What will 2015 stand for? Only half-way through the year, it may be risky to make predictions. But 2015, a year in which the international community is supposed to forge new deals for climate action and sustainable development, should be a year rich in connections. A year in which the health of the planet is finally understood to be of central concern to the future of people. A year in which the management of natural resources – from fish stocks and fresh water, to fertile soil, forest habitats and the carbon in the atmosphere - is understood to have significant national, international and inter-generational consequences.
Awareness is certainly progressing. From the streets of Sao Paulo, Brazil - a country that hosts nothing less than the mighty Amazon River, to the farmlands of California, people are coming to the realization that resources such as water are not limitless. More and more businesses are looking at the security of their supply chains and the footprint of their operations with zeal fueled by self-interest. And countries seem poised to adopt Sustainable Development Goals that signal an understanding that economic, social and environmental issues are inherently interdependent.
Climate change, water shortages and other environmental crises are bringing home the message loud and clear: we need to connect the dots between human actions across the landscape and seascape, or the earth will cease to care for us. It will cease to grow food, to store water, to host fish and pollinators, to provide energy, medicine and timber. Changing temperatures will stress systems already overwhelmed by unsustainable patterns of production and consumption, while a growing middle class will further strain planetary boundaries.
How can we help economies develop better, for lasting poverty reduction and prosperity, within the limits of natural resources? How can we make more rational use of natural and financial resources to maximize social and economic benefits and reduce carbon emissions while increasing our resilience to climate extremes?
Deltas are often described as cradles of civilization. They are the testing grounds for early agriculture and the birthplace of hydraulic engineering as we attempted to shape the landscape to suit our needs.
Deltas are the unique result of the interaction of rivers and tidal processes resulting in the largest sedimentary deposits in the world. Although comprising only 5% of the land area, deltas have up to 10 times higher than average population—a number, which is increasing rapidly, especially for deltas in Asia.
Low lying, deltas are widely recognized as highly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, particularly sea-level rise and changes in runoff, as well as being subject to stresses imposed by human modification of catchment and delta plain land use.
In December 2013, I was excited to receive funding through an Innovation Challenge Award to pilot water flow sensors in rural Tanzania, where the sustainability of rural water supply is a major development challenge. Approximately 38% of rural water points are not functioning properly. The sensor we wanted to develop would remotely monitor flow, making it easier to deliver operational information to the Ministry of Water’s water point mapping system.
The pilot brought one of the first 3D printers to Tanzania and we connected the American start-up WellDone International to the local non-governmental organization (NGO) Msabi. The project team implemented the gadget effectively, and my colleagues at the Water and Sanitation Program (WSP) and I navigated the procurement and implementation challenges. The pilot ended successfully in June of 2014 and we were proud of our achievement in bringing an innovative ICT solution to the Tanzanian rural water sector.
Water security is a major challenge for many countries, especially developing ones. The numbers tell a story of water resources under stress while competition for their use is increasing – by 2025, about 1.8 billion people will be living in regions or countries with absolute water scarcity. Clean water and adequate sanitation is still far from reach for many of the world’s poorest. At the same time, more water is needed to produce food and energy to satisfy the rising needs of the earth’s growing population.
By now, all of you must have heard of the massive earthquake and numerous aftershocks that have shaken Nepal over the last few days. As I am writing this, there is another tremor, 36 hours after the initial quake.
I am lucky that my family is safe. We have been fortunate. The majority of the people in Kathmandu are camped out in makeshift tents set up at various open spaces across the city — schools, army barracks and open fields. Some of these are coordinated by the rescue workers while others are set up by local residents. In some places, cremations happen only 5 meters away from where people sleep. The rain makes it very difficult in an already emotionally scarring time. This is just in Kathmandu.
Rural areas, where 80% of Nepalis live, are devastated. Entire villages have disappeared, buried under landslides triggered by the multiple quakes. Where they haven't, village houses, made mainly of mud and wood, have been reduced to dust, leaving people exposed to the elements. This is happening in some of the most difficult-to-reach hilly and mountainous terrain.
The number of casualties rises by the hour. Although my family and I are safe, many of my friends have lost relatives. Many people we know no longer have their houses. Our staff’s granddaughter needs to have her leg amputated. My "Didi" who took care of me as a child and is a second mother to me - lost her cousin who was crushed when their house collapsed. She really does not even know how to begin to mourn, knowing she still has to keep herself and many other safe.
The heritage we have lost is equally unimaginable. Centuries-old temples and palace squares are down in dust. Imagine the Due Torri in Bologna or the Washington Monument in Washington D.C. crumbling into rubble. The loss has been demoralizing.
The international community has reacted swiftly and relief efforts are in full swing. Hercules and IL-76 military aircrafts have been flying around the clock bringing in supplies, relief materials and workers. Kathmandu, a valley, has only two major highways connecting it to the rest of the world by land - one with China and one with India. Reports of damage to those highways has limited what can be brought into the city by land.
