She is described as having strong ideas. A spirited and energetic girl who dreams of a big future, Shams helps children and encourages them to learn and play.
But Shams is not a real child. She is a Muppet and one of the most popular fictional characters in the children’s show Iftah Ya Simisim, the Arabic version of the popular, long-running US children’s show Sesame Street, which was introduced in the Arab world in the 1980s.
In the last three decades, East Asia has reaped the demographic dividend. An abundant and growing labor force powered almost one-third of the region’s per capita income growth from the 1960s to the 1990s, making it the world’s growth engine.
Now, East Asia is facing the challenges posed by another demographic trend: rapid aging. A new World Bank report finds that East Asia and Pacific is aging faster – and on a larger scale – than any other region in history.
More than 211 million people ages 65 and over live in East Asia and Pacific, accounting for 36 percent of the global population in that age group. By 2040, East Asia’s older population will more than double, to 479 million, and the working-age population will shrink by 10 percent to 15 percent in countries such as Korea, China, and Thailand.
Across the region, as the working-age population declines and the pace of aging accelerates, policy makers are concerned with the potential impact of aging on economic growth and rising demand for public spending on health, pension and long-term care systems.
As the region ages rapidly, how do governments, employers and households ensure that hard-working people live healthy and productive lives in old age? How do societies in East Asia and Pacific promote productive aging and become more inclusive?
The events of the Arab Spring took the world by surprise: there were no obvious signs of an approaching storm in the Levant and the Maghreb. Objective measures—used on a regular basis—showed that economies in these parts of the Middle East and North Africa grew at a moderate pace, had low and declining rates of absolute poverty, low-to-moderate income inequality, as well as decreasing child mortality rates and increasing levels of literacy and life expectancy.
The agreement reached by 196 countries at Paris to collectively work to limit the growth of global average temperatures to well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels is a landmark for efforts to avert the worst impact of climate change. At Paris, each agreed to do its part to promote sustainable energy. Countries in the Middle East and North Africa region are willing to do their share to mitigate climate change, as demonstrated by their respective Intended Nationally Determined Contributions.
The mountain kingdom of Bhutan may not seem an obvious place to look for lessons on addressing climate change. But on a recent visit I was impressed with how much this small country has achieved and also with its ambition. Bhutan has much to teach South Asia and the wider world. These lessons are especially relevant as the world negotiates in Paris a new pact on climate change at the International Climate Change Summit, known as COP21, which we all hope will eventually move the global economy to a low carbon and more resilient path.
The talks aimed at agreeing a way to keep global warming to a maximum of 2 degrees Celsius from pre-industrial era levels. There is widespread agreement that going above this threshold would have serious consequences. South Asia is among the regions of the world that is likely to be most affected by climate change. We are already experiencing this. There is increasing variability of the monsoon rainfall, more heavy rainfalls such as those that caused the recent flooding in India, and an increase in the number of droughts.
A World Bank report in 2013 predicted that even if the warming climate was kept at 2 degrees then this could threaten the lives of millions of people in South Asia. The region's dense urban populations face extreme heat, flooding and diseases and millions of people could be trapped in poverty. Droughts could especially affect north-western India, Pakistan and Afghanistan.
These are big problems. They may look much bigger than anything Bhutan - a very small country in a populous region - can teach South Asia and the world. But I see three lessons. Firstly, a commitment to ambitious goals will be critical to save the world from climate disaster. To stop the world from warming too much, climate experts estimate that global greenhouse gas emissions must be cut by up to 70 percent by 2050. Carbon neutrality (zero emissions) must be achieved within this century.
The Climate Change conference in Paris only confirmed what we already knew—that increasingly, there’s an overlap between conventional security threats of a military nature, which are focused on nations, and unconventional security threats of an environmental, social, and humanitarian nature, which are focused on societies and individuals. Thus, the phenomenon of climate change has brought about new security threats, such as internal conflict, terrorism, and instability.
Defense budgets are not publicly available, oversight is weak, and information about hidden spending is non-existent, says Transparency International-UK (TI-UK) of defense spending by the 17 governments it has scrutinized in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) as part of a new global report.
Climate change is affecting us all, but its impacts are hitting the poorest and those in poor countries hardest. That means developing countries vulnerable to sudden and slow-onset impacts of climate change need reliable and accurate weather and climate data and information to help them know when and how to protect their economies and communities.
The latest cyclical warming of Pacific Ocean waters, first observed centuries ago and formally tracked since 1950, began earlier this year and already has been felt across Asia, Africa and Latin America.
Weather experts predict this El Niño will continue into the spring of 2016 and could wreak havoc, because climate change is likely to exacerbate the intensity of storms and flooding in some places and of severe drought and water shortages in others.
El Niño’s impacts are global, with heavy rain and severe flooding expected in South America and scorching weather and drought conditions likely in the Horn of Africa region.
Over 25,000 people have descended on the Bourget in the suburbs of Paris to attend the much anticipated 21st Conference of Parties on climate change, or “COP21”. The first meeting today is due to be attended by 120 heads of state including 11 from the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). But what is the convention about, really?
In Jamaica, widespread violence constitutes a serious development challenge that affects men and women across generations. Young men and women are particularly at risk of experiencing violence, albeit in different forms and for different reasons.
For young women, sexual violence is a particular concern: 12% of women report having been forced to have sexual intercourse at some point in their lives, and nearly half of Jamaican women report that their first sexual intercourse was coerced in some way, e.g. through violence, threats, verbal insistence, deception, cultural expectations or economic circumstance (see Jamaica Reproductive Health Survey 2008-2009 for additional data) In line with global trends, Jamaican women who are sexually assaulted are likely to know their aggressors; 85% of young women who experienced forced first sexual relations reported that the perpetrator was a boyfriend.
Like their victims, perpetrators of sexual violence are also young. Official crime statistics show that 57% of perpetrators arrested for rape in 2007 were young males between 16 and 30 years of age, with the highest rates among 16-20 year olds. Similarly, the largest share of persons arrested for other forms of sexual violence in 2007 were males between 16 and 25 years.
How can we explain the high incidence of sexual violence among Jamaican youth?
Through the World Bank’s NextGENDERation Initiative, we have sought to understand whether and how social and gender norms shape youth decision-making and behaviors relating to violence. By listening to young people through focus groups, social media outreach as well as school and community-based engagements, our team has been able to gain more insight into the drivers and triggers of sexual violence among youth, and to provide them with a space to think critically about how gender roles and stereotypes affect their attitudes and actions with regard to dating, relationships and sex.
This Children’s Day, I am thinking back to an event on the link between quality education and inclusive growth that we had last month in Lima, Peru. The event was memorable not only because of Eric Hanushek’s excellent presentation and the lively panel discussion that followed, but also because there were many students from Lima in the audience.
A month later, I still remember the young faces and how intently they were paying attention to everything that was being said about their futures. At the time, I thought, this is how it should be. There should always be children and youth involved and engaged when the discussion is about them.