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The rise of artificial intelligence: what does it mean for development?

Leebong Lee's picture

Video: Artificial intelligence for the SDGs (International Telecommunication Union)

Along with my colleagues on the ICT sector team of the World Bank, I firmly believe that ICTs can play a critical role in supporting development. But I am also aware that professionals on other sector teams may not necessarily share the same enthusiasm.

Typically, there are two arguments against ICTs for development. First, to properly reap the benefits of ICTs, countries need to be equipped with basic communication and other digital service delivery infrastructure, which remains a challenge for many of our low-income clients. Second, we need to be mindful of the growing divide between digital-ready groups vs. the rest of the population, and how it may exacerbate broader socio-economic inequality.

These concerns certainly apply to artificial intelligence (AI), which has recently re-emerged as an exciting frontier of technological innovation. In a nutshell, artificial intelligence is intelligence exhibited by machines. Unlike the several “AI winters” of the past decades, AI technologies really seem to be taking off this time. This may be promising news, but it challenges us to more clearly validate the vision of ICT for development, while incorporating the potential impact of AI.

It is probably too early to figure out whether AI will be blessing or a curse for international development… or perhaps this type of binary framing may not be the best approach. Rather than providing a definite answer, I’d like to share some thoughts on what AI means for ICT and development.

The rippling economic impacts of child marriage

Quentin Wodon's picture
A new study finds that child marriage could cost developing countries trillions of dollars by 2030, with the largest economic cost coming from its impact on fertility and population growth.


Globally, more than 700 million women alive today married before the age of 18. Each year, 15 million additional girls are married as children, the vast majority of them in developing countries. Child marriage is widely considered a violation of human rights, and it is also a major impediment to gender equality. It profoundly affects the opportunities not only of child brides, but also of their children. And, as a study we issued this week concludes, it has significant economic implications as well.

Human development accounting

Youssouf Kiendrebeogo's picture

The rate of change in human development outcomes varies considerably across countries over long periods of time, as reflected in the two histograms below (Figure 1). For 78 countries in the period 1980-2014, the percentage decline in child mortality was 3.39% on average, with a standard deviation of 1.36%, a smallest rate of 0.89% (Central African Republic) and a highest rate of 8.07% (Maldives). The average percentage increase in school enrollment was 3.35%, with a standard deviation 3.54%, a minimum of 0.37% (Georgia) and a maximum of 19.68% (Maldives). Similar patterns of cross-country variation are found when using alternative proxies for health and education outcomes.

Local communities combat climate change in Bangladesh

Shilpa Banerji's picture
Mahfuzul Hasan Bhuiyan/World Bank
Bangladesh is among the most vulnerable countries to flooding and climate change impacts. Photo Credit: 
Mahfuzul Hasan Bhuiyan/World Bank

How can a country vulnerable to natural disasters mitigate the effects of climate change? In Bangladesh, resilient communities have shown that by using local solutions it is possible to combat different types of climate change impacting different parts of the country.
 
Every year, flash floods and drought affect the north and north-west regions. Drinking water becomes scarce, land becomes barren and people struggle to find shelter for themselves and their livestock. In the coastal districts, excessive saline makes it impossible to farm and fish.
 
The Community Climate Change Project (CCCP) has awarded grants to around 41 NGOs to address salinity, flood and drought-prone areas. With the help from local NGOs, communities innovated simple solutions to cope up with changing climate and earn a better living benefiting at least 40,000 people in the most vulnerable districts.
 
Raising the plinths of their homes in clusters has helped more than 15,000 families escape floods, and they continued to earn their livelihoods by planting vegetables and rearing goats on raised ground. Vermicomposting has also helped to increase crop yields. In the saline affected areas, many farmers have started to cultivate salinity tolerant crabs with women raising their income level by earning an additional BDT 1500 a month from saline tolerant mud crab culture in high saline areas.
 
Watch how communities use these three solutions to tackle climate change impacts.

New Partnership for Capacity Development in Household Surveys for Welfare Analysis

Vini Vaid's picture

In low- and middle-income countries, household surveys are often the primary source of socio-economic data used by decision makers to make informed decisions and monitor national development plans and the SDGs. However, household surveys continue to suffer from low quality and limited cross-country comparability, and many countries lack the necessary resources and know-how to develop and maintain sustainable household survey systems.
 
The World Bank’s Center for Development Data (C4D2) in Rome and the Bank of Italy— with financial support by the Italian Agency for Development Cooperation and commitments from other Italian and African institutions—have launched a new initiative to address these issues.

