Six years after independence, South Sudan remains one of the world’s most fragile states, unable to emerge from cycles of violence. About half the population—that is, about 6 million of 12 million people—are food insecure. A famine was declared in February 2017. And though the famine was contained (thanks to massive humanitarian support), food insecurity remains at extremely high levels.
About 2 million South Sudanese have fled the country and another 1.9 million are internally displaced. The economy is estimated to have contracted by 11 percent in the past fiscal year, due to conflict, low oil production, and disruptions to agriculture. The fiscal deficit, inflation, and parallel market premium have all soared.
This macroeconomic collapse has crushed the livelihoods of many South Sudanese.
Celina Maria migrated from Bahia to Rio de Janeiro when she was just 17 and pregnant with twins, without completing her education and therefore have had difficulties finding good formal jobs. Over her life, she faced many challenges from being homeless to unemployed, while living in food insecurity with her children. Like Celina Maria, millions of people around the globe face multiple constraints – low earnings, limited assets, low human capital, idiosyncratic shocks and exposition to natural shocks, violence, and more – yearning to live with dignity and a decent and economically independent life.
To address the diverse needs of the poor, many countries offer a myriad of social benefits and services. Despite good intentions, this can lead to fragmentation in the absence of a clear strategy and coordinated processes and systems.
When the Bank did its first social assistance public expenditure review in Indonesia in 2012, the diagnosis was clear. Despite spending significant amount of resources in “welfare”, most of them were through expensive subsidies (fuel, electricity, rice) that were not necessarily benefiting the most vulnerable segments of the society. General subsidies represented 20 percent of total national budget, but household targeted social assistance programs were already making their way, increasing from 0.3 to 0.5 percent of GDP between 2004 and 2010. Still, there was an overall dissatisfaction on what had been achieved, with the Gini coefficient rose by about 6 percentage points in the period of 2005 to 2012.
With more than 27 million people still considered poor and as one of the countries in the East Asia and the Pacific region that has one of the highest income inequality levels, the coverage expansion and social assistance system strengthening is a must. Fortunately, the situation in the social assistance sector has changed dramatically.
When you think of Peru, the first city that usually comes to mind is Lima. Why? Well, because Lima is the largest city in the country, with close to 50% of the nation’s urban population living in the metropolitan area; the city also produces 45% of Peru’s GDP. While this level of concentration of population and economic activity may not be a good or bad thing, it points to some imbalances in the urban system in Peru.
NEUDC is a large development economics conference, with more than 160 papers on the program, so it’s a nice way to get a sense of new research in the field.
Thankfully, since NEUDC posts submitted papers, I was able to mostly catch up. I went through 147 of the papers and summarized them below, by topic. If a paper you loved or presented isn’t in the rundown, feel free to add a brief summary in the comments. (Why 147 instead of 160? I skipped a few macro papers and the papers that weren’t posted.)
Tanzania is not a country one would ordinarily expect to find in the ranks of the water- stressed. It hosts, or shares, at least eleven freshwater lakes, and is home to countless rivers, including the Great Ruaha.
Tanzania is relatively blessed with its water resources.
Yet over the past 25 years, the country’s population has doubled to about 53 million and the size of its economy has more than tripled. As a result, Tanzania’s per capita amount of renewable freshwater has declined, from more than 3,000m3 to about 1,600m3 per person today—below the 1,700m3 level that is internationally considered to be the threshold for water stress.
The first time I heard of the Bolivian city of Trinidad was exactly 11 months ago. Although Trinidad is the 10th largest city in Bolivia, I confess I did not know much about it. The Ministry of Development Planning (MPD) had commissioned the World Bank a study on intermediate cities in Bolivia, and in my early research I learned that this was a colonial city founded in 1686 during Jesuitic Missions. Similar in its architecture and climate to the southeastern cities of my native Venezuela, Trinidad is extremely vulnerable to flooding that affect thousands of families and businesses each year.
Conflict and violence are shrinking the space for development at a time when donors are scaling up their presence. To reconcile the conflicting objectives of staff safety with a need to do more (or a greater volume of investment), and doing it better (through higher quality projects), many development workers have started to rely on third party monitoring by outside agents, an approach that is costly and not always effective.The case of Mali demonstrates that alternatives exist.
Less than a decade ago Bank staff could travel freely around in Mali, even to the most remote communities in the country. But today, a mix of terrorism and armed violence renders field supervision of projects impossible in many locations.
To address this challenge—and in the wake of the 2013/14 security crisis in northern Mali—a monitoring system was designed that is light, low cost, and suited for monitoring in insecure areas, but also problem oriented and able to facilitate improvements in project implementation.
I first met Saman in the early 1990s in Delhi. Over the years, our paths diverged. When I re-engaged on South Asia, I ran into Saman again. We re-connected instantly, despite the long intervening period. This was easy to do with Saman—soft-spoken, affable, a gentleman to the core. He bore his considerable knowledge lightly.
Despite his premature passing away in June 2017, he left a rich and varied legacy behind him. I will confine myself to discussing his insights on regional cooperation in South Asia, based on his public writings and my interactions with him.
Saman was a champion of deeper economic linkages within South Asia. He was also pragmatic.
Along with a few other regional champions, Saman, as the head of the Institute of Policy Studies in Colombo, helped to kick-start the “South Asian Economic Summit”, or SAES, in Colombo in 2008, to provide a high-profile forum for dialogue on topical issues, especially South Asian regional integration. It is remarkable that the SAES has endured, without any gap. The fact that the policy and academic fraternity meet with unfailing regularity, despite on-and-off political tensions in the region, is testimony to its value.
Saman repeatedly stressed that Sri Lanka has been able to reap benefits from the India-Sri Lanka FTA (ISFTA), contrary to the general belief. His arguments were powerful: the import-export ratio for Sri Lanka improved from 10.3 in 2000 (the start of the ISFTA) to 6.6 in 2015; about 70 percent of Sri Lanka’s exports to India get duty-free access under the FTA, but less than 10 percent of Sri Lanka’s imports from India come under the FTA (since India provided “special and differential treatment” to Sri Lanka).