My visit to Lao PDR this week has convinced me that this nation is moving toward the right path to sustained economic growth, which could lead to less poverty and better lives for all of its people.
Over the past two decades, Lao PDR has made significant development progress. It is one of the fastest growing economies in East Asia, with GDP growth averaging 8 percent a year since 2000. Lao PDR also successfully met the Millennium Development Goal of reducing extreme poverty, based on its national poverty line, to below 24 percent by 2015 from 33.5 percent in 2002.
As I have witnessed during my trip, people are enjoying better living conditions, with improved access to water supply, sanitation, roads, and power. Indeed, Lao PDR’s electrification program is one of the most successful in the world, and more than 90 percent of households now have access to electricity. Lao PDR also has built 50 percent more road surfaces in the last decade, and two-thirds of all Lao villages are now connected by all-season roads.
What goes up must come down.
The end of the commodities boom is a wake-up call for Indonesia, as the reversal in economic transformation has adversely impacted employment growth in recent years. How can Indonesia continue to create jobs for its growing labor force?
Jobs in manufacturing and services offer a solution, as historical patterns of job creation have shown.
In the past 20 years (excluding the economic crisis of 1997-1999), manufacturing and services have been important sources of job creation, while employment in agriculture continues to decline. From 1990 to 2015, jobs in agriculture fell to 34% from 56% of all employment, while service sector work has surged to 53% from 34%, and manufacturing jobs have increased from 10% to 13%.
Geographically, the capital of Solomon Islands, Honiara, is a hilly city, a maze of ridges and valleys.
In front of me, concrete steps descend 30 meters down the face of a ridge, winding their way down in a gravity-defying manner; nothing else stands on the slope, it’s simply too steep.
The steps are part of a system of footpaths that link communities of thousands of people below to the main public road above.
Over the past 60 years as Honiara has developed, so too have informal settlements. These are often located at the bottom of steep valleys without basic services such as roads, water and electricity.
Today is the International Day of Persons with Disabilities.
In every society globally, unemployment rates for persons with disabilities are higher than for people without disabilities. The International Labor Organization reports that, in some Asia-Pacific countries, the unemployment rate of people living with disabilities is over 80%.
Myanmar is undergoing a historic transition. After decades of armed conflict and economic stagnation, the country is beginning to make important strides toward realizing its potential and the aspirations of its people.
Our engagement in Myanmar started more than 60 years ago when it became a member of the World Bank, soon after gaining independence from British rule.
Back in 1955, the Bank’s first economic report stated: “the lack of security remains a disrupting influence on the economic life of the country” while “the long term economic potentials are bright” on account of its moderate population growth and abundant natural resources. It also noted the importance of “encouraging private sector enterprise to improve the standard of living of the people”— these are topics that continue to resonate in today’s development discourse.
In the early 1950s, Myanmar’s GDP per-capita was comparable to that of Thailand, Korea, and Indonesia. Like others in the region, Myanmar was coming out from colonial rule and a period of struggle. Sixty years on, Myanmar has a per capita GDP just above $1,100, less than one third the average for ASEAN countries and one of the lowest in East Asia.
The good news is that Myanmar has begun the catch up process. Major political and economic reforms since 2011 have increased civil liberties, reduced armed conflict, and removed constraints to trade and private enterprise that long held back the economy.
I met Gilford Jirigani at a workshop in Port Moresby a few months ago. What struck me about him was his natural confidence and poise as he captured the audience’s attention - including mine-as he told us how one project changed his life. He went from being an unemployed kid, down and out and unclear about his life in the city, to eventually becoming one of the pioneers of a youth program aimed at increasing the employability of unemployed youth in Port Moresby in 2012.
Just before noon yesterday, a young African woman asked panelists about what can be done to ensure students in Africa have more access to electricity so they can work on their homework at night.