The Partnership for Capacity Development in Household Surveys for Welfare Analysis aims to improve the quality and sustainability of national surveys by strengthening capacity in regional training centers in the collection, analysis, and use of household surveys and other microdata, as well as in the integration of household surveys with other data sources.
 
On Monday, nine partners signed an MoU describing the intent of the Partnership, at the Bank of Italy in Rome. The signatories included Haishan Fu (Director, Development Data Group, World Bank), Valeria Sannucci (Deputy Governor, Bank of Italy), Pietro Sebastiani (Director General for Cooperation and Development, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of the Italian Republic), Laura Frigenti (Director, Italian Agency for Development Cooperation), Giorgio Alleva (President, Italian National Institute of Statistics), Stefano Vella (Research Manager, Italian National Institute of Health), Oliver Chinganya (Director, African Centre for Statistics of the UN Economic Commission for Africa), Frank Mkumbo (Rector, Eastern Africa Statistical Training Center), and Hugues Kouadio (Director, École Nationale Supérieure de Statistique et d’Économie Appliquée).
 
The Partnership will offer a biannual Training Week on household surveys and thematic workshops on specialized topics to be held in Italy in training facilities made available by the Bank of Italy, as well as regular short courses and seminars held at regional statistical training facilities to maximize outreach and impact. The first of a series of Training-of-Trainers (ToT) courses will be held in Fall 2017.
 
For more information, please contact: c4d2@worldbank.org.

A roadmap to reintegrate displaced and refugee Afghans

Shubham Chaudhuri's picture
A displaced family has taken shelter in a ruined house on the outskirts of Kabul. Photo: Rumi Consultancy/ World Bank


As the world marks World Refugee Day on June 20, we must remember that it is not only the refugee crisis that is hampering development efforts in many countries. There is also a silent emerging crisis of people driven from their homes to another part of their own country, people known as internally displaced persons (IDPs). It is a growing issue that several countries are facing, with enormous social and political pressures to address.

In Afghanistan, there are an estimated 1.2 million people who are internally displaced because of insecurity or are being forced to leave their homes due to natural disasters. This is in addition to the nearly 6 million people who have returned to Afghanistan since 2002, making one in five Afghans a returnee. In 2016, more than 620,000 Afghans returned from Pakistan alone.

The massive influx of returnees and IDPs is placing tremendous pressure on Afghanistan’s already fragile social and economic infrastructure and is a threat to regional stability.

When I first took up my position as Country Director of the World Bank for Afghanistan, I was struck by the plight of returnees and IDPs and by how hard-pressed the Afghan government was in dealing with them. During my first days in office, back in November 2016, I visited a United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) center on the outskirts of Kabul. The center serves as the first entry point for returnees where they can receive assistance—including cash—and attend awareness and safety sessions to help them better integrate in their new communities.  

Standing #WithRefugees: Helping Jordan with the Provision of Health Services to Syrian Refugees

Aakanksha H Pande's picture
Syrian refugee children at Za’atari Camp, Jordan
Photo credit: Aaka Pande, March 15, 2017

March 15, 2017. She looked at me curiously, sipping on her juice box. Her pink sweater in contrast to her anemic pallor. If it had not been for the drip in her right arm, she could be any five year old child. Except she was not. She was a refugee, one of the more than 650,000 Syrians that Jordan has been hosting since the start of the war. Exactly six years ago, the civil war in Syria had started a couple of miles away. Six years later the war continued. It was all this girl had seen in her lifetime.

Our commitment to the people of Afghanistan stays strong

Annette Dixon's picture
Despite government efforts with support from the international community, Afghanistan's development needs remain massive. Photo Credit: Rumi Consultancy/ World Bank

I am still shaken and saddened by the many lives lost to the attacks in Kabul two weeks ago and since then there has been more violence. As we grieve these tragedies, now is the time to stand strong with the people of Afghanistan and renew our commitment to build a peaceful and prosperous country.

To that end, we announced this week a new financing package of more than half-a-billion dollars to help Afghanistan through its struggle to end poverty, increase opportunity to help stabilize the country, and ensure all its citizens can access basic services during a time of economic uncertainty.

Afghanistan has come a long way since 2001 and achieved much progress under extremely challenging circumstances. Life expectancy has increased from 44 to 60 years, maternal mortality has decreased by more than three quarters and the country now boasts 18 million mobile phone subscribers, up from almost none in 2001.

