. This is particularly so for Small Island Developing States (SIDS), such as the Pacific island nations.