Earth’s landscape has been subjected to both natural and anthropogenic fires for millions of years.
Natural, lightning-caused fires are known to have occurred in geological time continuously at least since the late Silurian epoch, 400 million years ago, and have shaped the evolution of plant communities.
Hominids have used controlled fire as a tool to transform the landscape since about 700,000 years ago. These hominids were Homo erectus, ancestors of modern humans. Paleofire scientists, biogeographers and anthropologists all agree that hominid use of fire for various purposes has extensively transformed the vegetation of Earth over this period.
The nature of Earth’s modern-day biomes would be substantially different if there had been no fires at all. William Bond and colleagues (2005) used a Dynamic Global Vegetation Model to simulate the area under closed forest with and without fire. They estimated that in the absence of fire, the area of closed forest would double from the present 27% to 56% of present vegetated area, with corresponding increase in biomass and carbon stocks. This would be at the expense of C4 grasslands and certain types of shrub-land in cooler climates.
What would bring together the China trade shock, road blocks in the West Bank, and the Belt and Road initiative? The 6th Annual IMF-World Bank-WTO Trade Research Conference, at which staff of the three institutions presented the results of twelve research projects.
The Conference is over, but the website lives on, and here you can find preliminary versions of papers. To whet your appetite, here are three examples of research that use creative methodologies and raise provocative questions.
The World Bank is working to mainstream climate smart agriculture in South Asia with a series of Climate-Smart Agriculture or “CSA” Country Profiles for Bhutan, Nepal and Pakistan, that were launched recently in collaboration with Governments and relevant stakeholders. The findings in the profiles are specific to national contexts, but there is a common thread. We learned that for South Asia, climate change adaptation and mitigation pose major challenges and opportunities for agriculture sector investment and growth.
The farmers, Government representatives and other stakeholders I met during the CSA Country Profile launches expressed huge interest in learning how they can put CSA into practice. Farmers especially were interested in making CSA part of their daily farming routines. As interest grows, so does momentum to take the CSA agenda forward, from research institutions and high level gatherings into farmer’s fields. As one farmer I met in Pakistan said, “Climate-smart agriculture is Common-sense agriculture.”
Climate change is already impacting Pakistan, which often experiences periods of severe droughts, followed by devastating floods. In the aftermath of the 2010 floods, one fifth of the country’s land area was submerged, damaging the economy, infrastructure and livelihoods, and leaving 90 million people without proper access to food. Moving forward, changes in monsoons and increased temperatures will further challenge the agricultural sector, particularly northern Pakistan where vulnerability to climate change is already high.
At the same time, CSA offers attractive opportunities for strengthening Pakistan’s agricultural sector. Innovative, technological practices like laser land leveling and solar powered irrigation systems and management changes like crop diversification, proper cropping patterns and optimized planting dates could put Pakistan’s food system onto a more climate-smart path. Investments in research to develop high-yielding, heat-resistant, drought-tolerant, and pest-resistant crop varieties as well as livestock breeds could also make a difference.
Every working day, I work closely with my colleagues and coordinate with other stakeholders. I am happy with my job as a member of the National Horticulture and Livestock Project (NHLP) because we work to strengthen rural development, the foundation of Afghanistan’s economy.
When I joined NHLP as the information and communication officer in 2009, I realized that farmers in northern Afghanistan were all but unaware of improved practices and technologies in horticulture, livestock, and irrigation systems. Their production and productivity were low, and maintaining consistent product quality was a challenge. As a person who studied agriculture and has lived in northern Afghanistan, I remember that farmers were never convinced by the idea of adopting modern horticultural techniques and, despite their hard work, they earned little.
At the beginning of the project, it was hard for the farmers to trust NHLP, the new techniques that were introduced were proven to be more efficient and economically viable. The project is transforming the traditional system of horticulture and livestock to a more productive and modern one. The new orchards are designed and laid out well, and planted with fruit saplings that are marketable and adapted to the weather and geography of the province.
On November 1-3, India’s Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) and the World Bank organized a workshop in Delhi to discuss forest fire prevention and management. The workshop brought together fire experts and practitioners from eight countries along with Indian government officials from the ministry and the state forest departments, as well as representatives from academia and civil society. One of the participating countries, Mexico, has recently transformed its national policy on forest fires. Alfredo Nolasco Morales, Wildland Fire Protection Manager at Mexico’s National Forestry Commission (CONAFOR) shared his insights on what this transformation has meant for Mexico, how it was achieved, and how it may serve as an inspiration for India as the Indian government prepares a new national action plan for forest fires.
Mexico’s forest fire program has operated for more than 70 years. On average, 7,500 fires occur each year, affecting 300,000 hectares of pasture, scrubland, forest, and regrowth. Recently, however, the country has experienced some especially bad years, including in 2017, when fires burned 715,714 hectares and killed 12 people. Extreme climatic conditions and the accumulation of fuels such as dry leaves, twigs, grasses, dead trees, and fallen timber have contributed to especially severe fire seasons.
Until 2012, Mexico’s national forest fire program focused on the complete suppression of fires by contracting helicopters to douse the flames. State forest fire programs were weak and there was little institutional coordination.
