In my 10 years of working in the World Bank, I have seen remarkable changes around me. In 2004, Emerald Avenue in Ortigas Center, where the old World Bank office was located, started to wind down after 9 PM. Finding a place to buy a midnight snack whenever I did overtime was hard. It was also hard to find a taxi after work.
Today, even at 3 AM, the street is bustling with 24-hour restaurants, coffee shops, and convenience stores, hundreds of BPO (Business Process Outsourcing) employees taking their break, and a line of taxis waiting to bring these new middle class earners home. Living in Ortigas Center today means that I also benefit from these changes.
As International Youth Day approaches next week, I've found myself wondering what are the primary issues affecting young people throughout the world. One topic that seems to be a common thread across regions and income groups is youth unemployment, which remains more than double the rate of unemployment for the general population.
It's well known that youth populations are on the rise in the developing world, particularly. What does this mean for the millions of young people who enter the workforce every year?
Youth unemployment is defined as individuals aged 15-24 who are without work, but are currently available for work and have sought it in the recent past. Below, I analyze data from World Development Indicators. These data come originally from the International Labour Organization (ILO), which produces its own estimates that are harmonized to account for inconsistences in the data source, definition, and methodologies. ILO estimates may differ from official unemployment statistics produced by national statistical offices.
Asia maintains lowest levels of youth unemployment
Regional levels of youth unemployment have barely changed in the past two decades. South Asia and East Asia and Pacific have maintained the lowest rates, hovering at about 10% for the last 20 years. Meanwhile, the Middle East and North Africa region has had the highest rate of youth unemployment since the 1990s, and clocked in a figure of about 27% in 2012. The biggest increase in the youth unemployment rate has been in the Europe and Central Asia region, where after years of steady decline rates have risen to over 20% since the financial crisis in 2008.
At a high-level meeting at the World Bank on Monday, African ministers and delegations representing 51 countries had a pressing concern: the renewal and modernization of the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA). A preferential program that enhances the access of qualifying African countries to the US market, the law is due to expire in September 2015.
As African Presidents, Prime Ministers, and business leaders arrive in Washington to attend the first US-Africa Summit, one topic that will be paramount in their discussions with President Obama and his Cabinet is: how governments and families can access affordable electricity across the African continent.
Consider the facts: one in three Africans, that’s 600 million people, has no access to electricity. Neither do some 10 million small and medium-sized enterprises. Those homes and businesses fortunate enough to have power pay three times as much as those in the United States and Europe; furthermore, they routinely endure power outages that cost their countries from one to four percent in lost GDP every year.
Despite the fact that Africa is blessed with some of the world’s largest hydropower and geothermal resources (10-15 GW of geothermal potential in the Rift Valley alone), bountiful solar and wind resources, as well as significant natural gas reserves, total power generation capacity in Africa is about 80,000 megawatts (MW) (including South Africa), roughly the same as that of Spain or South Korea.
As Africa enters its 20th consecutive year of economic expansion, with the World Bank forecasting that Africa’s GDP growth will remain steady at 4.7 percent in 2014, and strengthening to 5.1 percent in each of 2015 and 2016, the continent needs more electric power. Specifically, Africa needs to add 7,000 MW of generation capacity each year to meet the projected growth in demand, yet it has achieved only 1,000 MW of additional power generation annually.
Over the last week I visited Cameroon and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, two of Africa’s so-called ‘fountain states.’ The resources in these two countries – along with Guinea, Ethiopia, and Uganda – can generate enough hydroelectricity to satisfy the growing demand in Africa. I saw the range of applications for which this power is needed, and I saw clear solutions.
In Eastern Cameroon I visited the construction site for the Lom Pangar hydropower project. Once construction is complete and the reservoir is filled in the next couple of years, this new dam on the Sanaga River will improve the reliability of power supply and lower the cost for up to five million Cameroonians. The Lom Pangar project will also pave the way for developing the full 6,000 MW of hydropower potential of the Sanaga River by regulating the flow of the river.
In the Democratic Republic of Congo, last week, I visited the Inga hydropower site on the mighty Congo River. DRC’s overall hydropower potential is estimated at 100,000 MW, the third largest in the world behind China and Russia, yet only 2.5% of this key resource has been developed. With 40,000 MW of generation potential, Inga is the world’s largest hydropower site. Its proper development can make Inga the African continent’s most cost-effective, renewable source of energy with an estimated generation cost of US$ 0.03 per kilowatt hour with little or no carbon footprint--a significant added virtue.
A five hours’ drive south of Lima lays the coastal provinces of Chincha. If one heads inland into the deserted mountains that are typical of costal Peru, one would be surprised to find agriculture blanketing the valley floor. For centuries local communities in these rugged terrains have been using water from small meandering streams to grow maize, and eke out a living by selling surpluses at nearby markets. However, in recent years the growth of industrial agriculture has squeezed these communities, making it hard for them to survive in these ancestral lands, forcing many of them to move to nearby cities such as Chincha Alta.
Despite hundreds of millions spent on more and better household surveys across Africa in recent decades, we only have a very rough idea about the levels and trends in income poverty and inequality in sub-Saharan Africa. Many reasons contribute to this unfortunate state of affairs.
Duty- and quota-free access for exports to global markets is something developing country trade negotiators have demanded for years. Few other “stroke-of-the-pen” measures could boost employment and reduce poverty in low income countries in such large numbers. For instance if the US removed tariffs on Bangladeshi garments – which average around 13%, but for some items are as high as 33% – then exports to the US could rise by $1.5 billion from the FY13 level of $5 billion, in turn generating employment for at least an additional half a million, primarily female, workers. Examples of other countries facing US tariffs include Cambodia (12.8% average tariff rate on its exports to the US), India (4.01%), Indonesia (5.73%), and Vietnam (7.41%). Progress in trade facilitation would likely have even greater pay-offs to growth and employment, but these require structural reforms and investments, while the decision to remove tariffs is a simpler, “stroke-of-the-pen” measure.
Development is not easy; making it sustainable, even more difficult. Take for example road traffic rules. We can build better roads and install traffic lights, but cannot guarantee adherence to traffic rules. Even with laws in place, people may be more willing to pay fines than stop at a red light or wear seat belts. How do you make people value their own lives or their betterment? To succeed, we have to motivate people rather than just educate them.