Geological hazards – or geohazards, natural or human-induced disruptions of the earth surface that may trigger landslides, sinkholes, or earthquakes, present serious threats to communities, cost extensive damage to infrastructure and can bring traffic and services to a standstill.
Most geohazards are linked to climate activity such as rainfall and thawing of ice or snow. In many places, recent climatic changes have increased the intensity of rainfall and raised mean temperature, increasing hydrological hazards, such as debris or earth flows, erosion, and floods.
South Asia is particularly vulnerable to geohazards. A study completed in 2012 found that from 1970 to 2000, the number of geohazards quadrupled in the region, resulting in damages of over $25 billion in 2008-2012 alone.
This week, the World Bank Group and its partners will gather at a first-of-its-kind South-to-South learning workshop to devise practical solutions to help South Asia become more resilient to landslide and geo-hazard risks.
Jobs and Development Conference: Interview with Martin Rama
Jobs drive development. They are the surest pathway out of poverty and are crucial for inclusive growth. South Asia is the world’s fastest growing region; however, this progress has not always translated to jobs that are inclusive and productive.
When you think of Bhutan, you typically think of the tall mountains of the Himalayas, or you think of this nation adding the ‘Gross National Happiness’, or GNH indicator onto the global development agenda. Well, from now on, you can also think of Bhutan as the first country in the world to have one of their agencies approved to apply “alternative procurement arrangements” or APAs. This may sound trivial in comparison to 7,500 meter high peaks or collective happiness in the Dragon Kingdom. But for the way we do procurement at the World Bank, it’s a real breakthrough and an important step towards becoming a better Bank.
In August this year, the Government of India approved the recommendations made by the Sub-Group of Chief Ministers on Rationalisation of Centrally Sponsored Schemes (CSS). The rationalisation plan would first prune the existing 66 CSSs to 28, and then further divide them into three categories – six ‘core of the core’ schemes, 20 core schemes, and two optional schemes. The ‘core of the core’ schemes include the pension schemes, MNREGA, and four umbrella schemes targeting “vulnerable sections” of the population. Further, the flexi-funds component of the CSSs would be increased to 25% for the state governments to programme. Another set of recommendations were made around the modalities of release of funds. For instance, the release of a tranche of funds would no longer be dependent on producing an Utilisation Certificate of the previous instalment; and instead, it would be based on the submission of the instalment preceding the last one.
This is another step in the process of improving the governance of CSS in India, with the specific rationalisation exercise being prompted by the ongoing fiscal reorganisation between the centre and state governments. Starting last year, transfers from the centre to state governments went up by approximately INR 1.8 lakh crores. This was a result of the 14th Finance Commission recommendations which increased the devolution of the centre’s tax receipts to state governments from the prevailing 32% up to 42%. This reduced the ability of the central government to continue funding CSSs at their previous levels, and at the same time, provided state governments a greater measure of flexibility in financing its own priority development schemes.
The inspiration for the experts’ visit came from the highest levels of the state government. Dr. Shrikant Baldi, the state’s additional chief secretary, had visited Korea to attend a global green growth conference sponsored by the World Bank. There he saw the real-life application of strategies that his government needed to take their own green growth agenda forward.
As the local mirab - “water master” and I walked along the high-elevation canal, high winds blew sand in our mouths and eyes. The elevation canal in Herat province is famous for its “120 days of wind.” Located in the far west of Afghanistan, Herat is home to the Hari Rud River basin, giving the province the potential to be an agricultural heartland. But the area I walked was not green and lush, rather, it looked like desert.
Herati farmers cultivate wheat, barley, and vegetables, but also face severe water shortages and irrigation issues. “Poor people cultivate wheat as a major crop to have at least something to eat,” said a local villager. “Most years, the flood flushes away our soil bags and we cannot divert water into the canal.”
The water shortages are not due to the lack of water, but rather the lack of efficient water management. As Regional Manager of the On-Farm Water Management Project (OFWMP) in Herat, I was there to visit sites for potential irrigation projects in three villages: Kushk-e-Baad Saba village in Injil district, and Deh Surkh and Deh Pada villages in Zenda Jan district. Through these projects, we could work with local villagers to transform this dusty desert into fruitful farmland.
