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Middle East and North Africa

Making Sand into Gold

Wael Zakout's picture
Haider Y. Abdulla | - Property Landscape in Dubai

Those of you who have visited Dubai in recent years may relate to what I am going to say: Dubai is in the middle of the desert, and its land, not that long ago, was really worth nothing. Now it is one of the most vibrant international cities in the world. All this happened in a relatively short time span.

5 Lessons learned from Public-Private Dialogues in Tunisia

Rania Ashraf Dourai's picture
Independence Square, Tunis - By Valery Bareta|

The time needed to acquire a permit to market medicines in Tunisia has been significantly reduced from 2 to 3 years to under 9 months.  This was achieved between the years 2014 and 2017, and is especially remarkable considering the difficult political context in Tunisia and in its different industrial sectors. This administrative reform, along with many others, was the result of public-private dialogues (PPD) launched in January 2014 in various sectors. As a sign of the importance placed on the process, it survives despite five recent changes of government in Tunisia.

Phones, Drones, and Stones – Forced Displacement and Technology

Omer Karasapan's picture
 Paul Prescott |

There are currently 66 million people forcibly displaced across the globe, 26 million fleeing their countries as refugees and 40 million internally displaced - the worst such crisis since World War II. The Middle East is among the most affected regions with over half the Syrian population forcibly displaced...

Reforming Employment Services: Three Steps to Big Change

Jacqueline Mazza's picture
Increasing the number of jobs publicly listed, enabling public and private institutions to better connect workers to jobs will not likely solve the jobs problem in developing countries. (Photo: Jonathan Ernst / WorldBank)

With the right kind of reforms, public employment services can do a better job of matching job seekers from poor households. In low and middle-income countries, individuals from poor households find jobs through informal contacts; for example asking friends and family and other members of their limited network. But this type of informal job search tends to channel high concentrations of the poor individuals into informal, low-paid work.

Job seekers especially from poor households need bigger, more formal networks to go beyond the limited opportunities offered by the informal sector in their local communities. This is where public employment services can help, but in developing countries many of these services just simply do not work well: they suffer from limited financing and poor connections to employers, and governments are looking for ways to reform and modernize them to today’s job challenges.

There are lots of cases where developing countries have improved their public employment services and these can serve as models. The lessons from these successful reforms can be distilled and replicated. Based on our recent publication, here are three case-tested strategies that improved the performance, relevance and image of public employment services.

Game-changing water solutions for the Middle East and North Africa

Claudia W. Sadoff's picture
Women collecting water in  Al-Minsalah district, Haddjah province, Yemen. Photo: ECHO/T. Deherman
The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) has become a hotspot of unsustainable water use, with more than half of current water withdrawals in some countries exceeding the amount naturally available. This could have serious long-term consequences for the region’s growth and stability. Solutions for narrowing the gap between the supply of and demand for water are an urgent priority.
As the Fourth Arab Water Forum gets underway next week in Cairo, Egypt, much is at stake in the region’s water management. Armed conflict and massive numbers of refugees have put tremendous additional stress on land and water resources in MENA as well as on infrastructure in communities receiving the refugees. In Jordan alone, according to the country’s Ministry of Water and Irrigation, climate change and the refugee crisis have reduced water availability per person to 140 cubic meters, far below the globally recognized threshold of 500 cubic meters for severe water scarcity.
These recent developments compound the impact of decades of rapid population growth, urbanization and agricultural intensification. A recent World Bank report notes that more than 60% of the region’s population is concentrated in places affected by high or very high surface water stress, compared to a global average of about 35%. The report further warns that climate-related water scarcity is expected to cause economic losses estimated at 6-14% of GDP by 2050 – the highest in the world.
As governments search for solutions, two trends in particular could present game-changing opportunities to bolster water security. As captured in two recent reports by the International Water Management Institute (IWMI), the viability of these solutions will depend on how governments and societies respond to them.

What kind of evidence might persuade people to change their minds on refugees?

Duncan Green's picture

Oxfam Humanitarian Policy Adviser Ed Cairns reflects on using evidence to influence the treatment of refugees.

Who thinks that governments decide what to do on refugees after carefully considering the evidence? Not many, I suspect. So it was an interesting to be asked to talk about that at the  ‘Evidence for Influencing’conference Duncan wrote about last week.

