A few weeks ago, I felt a sense of déjà vu. I was at a roundtable on agriculture in Delhi, in the same conference hall where, ten years ago, I participated in the consultations on the Bank’s World Development Report 2008 on Agriculture for Development.
We focused on the ‘agriculture-water-energy’ nexus, achieving India’s second green revolution, making agriculture more climate resilient, as well as options to stop the burning of crop residue that is worsening air quality in much of northern India. It was heartening to see the torch bearers of India’s drive towards food security unhesitatingly debate a host of complex and sensitive issues.
Natural disasters made 2017 a very expensive year.
At $330 billion, last year’s global losses from disasters set a record. These economic losses were primarily a result of meteorological events, such as floods and hurricanes, which are increasing in frequency and intensity due to climate change. An increasing number of people are also exposed to tectonic risks, such as earthquakes and landslides, due to rapid urbanization.
But growing disaster losses aren’t inevitable. Policy changes, education, and good disaster risk management practices have been proven to reduce losses – and the foundation of all of them is accurate, reliable information about disaster risks.
This year, the community will convene at the Understanding Risk Forum 2018 May 14–18 in Mexico City. The Forum will highlight best practices, facilitate nontraditional partnerships, and showcase the latest technical knowledge in disaster risk identification.
The good news is that the past few years have seen a surge of new ways to get more accurate, more detailed information more quickly, more easily, and in more difficult contexts. We can now use social media to gather increasingly valuable information in the immediate aftermath of an event. Drones are increasingly capturing high-quality images, and machine learning for image recognition is already helping us produce more and better risk data all the time.
These emerging technologies, including artificial intelligence and machine learning, will be one of the major themes of this year’s UR Forum. To find out more about the UR Forum, and how you can get involved, watch the video blog and visit understandrisk.org.
The Lighthouse India is a platform to facilitate knowledge flows across states within India and to create strategic partnerships with other countries to share and transfer knowledge and experience, which would inform development policies, scale up good practices and innovations. We caught with our Country Director, Junaid Ahmad, for an in-depth understanding of this initiative of the World Bank.
What is Lighthouse India?
Development is best catalyzed when people learn by doing. The notion of lighthouse is that you are a beacon for someone. An Indian state innovating on how local government programs are run, say in West Bengal, can be a source of information for other states, say Madhya Pradesh or Karnataka, which are also trying to figure out how to strengthen local governments. In a federal system like India, the potential for learning from each other is vast especially where innovation is constantly happening. The problem is that the lessons from these innovations and the information about them is not moving smoothly across borders. Lighthouse India is based on the Bank's unique position to facilitate these exchanges and link them to actual implementation.
It is not only about exchanges between states in India. As India moves along the development trajectory towards high middle income, the nation itself is transforming. The lessons of this transformation are going to be critical for other countries. The Bank can also proactively broker these exchanges between India and other countries as India acts as a “lighthouse” for others.
It is important to stress that Lighthouse India is not just a passive exchange of best practices. It is an active exchange of practices and approaches where the expertise and experiences of India can be leveraged by another country. And as always, these exchanges are never one way: as India shares, it will gain from the development experiences of others.
Importantly, Lighthouse India will change the way we do analytical and advisory services. The latter will be built around operational issues and offer the analysis to understand better implementation challenges.
How is Lighthouse India important for Bank’s strategy in engaging with India?
First, Lighthouse India is essential in supporting the strategy of scaling up development impact. Let me take the example of livelihood programs. We’ve been working in Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Odisha supporting the creation of self-help groups of women and facilitating their access to micro credit and economic activities. We could respond to every state that requests our assistance for this kind of activity. On the other hand, if we have worked in three or four States, we can then leverage their expertise and experience to support others. In this context, the World Bank can act as a broker of exchanges where states learn from the experience of each other. And this could be in any area such as local government strengthening or in solar power generation.
Second, Lighthouse India will play an important role in the delivery of global goods. For example, in the case of climate change, if we support the collective efforts of nations to de-carbonize their growth path, we may be able to achieve the objectives set out in COP18 in Paris. India has set for itself the aspiration of delivering 175GW of renewable energy in the coming years. Not only will India’s energy strategy help in delivering the global goal of sustainable development, its experience with scaling up renewable energy and energy efficiency will support the collective efforts of other countries to achieve their own objectives in the energy sector. This is where Lighthouse India can play an important role of leveraging India in the achievement of global goods.
Environmental degradation puts livelihoods at risk and the Ghanaian government is determined to fight it. Planting trees is one approach to address soil erosion, topsoil quality and overgrowth of weeds and grass that lead to wildfire. This is why the World Bank’s Sustainable Land and Water Management Project (SLWMP) offers free seedlings to farmers to plant trees at a cost of about $100 per farmer. The question researchers asked at the time of project design was, would free seedlings be enough?