In 2003, Meiko Nishimizu, the World Bank Vice President for South Asia at the time, referred to Kathmandu as “an island of prosperity in a sea of poverty that is Nepal”. This was a time when the country was besieged with a violent conflict, with the state struggling to keep control of urban areas while rebels and security forces locked horns in the countryside. Her invocation of Martin Luther King Jr’s quote that “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere” must have resonated deeply with those in Kathmandu, especially those that may have associated inequality with the rise of the conflict.
Thirteen years on, as we think about Nepal’s progress on poverty reduction since then, it is appropriate to reflect on inequality and how it has evolved during this period. Has every Nepali benefitted from the living standards improvements that have been realized in the country? Or have some been left behind?
In the aftermath of the earthquake that struck Nepal in April 2015, Santoshi Rana of Bihani, a social venture working with elderly community members in Kathmandu, noticed that many efforts engaged the youth in relief and recovery activities. “Our elderly were completely left out of the equation, and were treated as passive beneficiaries in need of care.” So she took to the Internet to see what resources she could find. She came across a World Bank-Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR) report, “Elders Leading the Way to Resilience,” which assessed the impact of Ibasho café, an elder-led recovery effort in Ofunato, Japan, following the Great East Japan Earthquake (GEJE) in 2011.
Ibasho: a Japanese approach to community resilience
In Ofunato, elder community members planned and built the Ibasho Café, which serves as a hub to restore the fabric of a community badly damaged by the GEJE disaster. Ibasho Café is an informal gathering place that brings the community together. All generations connect in that space, with children coming to read books in the English library, older people teaching the young how to make traditional foods, younger people helping their elders navigate computer software, etc. With the elderly actively engaged in the operation of the Ibasho café, the place helps build social capital and resilience, while changing people’s mindsets about aging. The café runs as a sustainable business and, over time, has developed a noodle shop, an organic farm, and a farmers market to further support its operation.
In 2014-2015, GFDRR supported the documentation of the Ibasho experience in Japan. Learning about this experience, Santoshi realized the elders and women of her community could also lead the way, and reached out to Emi Kiyota, head of Ibasho, the NGO that facilitated the process in Ofunato.
The 70’s were waning and the loudspeaker was still blaring disco. The celebration in this middle class New Delhi neighborhood was noticeable. It was a party to welcome a new car, which like a new bride was decked with marigold garlands. Neighbors had joined the obligatory prayer ceremony in anticipation of a festive lunch. The auspicious coconut was broken and a plump lemon crushed under the tire to ward off evil jealous eyes. A child birth in this neighborhood was rarely celebrated as grandly. Maybe unlike a baby, the car had come after ten long years of excruciating wait and bribes.
Below the garish decorations, the car was technologically from the World War era. Adorned with cheap interiors. It was pretentiously named “Ambassador” and for 50 years, it reigned as the queen of Indian roads. It should have been named “liberator” instead. It liberated the aspiring middle class from the indignities of soul crushing congestion and the curling stench of the Delhi Transport Corporation buses.
When it came to public transportation in pre-1990s India, the bus was a metaphor for socialism, where everyone riding was equal and equally miserable. The car on other hand signified individual liberty, a symbol of capitalism. This fundamental struggle and human desire to balance liberty and equality has historically and philosophically defined the debate on the preferred mode of transportation, Public-Private Partnerships and the role of Information and Communication Technologies.
Erwadi is known for its 550-year-old Badusha Nayagam Dargah—“Erwadi Dargah,” one of the biggest shrines in India. Every day, numerous devotees of different faiths visit the shrine from surrounding villages, states, and countries. Among these visitors is a large number of people who suffer from mental illness and have come to pray for a cure. Some of them see the Dargah as their first and only hope—guided by the magico-religious belief that illness is caused by the possession of evil spirits or the performance of wicked magic—while others have turned to the shrine as a last resort after receiving ineffective treatment.
When I visited Erwadi Dargah in 2013 and met with a team working on a local program called District Mental Health Project (DMHP), an important partner of the World Bank-supported Tamil Nadu Mental Health Project, they expressed an urgent need to help the devotees affected by mental illness. Their subsequent discussions with representatives of the shrine revealed a lack of information on potential treatment options and strong resistance to medical interventions among the devotees. At that time, the team knew of a similar circumstance in another part of India—the state of Gujarat—so they invited the representatives of Erwadi’s religious community to learn from peers in Gujarat about complementing religious rituals with medical treatment.
And thus started a unique experiment called “Dawa-Dua,” or prayer-treatment.