This blog is certainly not about exploding mangoes but about the exploding Pakistani populace. The recent reactions of surprise on results of the census seems bewildering. Pakistan’s population is now over 207 million with a growth rate of 2.4 percent per year since the last census in 1998. The results were predictable and expected, as Pakistan has not implemented any large-scale population related interventions for over a decade. We should not be expecting results because inaction does not usually deliver them.
Pakistan’s efforts to reduce fertility and population growth were transformed during the 1990s. The period between 1990-2006 saw effective policy making under the Social Action Program with multiple interventions e.g. expansion of public sector provision, large scale private sector participation including social marketing innovations, improving access to women through community based providers. All the right things that delivered huge results. Fertility declined from around seven to four children per woman, and contraceptives use increased from 10% to over 30% - a 300% increase. Appropriate actions delivered results and some still can be photocopied and expanded on scale for making progress.
It’s not always easy to convince the private sector to participate in public infrastructure projects—especially in developing countries and emerging economies. Why is this a problem? Because there simply is not enough public money to meet the growing demand for infrastructure, which is a key element of development and poverty alleviation. The need is great, numbering in the trillions of dollars.
But there is good news—the market has both the trillions and the expertise to use it, if the conditions are right. And the World Bank Group has a number of instruments that can help create an environment that meets the needs of the private sector in financially, environmentally, and socially sustainable ways. Guarantees are one of those instruments, a tool that is highly effective in leveraging limited resources for mobilizing commercial financing for critical infrastructure projects.
All schools are different. I’m not referring to the building, the number of students or teaching practices. I’m talking about the school’s spirit. When you walk into a good school, the building is often well-organized and clean. The students look busy and happy. You don’t see strict discipline; ideally, you see organized chaos.
When you see a well-functioning school, most likely, there is a good principal behind it. A leader who sets a vision for the school and sets clear objectives. Someone who creates the space that fosters teachers’ professional and personal development, and encourages students’ personal growth, creativity, and their own journey of discovery.
Running a school efficiently is a very difficult challenge. A principal must be a pedagogical leader to dozens of teachers: observing them in the classroom, evaluating institutional performance, and helping them get the professional development opportunities they need. Principals have to deal with hundreds of students and their personal and academic challenges. They need to respond to parents, each with their own expectations for the school. And principals also need to contend with the administrative and financial burdens imposed by the bureaucracy.
The use of technology in Afghanistan’s government offices is not yet the norm. However, in the Directorate of Ministry of Finance (Mostofiat) in Kandahar Province, a province associated more with insecurity than with technology, we have used the power of technology to improve transparency and credibility of government offices.
Finance is the backbone of any country’s economy. Therefore, it is very important for it to be transparent and credible so that citizens as well as donors feel committed to the development process. With this in mind, we decided to implement the Afghanistan Financial Management Information System (AFMIS) and Standard Integrated Government Tax Administration System (SIGTAS), with the help of the Public Financial Management Reform (PFMR), a project implemented by the Ministry of Finance (MoF) with support from the Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund (ARTF). SIGTAS was also supported through the ARTF Incentive Program.
Since 2007, when we started using AFMIS, we have been able to manage and execute budget-related activities, collect revenue, and pay salaries on time. A computerized system, AFMIS enables multiple users to access financial information and records, whenever and wherever they want. This was not possible with manual records.
On November 1-3, India’s Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) and the World Bank organized a workshop in Delhi to discuss forest fire prevention and management. The workshop brought together fire experts and practitioners from eight countries along with Indian government officials from the ministry and the state forest departments, as well as representatives from academia and civil society. Brian Simpson, an analyst with the Canadian Forest Service, shares his perspective on how Canada developed its national fire danger rating system and how this system has helped in preventing, detecting and suppressing forest fires in that country. Canada's experience may serve as an inspiration as India continues to develop its own fire danger rating system, adapting it to local conditions and management needs.
Canada is a big country, with a lot of forest and a lot of water. Fires are common, and are concentrated in the boreal forest region, a band of forest that stretches around the whole northern hemisphere. On average, out of around 400 million ha of forest, about 8,000 fires and 2.5 million ha burn per year. And dozens of communities and tens of thousands of people need to be evacuated each year.
People are mostly concentrated along the southern border with the United States, where it’s warmer. A lot of the northern communities are actually indigenous, and many of them are only accessible by air or water. If there is a road, it’s the only road. These communities are often threatened by wildfires, and are frequently evacuated due to this threat.
Ultimately, Canada has three main problems with respect to wildland fire - prevention, detection, and suppression. The Canadian Forest Fire Danger Rating System (CFFDRS) helps with each, though it’s only part of the solution. It helps with prevention by allowing fire managers to know where the risk of fires is higher. It helps with detection by giving fire managers a place and time to look for new fires. And it helps with suppression by providing some guidance about how the fire will behave. Beyond fire prevention, detection and suppression, CFFDRS helps with planning, response, risk assessment, smoke modelling, and even carbon emissions from these fires.
With respect to wildland fire, the Government of Canada has a mandate to provide for the safety and security of Canadians, to protect critical infrastructure, to mitigate the effects of climate change, and to aid the implementation of other Sustainable Development Goals like reducing poverty and improving health. All are aided by the CFFDRS.