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.
By now, all of you must have heard of the massive earthquake and numerous aftershocks that have shaken Nepal over the last few days. As I am writing this, there is another tremor, 36 hours after the initial quake.
I am lucky that my family is safe. We have been fortunate. The majority of the people in Kathmandu are camped out in makeshift tents set up at various open spaces across the city — schools, army barracks and open fields. Some of these are coordinated by the rescue workers while others are set up by local residents. In some places, cremations happen only 5 meters away from where people sleep. The rain makes it very difficult in an already emotionally scarring time. This is just in Kathmandu.
Rural areas, where 80% of Nepalis live, are devastated. Entire villages have disappeared, buried under landslides triggered by the multiple quakes. Where they haven't, village houses, made mainly of mud and wood, have been reduced to dust, leaving people exposed to the elements. This is happening in some of the most difficult-to-reach hilly and mountainous terrain.
The number of casualties rises by the hour. Although my family and I are safe, many of my friends have lost relatives. Many people we know no longer have their houses. Our staff’s granddaughter needs to have her leg amputated. My "Didi" who took care of me as a child and is a second mother to me - lost her cousin who was crushed when their house collapsed. She really does not even know how to begin to mourn, knowing she still has to keep herself and many other safe.
The heritage we have lost is equally unimaginable. Centuries-old temples and palace squares are down in dust. Imagine the Due Torri in Bologna or the Washington Monument in Washington D.C. crumbling into rubble. The loss has been demoralizing.
The international community has reacted swiftly and relief efforts are in full swing. Hercules and IL-76 military aircrafts have been flying around the clock bringing in supplies, relief materials and workers. Kathmandu, a valley, has only two major highways connecting it to the rest of the world by land - one with China and one with India. Reports of damage to those highways has limited what can be brought into the city by land.
However, this is the just the beginning. The greatest challenges are yet to come. The monsoon season is just a month away. The wet monsoon months are synonymous with outbreaks of various diseases including dysentery, cholera, and hepatitis. With many people's homes destroyed, crowded camps will continue to provide refuge in the coming months. Such densely packed and crowded places with poor hygiene conditions will be ripe breeding grounds for diseases, especially in Kathmandu, where clean water is a scarcity even under normal circumstances.
Here’s my plea to everyone reading this.
The first response has been absolutely fantastic and lifted our spirits, but the support will need to be sustained over time. Relief will not only be limited to rebuilding but also preventing disease outbreaks, which will be more prevalent during the monsoon months.
We will need clean water, medication, waterproof clothes, and infrastructure support to build hygienic camps for people who have lost their homes.
Dealing with potential outbreaks will be more challenging with this devastation. Please support organizations involved in Nepal’s relief effort and also help build awareness around the impending health and sanitation issues.
It has been a very scary last few days. It has been the first time that I’ve had to confront my own mortality: sitting, waiting in the eerily quiet night knowing there will be another shock. But also overcoming this anxiety to help my family and everyone at home, and then, once they are safe, the rest of the country.
Researchers have documented a wide array of gender disparities in sub-Saharan Africa that have important implications for individual and household well-being. Perhaps one of the most significant disparities is in agricultural production, the primary economic activity for the majority of the population in sub-Saharan Africa. Closing this gender gap in agricultural productivity would not only improve the welfare of female farmers but could also have larger benefits for other members of the household, especially children.
How can everyone, everywhere, get enough nutritious food? A famous chef, the president of the World Bank Group, a mushroom farmer from Zimbabwe, and a proponent of “social gastronomy” explored ways to end hunger and meet food challenges at an event, Future of Food, ahead of the 2015 World Bank Group-IMF Spring Meetings.
About 800 million people go to bed hungry every night. By 2050, there will be 9 billion people in the world to feed. Agricultural productivity will have to improve, said World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim.
So how can chefs like David Chang, the founder of Momofuku restaurant, help?
A food system that works for everyone can also create jobs and raise the incomes of smallholder farmers and rural residents who are 78 percent of the world’s poor people. After all, growth originating in agriculture is proven to be 2 to 4 times more effective at reducing poverty than growth originating in other sectors. An effective food system can also provide better nutrition, steward the world’s natural resources, and even be a part of the solution to climate change.
Agriculture and nutrition share a common entry point: “food.” Food is a key outcome of agricultural activities, and, in turn, is a key input into good nutrition. Without agriculture there is little food or nutrition, but availability of food from agriculture doesn’t ensure good nutrition. Common sense would dictate a reinforcing relationship between the two fields of agriculture and nutrition but, in fact, there is often a significant disconnect.
Did you know that about 3.7 million people worldwide died in 2012 from diseases related to ambient air pollution? That is nearly the population of the city of Los Angeles expiring every year from preventable causes.
When you combine death-by-smog with deaths related to exposure to dirty indoor air, contaminated land and unsafe water, the grand total of deaths from all pollution sources climbs to almost 9 million deaths each year worldwide. That’s more than 1 in 7 deaths and makes pollution deadlier than malnutrition.
This fact deserves to be better known, as there are ready solutions. Inaction is not an option.
This year, World Health Day on April 7th is dedicated to improving food safety from the farm to the plate. This is a timely reminder that food safety is a global public health issue: Foodborne disease causes suffering, death, reduced productivity, loss of wages, decreased trade competitiveness and access to markets and ultimately exacerbate poverty.
Unsafe food containing harmful bacteria, viruses, parasites or chemical substances is the root cause of more than 200 diseases, ranging from diarrhea to cancers. Foodborne and waterborne diseases kill an estimated 1.5 million people annually, including many children under the age of 5.