Public sector resources alone cannot fulfill the development objectives of many countries. Yet the capacity of private sector in the development dynamics of countries remains hugely untapped. This is felt most acutely in the delivery of infrastructure projects.
Across emerging markets, much needed economic growth is hampered by a shortage of roads, mass rapid transit systems, telecommunications, power plants, sanitation, medical facilities, and other basic infrastructure, all of which are much needed to achieve sustainable development. However, funding the multitude of projects required in emerging markets is a huge challenge for governments that face budgetary constraints and limited borrowing capacity.
These conditions are encouraging governments to consider private investment as a promising option to circumvent their resource constraints and improve the delivery of public services – in particular, through public-private partnerships (PPPs). At the same time, many governments are also discovering that forging such partnerships is fraught with a number of difficulties.
Melinda and Bill Gates have made an annual tradition of publishing their thoughts on international development and its key challenges. Given the substance, I assume these letters reflect an annual manifesto for the organisation they head, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF). Last year, I wrote about how the Gates Annual Letter was disappointing, perhaps not in the context of what the BMGF itself does, but what it ought to be doing, given its $42 bn muscle and its influential promoter, Bill Gates.
This year, the letter makes four “big bets” for 2030: child deaths will go down by half, and more diseases will be eradicated than ever before; Africa will be able to feed itself; mobile banking will help the poor radically transform their lives; and better software will revolutionise learning. In short, fast-tracking the identification technological fixes and expanding their reach over the next fifteen years will deliver a better world.
Unfortunately, these bets seem to me to be wildly optimistic. I may be quibbling, but from what we have learnt from research, there seem to be many reasons to suggest that we should be cautious with our optimism regarding what we can achieve with technology. The complexities of working on power, politics and implementation find no mention in the letter. Let us look a little more closely at each one of the bets to find out why that matters so much.
Despite hundreds of millions spent on more and better household surveys across Africa in recent decades, we only have a very rough idea about the levels and trends in income poverty and inequality in sub-Saharan Africa. Many reasons contribute to this unfortunate state of affairs.
During the recent 7th World Urban Forum (WUF) in Medellin, the talk was not just about the hundreds of millions of people coming to cities—but also the tens of thousands of city managers and local governments who will need to manage cities more effectively to unleash the promise of urbanization. The WBI urban team, together with the Institute of Housing and Urban Studies and UN-Habitat’s Capacity Development unit, convened over 40 partners for a day of reflection on this challenge.
Such a gathering had happened twice before— in preparation of Habitat II in Istanbul (1996), again in the run-up to the third WUF in Vancouver (2006)—and now on the cusp of the next milestone (Habitat III in 2016). It is helpful to consider where we have been and where are we now on this critical (and somewhat slippery) subject, given the 20 years’ worth of perspective in this area.
NGOs must strive for scale if they want to fulfil their roles as enablers and incubators in striving for development
The world has become relatively less poor in the last few decades. People under conditions of extreme poverty -- that is, living on less than $1.25 per day -- have declined as a proportion of the world population, from 52 percent in 1981 to 22 percent in 2008. Thirty years ago almost 75 percent of the developing world lived with $2 a day or less, this number is down to 43 percent today.
The other day, my colleague Roger Gorham, a transport economist working in Africa, shared with me an interesting story. He was in Lagos, meeting with stakeholders about setting up public-private partnerships for transport initiatives. One meeting revealed that, in an effort to improve service, a private entity had invested in new taxis for Lagos and in each had installed a GPS unit. This little revelation may not seem interesting, but it was very exciting to Roger, who also learned that the company has amassed more than 3 years of GPS tracking data for these taxis (which, incidentally, troll the city like perfect probes, nearly 24 hours a day, 7 days a week) and that this data could be made available to him, if he thought he might make some use of it.
Now, if you are reading this blog, chances are that you realize that with this kind of data and a little analysis, we can quickly and easily reveal powerful insights about a city’s transport network – when and where congestion occurs, average traffic volumes, key traffic generators (from taxi pick-up point data), occurrence of accidents and traffic blockages in real time, and even the estimated effects of congestion and drive cycle on fuel efficiency.
As Roger said, “They are sitting on a gold mine and don’t even know it….”
|More congestion follows more roads. Photo Copyright of The Daily Star|
Basic transport economics teaches us that changes in roadway supply have an effect on the change in traffic congestion. Additional roadways reduce the amount of time it takes travelers to make trips during congested periods. As urban areas come closer to matching capacity growth and travel growth, the travel time increase is smaller. In theory, if additional roads are the only solution used to address mobility concerns, growth in facilities has to be slightly greater than travel growth in order to maintain constant travel times.
Adding roadway at about the same rate as traffic growth will only slow the growth of congestion. But all these assume “other things equal”. No, I am not referring to “induced demand” that could potentially make the cure (road) worse than the disease (congestion). I am referring to the competence, or lack thereof, of those who design, build, and operate the facilities in the public sector.
There is a laser-like focus on the capacity of developing countries to respond effectively to the steep challenges of their Millennium Development Goals and
Ethiopian farmer, with his children, shows newly irrigated crop to extension agent.
destructive climate change. Capacity gaps are relentlessly pinpointed. Sometimes national governments themselves provide the toughest evaluations, like this one from Bangladesh's Ministry of Environment and Forest on the country's climate adaptation action program:
"...institutional capacity including human resource quality [is] weak and poor and needs substantial improvement if the challenges of climate change are to be faced squarely....A lack of awareness, both of the potential gravity and the extent of the problem as well as possible actions that could be taken, is the foremost [barrier]. This lack of awareness exists at all levels from national level policy makers to sectoral and local level officials as well as amongst civil society and the most vulnerable communities themselves...."
There are, to be sure, capacity gaps in Bangladesh and other developing countries, and identifying what and where they are is the first step in closing them. But there are also "bright spots" and, perhaps more important, underlying strengths, especially at the local level across all developing countries that can be masked by the emphasis on gaps.
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