When I think what influences refugee policy, I’m reminded of a meeting I had in Whitehall on Friday 4 September, two days after the three-year-old Syrian boy, Alan Kurdi, had drowned.  Oxfam and other NGOs had been invited in to talk about refugees. The UK officials found out what their policy was by watching Prime Minister David Cameron on their phones, as he overturned the UK’s refusal to resettle thousands of Syrians in a press conference in Lisbon.  Even then, he and his officials refused to promise how many Syrians would be allowed. By Monday, that line had crumbled as well, and a promise of 20,000 by 2020 was announced.

The evidence of course had shown that children and other refugees had been tragically drowning in the Mediterranean for months. But it was the sheer human emotion, the public interest, and no doubt Cameron’s own compassion that made the change. Evidence and the evidence-informed discussion between officials and NGOs had nothing to do with it. More important was that a single image of a drowned boy spread to 20 million screens within 12 hours as #refugeeswelcome began trending worldwide. As research by the Visual Social Media Lab at the University of Sheffield set out, “a single image transformed the debate”.

Cairns 2

Two years later, a new Observatory of Public Attitudes to Migration has just been launched by the Florence-based Migration Policy Centreand its partners, including IPSOS Mori in the UK.  It aims to be the ‘go-to centre for researchers and practitioners’, and has sobering news for anyone who thinks that evidence has a huge influence on this issue.  Anti-migrant views, it shows, are far more driven by the values of tradition, conformity and security, and within the UK in particular, according to an IPSOS Mori study, by a distrust of experts, alongside suspicion of diversity, human rights and “political correctness”.

Accelerating and learning from innovations in youth employment projects

Namita Datta's picture
Rapid progress in digital technology, behavioral economics, evaluation methods, and the connectivity of youth in the developing world generates a stream of real-time insights and opportunities in project design and implementation. (Photo: Arne Hoel / World Bank)

Innovations in youth employment programs are critical to addressing this enormous development challenge effectively. Rapid progress in digital technology, behavioral economics, evaluation methods, and the connectivity of youth in the developing world generates a stream of real-time insights and opportunities in project design and implementation. Part of the challenge is the sheer number of projects (just in Egypt, there are over 180 youth employment programs). And even without being aware, projects often innovate out of necessity in response to situations they face on the ground. But innovations need to be tested in different country contexts to be able to make an impact at scale.

Through the new Solutions for Youth Employment (S4YE) report, our team ventured to curate a few such ongoing innovations as they were being implemented through S4YE’s Impact Portfolio — a group of 19 youth employment projects from different regions being implemented by  different partners across the globe. This network of youth employment practitioners serves as a dynamic learning community and laboratory for improving the jobs outcomes of youth globally.

A timely report on mobilizing Islamic finance for PPPs

Clive Harris's picture
Also available in: Français | العربية

Photo: Artit Wongpradu /

Islamic finance has been growing rapidly across the globe. According to a recent report by the Islamic Financial Services Board, the Islamic finance market currently stands around $1.9 trillion. With this growth, its application has been extended into many areas — trade, real estate, manufacturing, banking, infrastructure, and more.
However, Islamic finance is still a relatively untapped market for public-private partnership (PPP) financing, which makes the recent publication Mobilizing Islamic Finance for Infrastructure Public-Private Partnerships such an important resource, especially for governments and practitioners.  

Using satellite data to gauge terrorist incomes

Quy-Toan Do's picture

The growing availability of satellite imagery and analysis means that all kinds of things we used to think were hard to quantify, especially in conflict zones, can now be measured systematically.
For example, estimating ISIS oil production. Soon after it proclaimed itself the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (a.k.a. ISIL/ISIS, the Islamic State, or Daesh, its Arabic acronym), the group was quickly branded the richest terrorist organization in history and oil was believed to be its major revenue source. A typical headline in Foreign Policy proclaimed “The Islamic State is the Newest Petrostate.”

Which comes first: good governance or economic growth? (Spoiler: it’s neither)

Yuen Yuen Ang's picture
Available in Chinese
Graphic: Nicholas Nam/World Bank

The idea that economic growth needs good governance and good governance needs economic growth takes us to a perennial chicken-and-egg debate: Which comes first in development—good governance OR economic growth? For decades, positions have been sharply divided between those who advocate “fix governance first” and others who say “stimulate growth first.”