Natural disasters – such as tsunamis, earthquakes, cyclones and floods – are costly to society, in terms of both human destruction and financial losses. Governments ultimately bear the full cost of the havoc wreaked by natural disasters, which can create an enormous strain on limited government budgets, especially in developing countries. This is even before we begin to contemplate the development impact and how the poorest of the poor are disproportionately affected.
Just last week, the world saw the widespread damage that the St. Jude storm inflicted across Europe, and we witnessed its effect on hundreds of thousands of people. Most advanced economies, however, have sufficient capacity to be able to absorb the financial losses inlicted by natural disasters. Higher-income countries enjoy (relatively) efficient public revenue systems and developed domestic insurance markets.
By contrast, developing countries do not have the same degree of access to financial and insurance markets. They face limited revenue streams, limited fiscal flexibility, and limited access to quick liquidity in the wake of an event. This is particularly so for Small Island Developing States (SIDS), such as the Pacific island nations.
In the three years since the Arab Awakening of late 2010, the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) has seen an increase in conflict and political instability, on the one hand, and a deteriorating economic situation, on the other. Given the vicious cycle between economic hardship and conflict, it is natural to ask whether a return to political stability will restore prosperity in the region.
Sitting in a safe house, an ocean away, three former pirates reflect on their past lives as ”footsoldiers” aboard skiffs preparing to attack unsuspecting cargo vessels off the Horn of Africa. Our research team is transfixed by their stories.
We listen as they describe to us how they got involved in the piracy business, how much they earned, how they spent their money and, perhaps most interesting, what they know about their ”masters” – the pirate financiers, investors and negotiators.
These footsoldiers were merely small fish in a big sea. They would be sent out to hijack shipping vessels, which would only be returned to the ships’ owners for a hefty ransom.
Following research for our report “Pirate Trails,” studying acts of piracy off the Horn of Africa, we estimate that between US$339 million and US$413 million was handed over in ransom payments between April 2005 and December 2012. The exact amount is very hard to pin down, given the reluctance of the shipping companies and pirates to reveal the cost and rewards of piracy.
Talk about timing! This week has seen back-to-back initiatives that underscore the growing importance of Islamic finance – and the significant role that the World Bank Group can play in unleashing its potential for financing international development.
This Tuesday, October 29, Prime Minister David Cameron of the United Kingdom announced that the U.K. will become the first non-Muslim country to issue a Sukuk or Islamic bond, with a £200 million issue planned for early 2014. Cameron also announced plans for a new Islamic index on the London Stock Exchange. These initiatives are all part of a grand plan by the U.K. government to turn London into a global capital of Islamic finance.
The very next day, on Wednesday, October 30, World Bank Group President Jim Kim inaugurated the World Bank Global Islamic Finance Center in Istanbul. Envisioned as a knowledge hub for developing Islamic finance globally, the center will conduct research and training as well as provide technical assistance and advisory services to World Bank Group client countries interested in developing Islamic financial institutions and markets.
The remittances sent home every year by the African Diaspora should create a doorway to still greater opportunities, and the key to this door is financial access. While remittances do impact the living standards of beneficiaries directly, the banks that pay out the remittances month after month should offer recipient families a basic financial package including savings accounts, payment services and small loans for microenterprise. This should facilitate growth from current levels of remittances saved and invested. Leveraging of remittances through financial inclusion is certain to increase their development potential.
How do Arab economies fare in terms of “Competitiveness”? Are they able to provide prosperity for their citizens? Are they efficient in using available resources?
The variation in investment among developing countries is truly remarkable. Over the course of the 30-year period between 1980--2010---a period of relative calm in the global economy that is often referred to as the "Great Moderation"[*]---the investment rate in developing countries ranged from a whopping 90 percent (Armenia in 1990) to a dismal 1 percent (Liberia in 2003). This variability is more than twice that of variance in economic growth---a topic that has preoccupied many more generations of researchers---and much of this variability stems from the developing world.
Financial Inclusion Commitments through the Maya Declaration, the G20 Peer Learning Program, and the Better Than Cash Alliance.
Today at 2 o’clock in the Preston Auditorium, Jim Kim, the President of the World Bank Group – along with Queen Máxima of the Netherlands, the U.N. Secretary General’s Special Advocate for Inclusive Finance for Development – will challenge the global community to focus on transformational change in the level and quality of financial inclusion.
Why financial inclusion? Because it is an enabler for poverty reduction and shared prosperity, as has been recognized by the U.N. Secretary General’s High-Level Panel on the Post-2015 Development Agenda.
Progress in tackling financial exclusion can be accelerated through the current global wave of nation-by-nation financial inclusion targets and commitments; through improved data availability; and through transformative business models for providing financial services.
Bangladesh was born on December 16 1971, following a devastating war that cost the lives of 3,000,000 people. They were victorious in their fight for independence, yet the prospects of the Bangladeshi people living in the 70’s were disheartening, earning it the now rather infamous connotation of a basket case, as Henry Kissinger called it back in 1971. Emerging from the rubbles left by the war, the resilient Bangladeshis began the rebuilding of their newly established nation. Economic growth was slow to take off, and it rebounded to the pre-war level about twenty years later, in the 90’s. Yet, it was after the 90’s that the country began to attain palpable progress and only over the 2000-2010 decade that the country achieved great poverty reduction. The depth-of-poverty MDG target of 8 percent was attained five years ahead of schedule, and Bangladesh was set in the right path for achieving the first MDG goal of halving the poverty headcount to 28.5 percent by 2015.
South Asia is the least integrated region in the world. Intra-regional trade in South Asia is less than 2% of GDP compared to over 20% in East Asia. Labor mobility and regional travel is minimal, with few exceptions. Even remote communication is low – only 7% of international telephone calls in South Asia are to countries within the region, compared to 71% for East Asia. The case for closer integration has remained strong for a while now, and it is refreshing to see that some movement, albeit watchful, in addressing some of the region's deep rooted political economy issues, particularly between India and Pakistan.
The discussions around closer integration have centered on energy, trade, connectivity and stability. All of these offer strong potential to enhance growth in the region. However, financial sector integration overall, and access to finance in particular, hardly ever make it to the agenda of regional integration forums and deliberations. This is unfortunate, because the region has a long way to go in providing adequate access to financial services and insurance products, especially to the vulnerable segments of the population. Given that South Asia is home to more than half a billion of the world’s poor, this becomes a poverty reduction goal as much as a financial inclusion goal.