However, this is the just the beginning. The greatest challenges are yet to come. The monsoon season is just a month away. The wet monsoon months are synonymous with outbreaks of various diseases including dysentery, cholera, and hepatitis. With many people's homes destroyed, crowded camps will continue to provide refuge in the coming months. Such densely packed and crowded places with poor hygiene conditions will be ripe breeding grounds for diseases, especially in Kathmandu, where clean water is a scarcity even under normal circumstances.
Here’s my plea to everyone reading this.
The first response has been absolutely fantastic and lifted our spirits, but the support will need to be sustained over time. Relief will not only be limited to rebuilding but also preventing disease outbreaks, which will be more prevalent during the monsoon months.
We will need clean water, medication, waterproof clothes, and infrastructure support to build hygienic camps for people who have lost their homes.
Dealing with potential outbreaks will be more challenging with this devastation. Please support organizations involved in Nepal’s relief effort and also help build awareness around the impending health and sanitation issues.
It has been a very scary last few days. It has been the first time that I’ve had to confront my own mortality: sitting, waiting in the eerily quiet night knowing there will be another shock. But also overcoming this anxiety to help my family and everyone at home, and then, once they are safe, the rest of the country.
Earth Day serves as a reminder each year that protecting the environment and working toward a cleaner, healthier planet not only benefits people now—but also helps us leave a safer home for future generations. This year, nearly 300,000 people from all walks of life took to the U.S. National Mall in Washington D.C. on April 18 to mark the day as “global citizens” rallying for people and the planet.
Musicians, politicians, and non-profit leaders joined thousands of people to emphasize a message that relates both to poverty and environmental concerns:
Pollution kills and it hits the poor the hardest. To protect our lives and our planet, we must act now to end pollution.
The World Bank talked to people at the event to see what types of pollution they see around them and what actions, however small, they take to reduce pollution on a daily basis.
Get inspired by their words and actions:
“I see pollution more in the air and water—in the creeks and in the sea. Pollution brings damage to nature and animals’ habitats.
“I walk a lot. A lot of people may drive, but I am used to walking on campus. Subconsciously, it makes me feel I’m contributing [to the cause of ending pollution].”
– Patrick Quackenbush, a student at the University of Maryland
Home to Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka, South Asia is one of the fastest growing regions in the world and yet one of the least integrated. Intra-regional trade accounts for only 5% of South Asia’s GDP, compared to 25% of East Asia’s. Meanwhile, with a population of 1.6 billion, South Asia hosts one of the largest untapped talent pools.
To encourage young researchers in the region who aspire to use their research to inform policy making, the World Bank Group calls for research proposals on South Asia regional integration. Proposals will be carefully reviewed and the most suitable proposals (no more than five overall) will be awarded with a grant based on criteria listed below. An experienced researcher from the World Bank’s research department or an external academic will mentor and guide the young researcher in the implementation of the research.
A food system that works for everyone can also create jobs and raise the incomes of smallholder farmers and rural residents who are 78 percent of the world’s poor people. After all, growth originating in agriculture is proven to be 2 to 4 times more effective at reducing poverty than growth originating in other sectors. An effective food system can also provide better nutrition, steward the world’s natural resources, and even be a part of the solution to climate change.
The Buzz on the Street: Can institutional investors really close the infrastructure gap?
Once again, infrastructure is a hot topic. Not since the first waves of energy, water and transport privatizations in the early 1990s has infrastructure been a central topic in the daily discourse of the media, of the development community, of economists and financiers. Now, governments are crying for more of it, new development institutions are being built around it and even the IMF is asserting its central role in economic growth.
Not only has infrastructure re-emerged as a popular, nearly consensus solution to the economic and societal woes of developing countries and industrialized nations alike, but the font of the resources needed to fill the infrastructure financing gap has also been identified. Suddenly, it is impossible to walk through London, Washington, Paris or Singapore without bumping into a conference on institutional investors in infrastructure. The G20 has discovered the link along with their business counterparts at the B20. So too has the World Economic Forum, the OECD, the UN and the international financial institutions. Match the long-term liabilities of pensions and insurance plans with long-term assets, the mantra goes, and the infamous infrastructure gap will close. Win-win.
Just a few months ago, the World Economic Forum’s 10th Global Risk Report ranked water crises as the top global risk in terms of impact, more than the spread of infectious diseases, weapons of mass destruction or interstate conflict. With such global implications, we face a considerable challenge to develop the appropriate response. But we have also long grappled with a simple truth: water management is a complex web of local situations and issues, dictated by hydro-climatic conditions, spatial and demographic patterns, complex political economy dynamics, and technical considerations.
One increasingly pressing issue is the widening gap between the supply of water resources and the demand for water services in rapidly growing urban areas. This is exacerbated by dwindling resources in the face of climate vulnerability, and a legacy of poor governance and wasteful uses. This gap is most extreme in arid areas, which have few contingency options, and are left with few, if any, fallback options in case of further strain on the system.