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East Asia and Pacific

Climate action does not require economic sacrifice

Rachel Kyte's picture

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Harvesting rice-fields in a White Thai village in Mai Chau, Hoa Binh province, northern Vietnam.
Harvesting rice-fields in a White Thai village in Mai Chau, Hoa Binh province, northern Vietnam.

More than two decades ago, the world agreed on the need to confront climate change.

The U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) emerged in 1992, spawning a variety of negotiating forums with the goal of preventing catastrophic impacts from planetary warming caused mostly by polluting societies.

It's easy to overlook the progress that has occurred since, because we still have so far to go. Droughts, flooding and cyclones that already seem to be the norm are just the latest warnings of what is coming, and preventing much worse requires immediate and aggressive action to drastically reduce greenhouse-gas emissions.

What a simple idea can do for sustainable transport

Nak Moon Sung's picture
This is the story of an idea. In fact, of a very simple and creative idea that is having huge impact on the way people move. This idea is helping reduce travel time, save money and increase the connectivity of big and small cities.
A map of South Korea's rest areas
and transfer points

So who is behind this brilliant idea? Actually, it is rather something that we all take for granted in developed countries, as well as some developing countries’ expressways or highways: the rest area.

We normally associate rest areas with a quick stop for food, gas or other necessities. But what if these rest areas could add even more value to transportation, and without huge expenses? This is precisely what the South Korean government did back in 2010 when it opened the first “Regional Buses to Regional Buses Transfer Centers,” utilizing rest areas along expressways. The idea was gestated at the Korea Transport Institute (KOTI), one of the partners of the World Bank’s Transport and ICT global practice.

Since 2010, rest areas have played an effective role as “sub-hubs,” or transfer centers for regional buses, which in turn have more than doubled the number of regional routes, increasing the accessibility to smaller cities, and all this without having to go through the capital Seoul, where there is often too much traffic and congestion.

We know that bus transport is a more effective transportation mode than individual cars, particularly in terms of moving more people and reducing congestion and pollution. But in Korea, as well as other countries, there are several reasons why bus transport is less favored than cars, but one of the most important is a lack of accessibility to smaller cities. That is to say, bus transport cannot provide door-to-door service. In fact, accessibility in regional bus transport is worse than within cities mainly because regional buses tend to operate mostly non-stop services between larger cities.

Mission to Myanmar: Promoting the full development potential of an economy in transition

Cecile Fruman's picture
In Yangon, the urban modernization of Myanmar is well under way | Photo by Stephanie Liu

How do you help a burgeoning democracy like Myanmar with its transition to a market-based economy after 50 years of isolation, poor infrastructure and limited capacity for reform? You do it by  engaging closely with the government, the private sector and development partners, and by providing the full range of data, financing and knowledge available across all sectors of the economy.

As I conclude my first visit to Myanmar, a fragile and conflict-affected country where the World Bank Group started our development engagement just three years ago, I've witnessed first-hand how the WBG can best support such an economy in transition. As Myanmar looks forward to its first free and fair election in over two generations – an event coming up in November – the challenge will be to ensure continued reform momentum during a period of dramatic political change.
Seldom have we faced such dramatic circumstances in a country where our engagement is in such an early stage and where the development potential is so great. A country of 50 million people that went from once being the rice basket of Asia to today having the lowest life expectancy and the second-highest rate of infant and child mortality among ASEAN countries as well as vast untapped farmland, Myanmar provides a once-in-a-lifetime development opportunity. This situation offers a chance for the WBG’s Trade and Competitiveness Global Practice to contribute to the transformation of an economy and society by supporting regulatory reforms, improving trade policy and trade facilitation, helping generate investment and improving the ability of the country to compete in one of the world’s most dynamic regions.
I was privileged during my visit to meet with the Minister and Deputy Minister of Commerce and their senior staff, and to open the Third Session of the Trade Sector Working Group, which the WBG co-chairs with the European Union and the Ministry of Commerce. Surrounded by India, China, Bangladesh, Thailand and Lao PDR – countries that together have about 40 percent of the world’s population – Myanmar has markets at its doorstep that are ready to be tapped. The removal of investment and trade sanctions by the West has also opened significant new opportunities farther afield.

