As an intrinsically-optimistic Brazilian, my new assignment following India’s economy suits me well: India is one of the few bright spots in a somber global economy and is set to become the fastest growing large economy in the world. Our recently-released India Development Update projects India’s GDP will grow by 7.5 percent in the fiscal year ending March 2016, and by 7.8 and 7.9 percent in the following two years. Not quite the double-digit growth the Government would like to see, and to be sure there are significant uncertainties about the outlook, but an enviable state of affairs nonetheless.
What is driving the favorable momentum?
The drastic decline in global crude oil prices since June 2014 clearly played an important role. As a net oil importer, the halving of oil prices has been a bonanza for India. External vulnerabilities were greatly reduced as the lower oil import bill shrank the current account deficit despite anemic exports. Lower oil prices also helped contain prices of global commodities, and along with the RBI’s prudent monetary policy led to a significant decline in inflation. This in turn boosted real incomes in urban areas and allowed RBI to lower policy rates by a cumulative 125 basis points in the first nine months of 2015.
Global warming can be limited by reducing or avoiding greenhouse gases stemming from human activities - particularly in the energy, industry, transport, and building sectors—which together account for over 75% of global emissions. So low carbon technologies are key to achieving mitigation while creating new economic opportunities. Since 2008, the $5.3 billion Clean Technology Fund (CTF) - one of the $8.1 billion Climate Investment Funds' (CIF) four funding windows—has been partnering with multilateral development banks (MDBs), including the World Bank and the IFC, to provide concessional financing to large-scale country-led projects and programs in renewable energy, energy efficiency and sustainable transport. As the world gets ready for the climate negotiations in Paris later this month, the governing bodies of CTF met in Washington D.C. MDBs, donor countries, recipient countries and civil society organizations gathered to, among other things, share the results and lessons of how the CTF is reducing greenhouse gas emissions, creating energy savings, and improving the lives of some of the world’s poorest people by creating jobs and reducing pollution. The CTF report card is based on the results from operational projects and programs over a one year period. In total, the CTF has achieved 20 mtCO2e in emission reductions—that’s the equivalent to taking four and a half million cars off the road or shutting down six coal fired power plants.
As countries prepare to meet at the G20 summit in Turkey next week, global growth and infrastructure needs will be at the top of decision makers’ concerns. And rightly so: Infrastructure – roads, bridges, ports, power plants, water supply – drive economic growth in many countries by facilitating manufacturing, services and trade. But it’s not just a matter of building more. To achieve good development on a planet stressed by climate change and diminishing natural resources, infrastructure needs to be sustainable.
‘Oh you’re going to Lima? I’ve heard the food is supposed to be amazing’. So goes the typical comment I get from friends and family when I would mention my work related travel plans. And in this sense the city does indeed live up to what is now internationally recognized. In my short amount of time in Lima I discovered it has a gorgeous historic downtown area, a stunning coastline peppered with manicured parks in the upscale parts of town, and a largely flat topography coupled with a near complete lack of rain.
It is the end of another hot day in Rio de Janeiro. I’m tired and sweaty after spending the afternoon checking out the progress on some of the city’s train stations, which are being renovated for the upcoming Olympic Games. But I’m also happy, having witnessed the progress made in improving Rio’s suburban rail system, known as SuperVia, which the World Bank has been supporting for the last 20 years.
Cities are created for human experiences and not for satellites in the sky. So why are there so many cities that while look impressive on a map, exclude so many of their residents from enjoying the full extent of their benefits? The key may be that details matter for inclusion of cities.
Inclusion means that all people and communities have access to rights, opportunities, and resources. Urbanization provides cities the potential to increase prosperity and livability. However, many suffer from poor environments, social instability, inequality, and concentrated pockets of poverty that create exclusion. In South Asia, as in other regions, segregation within cities cause poorer areas to suffer from the lack of access to facilities and services that exacerbate misery and crime.
Medellin, Colombia was once the most dangerous city on the planet with astounding gaps between the wealthy and the poor, vastly different access to services, and the highest homicide rate in the world. Its turnaround has been impressive. Much of the progress has been attributed to the thoughtfulness of its planning to ensure greater inclusion. What can South Asian cities learn from this South American city?
Planning policies and action have often been concentrated on the broad structures and functions of cities. However, drilling down the details can realize an inclusive urban environment that improves life for all in public spaces. In our definition, inclusive cities provide:
Mobility: A high level of movement between different neighborhoods that provide opportunities for jobs, education, and culture;
Services: All neighborhoods have a basic level of facilities and affordable necesities such as housing, water, and sanitation;
Accessibility: Urban spaces are designed so that everyone can easily and safety enjoy public spaces.
What happened in Medellin, Colombia? Medellin offers an inspiring example of how improved planning and sound implementation can increase social inclusion. Two decades ago, Medellin was the homicide capital of the world. Illicit drugs were a major export and hillside slums were particularly affected by violence. In response, the government created public facilities inclusive of libraries and schools, public transportation links, and recreational spaces in the poorest neighborhoods; and connecting them with the city’s commercial and industrial centers. As a result of a planning model that seeks to serve all residents, the city has become safer, healthier, more educated and equitable.
A few months ago, I had a chance to visit the Panama Canal, which celebrated its 100th anniversary last year. It is truly a mega-structure that is the largest infrastructure project of its time.
When I saw it, what struck me the most was - “How could this be possible”? One hundred years ago, Panama was a country that was just formed and capital markets were not very well-developed. And technology was obviously not as advanced as it is today.
Fast forward 100 years, in the world today, Asia has a huge demand for infrastructure. In Singapore, we know of Hyflux, which has one of the largest desalination plants in Singapore. Sembcorp Utilities has a power plant project in Bangladesh recently and PSA has a port in Guangxi China. These are just some examples of Singapore companies who have gone into infrastructure development. Yet, not enough projects have been implemented, especially in Asia.
South Asia can now reap the benefits of greater regional integration it once enjoyed before its partition into various countries. But first, the region must break down the barriers that impede its intra-regional trade.
You don’t have to be a number-cruncher to enjoy this challenge:
1, 5, 200, and 2,800,000. Close your eyes after reading these numbers. Can you recite them in the right order?
Intrigued? If you’re interested in the development of South Asia, these four numbers will resonate with you. They represent four areas of opportunity for the region to further integrate and thrive economically.
Last month, prior to the South Asia Economic Conclave #SAEC15, Sanjay met with 30 Indian graduate students holding or currently pursuing advanced degrees in history, economics, and South Asia studies. He shared the 4 numbers with them and observed their responses. Here’s an overview of the conversation:
Urbanization provides the countries of South Asia with the opportunity to transform their economies to join the ranks of richer nations. But to reap the benefits of urbanization, nations must address the challenges it poses. Growing urban populations put pressure on a city’s infrastructure; they increase the demand for basic services, land and housing, and they add stress to the environment.
Particularly harmful are high concentrations of fine particulate matter, especially that of 2.5 microns or less in diameter (PM2.5). They can penetrate deep into the lungs, increasing the likelihood of asthma, lung cancer, severe respiratory illness, and heart disease.
Data released by the World Health Organization (WHO) in May 2014 shows Delhi to have the most polluted air of any city in the world, with an annual mean concentration of PM2.5 of 152.6 μg/m3 . That is more than 15 times greater than the WHO’s guideline value and high enough to make Beijing’s air—known for its bad quality—look comparatively clean.
But Delhi is far from unique among South Asia’s cities.