Urbanization is increasingly central to the global development process, but until recently, basic spatial information on the world’s urban areas has been unavailable, inconsistent, or unreliable. . However, innovations in geospatial mapping are now helping to provide one major piece of the puzzle: .
Scientists at the German Aerospace Center (DLR) have succeeded in using a , resulting in the ‘Global Urban Footprint’ (GUF), a global map of human settlements at a spatial resolution of 12 meters per grid cell (aggregated to 75m for public use).
The German radar satellites TerraSAR X and TanDEM X acquired over 180,000 images between 2010 and 2013, which were processed, together with additional data such as digital terrain models, to produce the Global Urban Footprint. In total, the researchers processed over 20 million datasets with a combined volume of more than 320 terabytes.
These are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.
Foreign aid is a shambles in almost every way
NOT long ago Malawi was a donor darling. Being dirt poor and ravaged by AIDS, it was needy; with just 17m inhabitants, a dollop of aid might visibly improve it. Better still, it was more-or-less democratic and its leader, Joyce Banda, was welcome at Westminster and the White House. In 2012 Western countries showered $1.17 billion on it, and foreign aid accounted for 28% of gross national income. The following year corrupt officials, businessmen and politicians pinched at least $30m from the Malawian treasury in just six months. A bureaucrat investigating the thefts was shot three times (he survived, somehow). Germany said it would help pay for an investigation; later, burglars raided the home of a German official and stole documents relating to the scandal. Malawi is no longer a donor darling.
The capabilities of finance ministries
All countries have a finance ministry. If one organizational feature defines what makes a state a state, it is a central unit that handles income and expenditure – or aspires to. This remains remarkably consistent irrespective of the huge variations in the purpose and institutional shape of government. Finance ministries are also at the centre of many current policy discussions, whether on how to respond to the 2008 financial crisis, how best to fund global development goals, or how an emerging economy should go about establishing a welfare state. Virtually every policy decision that involves the raising and spending of public money involves a finance ministry at some stage. Yet despite their almost self-evident importance, very few studies focused on finance ministries as objects of study.
Altruistic and marketing motives aside, a private operator of infrastructure (in particular in an arrangement as highly structured as PPP) is likely to implement renewable energy technology only if profitable and/or mandated in the PPP arrangements. Critics are often angry that private operators think first about the bottom line, rather than make decisions based on the best interests of the environment. This is unfair to some extent, as private companies are often committed to climate friendly efforts (whether truly altruistic or for marketing opportunities). But as a general premise, the private sector will do what you pay it to do.
For the first time in history, the number of people living in extreme poverty has fallen below 10%. The world has never been as ambitious about development as it is today. After adopting the Sustainable Development Goals and signing the Paris climate deal at the end of 2015, the global community is now looking into the best and most effective ways of reaching these milestones. In this five-part series I will discuss what the World Bank Group is doing and what we are planning to do in key areas that are critical for ending poverty by 2030: good governance, gender equality, conflict and fragility, preventing and adapting to climate change, and, finally, creating jobs.
Seawater is rising in coastal Bangladesh. The soil contains more and more salt as the sea encroaches on the land. As a result, farmers see their crops declining. Communities are hollowing out, as working-age adults move to cities. Freshwater fish are disappearing, reducing the amount of protein in local diets. And in the dry season, mothers have to ration drinking water for their children – in some areas, to as little as two glasses a day.
Climate change is finally being taken seriously in the developed world, but it is generally seen as a future threat, to be managed over the coming years. For poor people in poor countries, particularly those living along coastlines, in river deltas, or on islands, it is a clear and present danger – and increasingly, a dominant fact of life.
Water and sanitation linked to many development factors
Despite halving the number of people worldwide without access to an improved water source over the past 25 years, the poorest countries are struggling to provide safe water and adequate sanitation to all their citizens in a sustainable manner. Just over a quarter of people in low-income countries had access to an improved sanitation facility, compared with just over half in lower middle-income countries in 2015. Delivery of water supply and sanitation is no longer just a challenge of service provision, but it is intrinsically linked with climate change, water resources management, water scarcity and water quality.
Imagine for a moment that the most advanced spaceship visited Earth in full view of the planet’s inhabitants. From this spaceship, a humanoid life form named Klaatu emerges, followed shortly after by a menacingly large robot. Klaatu’s message to the people of Earth is revealed in one of the climactic exchanges of this story with the protagonist, Helen Benson, a young female scientist that was at the forefront of her field:
Helen Benson: I need to know what’s happening.
Klaatu: This planet is dying. The human race is killing it.
Helen Benson: So you’ve come here to help us.
Klaatu: No, I didn’t.
Helen Benson: You said you came to save us.
Klaatu: I said I came to save the Earth.
Helen Benson: You came to save the Earth… from us. You came to save the Earth from us.
Klaatu: We can’t risk the survival of this planet for the sake of one species.
Helen Benson: What are you saying?
Klaatu: If the Earth dies, you die. If you die, the Earth survives. There are only a handful of planets in the cosmos that are capable of supporting complex life…
Helen Benson: You can’t do this.
Klaatu: …this one can’t be allowed to perish.
Helen Benson: We can change. We can still turn things around.
Klaatu: We’ve watched, we’ve waited and hoped that you would change.
Helen Benson: Please…
Klaatu: It’s reached the tipping point. We have to act.
At merely 1 meter above sea level, Venice has had its fair share of natural disasters, especially floods. In 1966, the record-high 194-cm flood had severe consequences on the Old Venice, causing an estimated $6 million worth of damage (1966 US dollars). Given the city’s touristic and historical significance to Italy and the world, protection from flood is a top priority.
That's why the Government of Italy has invested over €5.5 billion on the MOSE Project, which involves constructing 4 mobile barriers at the mouth of the water basin to the sea in order to better control high tide and prevent it from flooding the Old Venice. Each barrier consists of several energy-efficient flap gates that can be deployed quickly when high tide occurs, maintaining the ideal water level in the basin while safeguarding the natural ecosystem in the laguna area. Once the project is completed in 2018, it should fully protect the city, and allow future generations to admire the beauty of its glory days.
Auctions are ubiquitous. On any given day, somewhere in the world, bidders compete for energy, wireless spectrum, used vehicles, agricultural products—the list goes on. Auctions can help resolve uncertainties in the market, convening buyers and sellers to help them achieve the best possible price for goods or services that are otherwise difficult to value.
Auctions can also resolve uncertainties in the development sector, identifying the projects most likely to succeed and determining the right level of funding. To test this hypothesis in the climate arena, the World Bank has been piloting an approach to incentivize green projects in developing countries. The Pilot Auction Facility for Methane and Climate Change Mitigation (PAF) held its second online auction earlier this month, allocating $20 million in funding directly to the private sector for projects reducing methane emissions.