Yet, the development needs in Afghanistan remain massive. Nearly 40 percent of Afghans live in poverty and almost 70 percent of the population are illiterate. The country needs to create new jobs for about 400,000 people entering the labor market each year. The situation is made more challenging by the return of around 5.8 million refugees and 1.2 million internally displaced people.

Our new support is in line with our belief that Afghanistan’s economic and social progress can also help it address security challenges.  Our financing package meets the pressing needs of returning refugees, expands private-sector opportunities for the poor, boosts the development of five cities, expands electrification, improves food security, and builds rural roads.

Motorization and its discontents

Roger Gorham's picture
Photo: Sarah Farat/World Bank
They say a picture is worth a thousand words.  While visiting the World Bank library the other day, I was struck by how many development publications featured pictures of motor vehicles on their covers, even though most of them covered topics that had little to do with transport.  The setting and tone of the pictures varied – sometimes they showed a lone car on a rural highway, sometimes congested vehicles in urban traffic, and sometimes a car displayed proudly as a status symbol – but the prevalence of motorized vehicles as a visual metaphor for development was unmistakable to me: in the public imagination, consciously or otherwise, many people associate development with more use of motorized vehicles.

Indeed, motorization – the process of adopting and using motor vehicles as a core part of economic and daily life – is closely linked with other dimensions of development such as urbanization and industrialization.

Motorization, however, is a double-edged sword.

For many households, being able to afford their own vehicle is often perceived as the key to accessing more jobs, more services, more opportunities—not to mention a status symbol. Likewise, vehicles can unlock possibilities for firms and individual entrepreneurs such as the young man from Uganda pictured on the right, proudly showing off his brand new boda boda (motorcycle taxi). 

But motorization also comes with a serious downside, in terms of challenges that many governments have difficulty managing.  Motor vehicles can undermine the livability of cities by cluttering up roads and open spaces—the scene of chaos and gridlock in the picture below, from Accra, is a telling example. In addition, vehicles create significant safety hazards for occupants and bystanders alike… in many developing countries, road deaths have effectively reached epidemic proportions. From an environmental standpoint, motorized transport is, of course, a major contributor to urban air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. Lastly, motorization contributes to countries' hard currency challenges by exacerbating their long-term demand for petroleum products.

Given these challenges, how are developing countries going to align their motorization trajectories with their development goals?  What should the World Bank advise our clients about how to manage this process?

Adding to existing MDG drinking water data for the SDG world

Libbet Loughnan's picture

This blog is part of a series accompanying the Atlas of Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) 2017In response to frequent questions from those trying to gain familiarity with the monitoring method of SDG target 6.1, we use this blog to elaborate on the overview presented in the Atlas.

Here we are looking just at the new water indicator: 'The percentage of the population using safely managed drinking water services', defined as an MDG-style improved drinking water source, which is:

  • located on premises
  • available when needed, and
  • compliant with fecal (zero E.coli in 100mL sample of the household's source of drinking water) and priority chemical standards

These changes reflect evolving global consensus on what can best be monitored to support development. They are designed to denote opportunities: representing the full water cycle and fecal-oral chain, quantifying issues that were less visible through MDG-lenses, and informing action to meet domestic targets as well as the World Bank Group Twin Goals and the SDGs. That is, so long as the data is collected.

Until household surveys integrate the additional measurements, data constraints mean that only limited insights are yet possible on how the shift to the SDG framework will play out in various countries. As outlined in a recent blog, an initiative led by the World Bank's Water and Poverty Equity Global Practices - called the Water Supply, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH) Poverty Diagnostic - is supporting rollout of the new SDG measurements. The Diagnostics have helped not just highlight evidence gaps but also successfully developed partnerships collecting critical SDG measurements in Ethiopia, Tajikistan, Nigeria, DRC, and West Bank and Gaza, as well as Ecuador.

The Diagnostic has also been engaging with countries to help relate their historical data to the new framework. As with the data production, this is mutually informed by the WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme for Water Supply and Sanitation (JMP), helping ease uptake of the results in official SDG monitoring.

There are straightforward elements to this: MDG-style "improved" drinking water, the "on premises" component of the MDG-period "piped water on premises", contribute some of the building blocks of SDG classification "safely managed".

Many countries also have some data on whether a drinking water source was within 30 minutes roundtrip versus farther afield. Although not part of the binary SDG indicator, this will routinely be used to distinguish "basic" from worse drinking water. Imagine that your daily life relied on water fetched from over 30 mins away!

"Available when needed" and "compliant with fecal and priority chemical standard" are new to the global monitoring framework.


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