Three years ago, Professor Leszek Sibilski embarked on an academic project to explore the role of bicycles in development. Little did he know then that his project would evolve into a massive advocacy effort, backed by the Sustainable Mobility for All initiative, to have the United Nations designate a day to celebrate and promote bicycle use around the world. He succeeded. On April 12th 2018, all 193 UN member states adopted General Assembly Resolution A/Res/72/272, which declared June 3 as World Bicycle Day. The resolution was sponsored by Turkmenistan and co-sponsored by some 56 countries.
I sat down with Professor Sibilski himself to learn more about this inspiring story.
Yohan Senarath: Did you ever expect this project to end up delivering a UN resolution?
Professor Leszek Sibilski: Well Yohan, I strongly believe that it was part of my destiny to help bring this to fruition. Let me explain why. For ten years I was a member of the Polish national cycling team. I obtained my Masters in physical education with a specialty in cycling. After that, I worked as a sports reporter for the Polish equivalent of Sports Illustrated, covering professional cycling around the world. Cycling was my life. Now, combine all this cycling experience with my commitment to social work. I completed my PhD in Applied Sociology specializing in Social Action and Social Movements, and at one time served as a member of the Experts Group that was helping to put together the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. In other words, I was a cyclist who wanted to make a difference!
It is 7:45 p.m. in Ponto-cho, the historic narrow alley at the core of the Japanese city of Kyoto. Close to the Kaburenjo Theater – where still today Geikos and Maikos (Kyoto Geishas) practice their dances and performances – the traditional adjoining buildings with restaurants and shops are full of guests. Local people, tourists, students… On this Saturday in mid-April, the warm weather brings a lot of people to the streets nearby.
At 7:46 p.m., a M 5.1 earthquake strikes. Seven seconds of swaying. It doesn’t cause major damage, but it is enough to spread panic among a group of tourists. Screams, shoving, confusion… drinks spill, candles fall, people rush.
At 7:49 p.m., the fire starts spreading through the old wooden structures, also threatening the historic theater. Access is difficult due to the narrow streets and panicking crowd.
What happens next?
It could be a fire in the Ponto-cho traditional alley. It could be an earthquake shaking the historic center of Kathmandu (Nepal), the archaeological site of Bagan (Myanmar), or the historic town of Amatrice (Italy). It could be Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines or Hurricane Irma in the Caribbean, blasting sites with rain, flooding, and gale-force winds.
Cultural heritage assets around the world are at risk. They are often vulnerable due to their age, as well as previous interventions and restorations made without disaster risk or overall site stability in mind. Heritage sites reflect legacies, traditions, and identities. With all this, they carry a large cultural and emotional value of what could be lost – certainly beyond the traditional calculus of economic losses.
In many cases, it is not possible or advisable to conduct reconstruction on cultural heritage sites post-disaster. Therefore, the essence and soul of a cultural heritage site is at risk of being lost forever, making preparedness and preservation even more critical.
Sun or rain? Most of us rely on the daily weather forecast to know what to wear or whether to bring an umbrella. However, for millions of people living in flood prone areas, timely and accurate forecasts, as well as early warning, can impact more than just clothing choices –they can help minimize flooding impacts.
Floods are the most frequent and damaging among natural hazards. Between 1980 and 2016, floods led to economic damages exceeding US$1.6 trillion, and more than 225,000 people losing their lives. Compounded by rapid urbanization and climate change, these losses will likely increase, especially in fast-growing countries.
Technology is transforming transport with a speed and scale that are hard to comprehend. The transport systems of tomorrow will be connected, data-driven, shared, on-demand, electric, and highly automated. Ideas are moving swiftly from conception, research and design, testbed to early adoption, and, finally, mass acceptance. And according to projections, the pace of innovation is only going to accelerate.
Autonomous cars are expected to comprise about 25% of the global market by 2040. Flying taxis are already tested in Dubai. Cargo drones will become more economical than motorcycle delivery by 2020. Three Hyperloop systems are expected by 2021. Maglev trains are already operating in Japan, South Korea, and China, and being constructed or planned in Europe, Asia, Australia, and the USA. Blockchain technology has already been used to streamline the procedures for shipping exports, reducing the processing and handling times for key documents, increasing efficiency and reliability,
The challenge of anticipating and communicating the risk of volcanic eruptions to communities requires complex decision-making. Ecuador’s Cotopaxi Volcano and Indonesia’s Mount Agung are recent examples where the warning signs were present (small earthquakes, increasing gas emissions, and more), yet an eruption came much later than expected. Volcanic eruptions are therefore a double-edged sword that often creates a decision-making dilemma. While signs of volcanic activity can provide adequate time for preparation and evacuation, the very same signs can also create conditions of extreme uncertainty, which can be exacerbated by piecemeal communication around eruption events.