The Mindanao Trust Fund in the Philippines: still hopeful after 10 years

Roberto B. Tordecilla's picture
Since 2005, the Mindanao Trust Fund (MTF) has worked to build the capacity of the Bangsamoro Development Agency through the “learning-by-doing” approach. Over half a million people in 214 villages across 75 municipalities have benefited from the multi-donor trust fund.

I started working with the World Bank in 2005. I worked first with the ARMM Social Fund Project (ASFP), then with the Mindanao Trust Fund (MTF) about a year later. The ASFP, already at its mid-term, was in support of the 1996 peace agreement and thus the context was post-conflict. The MTF was in support of an on-going peace process and operated in the context of confidence-building.

Working first in the ASFP was a very useful preparation for my MTF work. The two projects were situated in the same geographic and socio-cultural context and had similar operational challenges (e.g., low capacity of staff, governance issues, etc.).

Flood risk in dry Ulaanbaatar of Mongolia? Really? Really

Artessa Saldivar-Sali's picture
Making Ulaanbaatar More Resilient to Floods

After growing up in Manila, one of the densest and most cyclone-prone cities in the world, I expected my first visit to Mongolia to be filled with vast plains and blue skies. The plains and skies did not disappoint – but I quickly learned that Ulaanbaatar, the country’s capital, is a city that is rapidly becoming like many other cities where I have lived and worked.
There is the unmistakable buzz of a place that is growing, and growing fast.  People move to Ulaanbaatar from the countryside for the opportunities that open up to them, with the city now home to nearly half the country’s population. It is becoming more cosmopolitan every time I go – there is even a Cuban restaurant with a Cuban chef. And, like many other cities in Asia, Ulaanbaatar has floods.
Out of the 34 floods recorded from 1915-2013, about 60% occurred from 2000-2009. The 1966 flood stood out in collective memory as being the last “big one.” Yet in 1966, Ulaanbaatar only had a population of over 200,000, now it has over 1.3 million people.  

Which South Asia do you live in?

Prabha Chandran's picture

This blog is part of the series #OneSouthAsia exploring how South Asia can become a more integrated, thus more economically dynamic region. The blog series is a  lead up to the South Asia Economic Conclave, an event dedicated to deepen existing economic links through policy and investments in regional businesses.

Which South Asia do you live in? The one which offers world-class metros and malls, super-specialty hospitals, gourmet eateries and designer homes where servants make your meals, drive your car or clean your mess? 

Or do you live in the South Asia where sanitation, water and electricity are a luxury, where filth, ignorance and violence means death comes early and more frequently from illness, poverty and natural disasters? Statistically, the latter is more likely.

Having lived in Southeast Asia, where the emergence of the Tigers has transformed the lives of millions of poor through investment in human development, infrastructure and exports producing high growth rates, the visible poverty and chaotic streets of South Asia are troubling. So, too, is the contrast provided by India's dollar billionaires -- the third-largest rich man's club in the world.

East Asia’s challenge: ensuring that growth helps poor

Axel van Trotsenburg's picture

Unprecedented economic growth in the last three decades propelled East Asia into an economic powerhouse responsible for a quarter of the world’s economy.

Hundreds of millions of people across the region, including in China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam, lifted themselves out of extreme poverty and enjoyed greater prosperity, largely because of more labor-intensive and inclusive growth.

The success didn’t come without challenges. As of last year, 100 million people in East Asia still live on $1.25 a day. About 260 million still live on $2 a day or less, and they could fall back into poverty if the global economy takes a turn for the worse or if they face health, food and other shocks at home. Their uncertain future shows the increasing inequality of East Asia’s galloping growth.

Old fuel for a new future: the potential of wood energy

Paula Caballero's picture
A woman buying a clean cookstove in Tanzania. Klas Sander / World Bank

The use of wood energy – including firewood and charcoal – is largely considered an option of last resort. It evokes time-consuming wood collection, health hazards and small-scale fuel used by poor families in rural areas where there are no other energy alternatives.

And to a certain extent this picture is accurate. A study by the Alliance for Clean Cookstoves found that women in India spend the equivalent of two weeks every year collecting firewood, which they use to cook and heat their homes. Indoor air pollution caused by the smoke from burning firewood is known to lead to severe health problems: the WHO estimates 4.3 million deaths a year worldwide attributed to diseases associated with cooking and heating with solid fuels. Incomplete combustion creates short-lived climate pollutants, which also act as powerful agents of climate change.

But wood is a valuable source of energy for many of the 2.9 billion people worldwide who lack access to clean cooking facilities, including in major cities. It fuels many industries, from brickmaking and metal processing in the Congo Basin to steel and iron production in Brazil.  

In fact, the value of charcoal production in Africa was estimated at more than $8 billion in 2007, creating livelihoods for about seven million women and men, and catering to a rapidly growing urban demand. From this standpoint, wood energy makes up an enterprise of industrial scale. 

So, instead of disregarding wood energy as outdated, we must think of the economic, social and environmental benefits that would derive from modernizing its use. After all, wood energy is still one of the most widespread renewable fuels at our disposal. We already have the technological know-how to enhance the sustainability of wood energy value chains. Across the European Union’s 28 member states, wood and solid biofuels produced through “modern” methods accounted for nearly half of total primary energy from renewables in 2012.

How national PPP units can influence regional performance: Korea’s experience

Kang-Soo Kim's picture

Kang-Soo Kim is Executive Director, Public and Private Infrastructure Investment Management Center (PIMAC), at the Korea Development Institute (KDI), the Republic of Korea’s leading think tank on national economic development. In this blog entry, he explains how national Public-Private Partnership (PPP) units can influence regional economic performance.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

What advice would you give governments creating a PPP unit?

First, for a government considering this, the vision for PPP needs to be established and shared with others. Second, clearly distinguished roles and functions must be institutionalized. Third, expertise needs to be developed in fields like law, finance, accounting, economics, development, and engineering. Fourth, active benchmarking of developed PPP economies and cooperation with other PPP units should be encouraged and promoted

Overall, it’s critical to remember that a PPP unit’s expertise and capacity is not built overnight. So my final piece of advice is that while experience is built, remaining patient is just as important as maintaining a clear vision of PPP.

What makes PIMAC effective?

The legal and institutional system that guarantees independence and objectivity to the evaluation body is the most important element here. A PPP unit should not be in any way influenced by other players in a PPP project — whether the budget authority, the competent authority, or the private concessionaire. The government is vulnerable to political influence although the private sector is the project stakeholder. Independent and objective assessment by the PPP unit is therefore all the more crucial. It is important that the government lends its support, and that all decision-making reflects evaluations made by the PPP unit.

Financial inclusion in Asia – time for disruption?

Nataliya Mylenko's picture

More than half of the world’s population lives in Asia and its robust growth is supporting the world economy.  After weathering well the 2008 crisis Asia is now in the spotlight with currencies depreciating and capital markets in retreat.  One widely voiced concern is rapid expansion of credit in the past decade fueled by abundant liquidity.  Globally, and in Asia, regulatory response to the 2008 crisis has been to strengthen financial regulation and de-risk financial intermediation.  Yet the reality of credit markets in most Asian economies is quite different from that in high income economies.  While domestic credit by financial sector represented on average over 100% of GDP for high income OECD countries, emerging Asia’s average in 2014 stood at 60%. The differences across countries are substantial in this diverse region, but in two thirds of Asian economies domestic credit is less than 60% of GDP.  The reality for most economies in Asia is that of limited and often inefficient financial markets which do not serve fully their growth needs. Low level of financial inclusion is a major contributing factor and a major challenge.