When I was asked to look back at Cambodia's economy in 2009 and ahead to 2010, I began to wish I had some magic tools such as this ox (although in that case, the ox was not that magical, since the 2009 harvest turned out to be quite good).
In the years since the 1997/1998 Asian financial crisis, the Bank of Thailand (BoT) worked hard to build a heavy fortress around the nation’s financial sector. As a result, at a time when credit markets froze in developed countries and investors “fled to quality,” large amounts of capital still flowed into Thailand, where banks remained solid and well capitalized. Despite the financial strength brought by prudent policies, for the first time since the financial crisis, Thailand will see GDP and household consumption drop, and poverty could even increase in 2009. It is clear that the financial armor was insufficient to protect the economy from another crisis.
The culprit has been identified as Thailand’s excessive reliance on external demand, and talk of “rebalancing” growth towards domestic consumption and investment has become quite common (pdf). The idea of rebalancing makes some sense – but it can also be misleading. Let me explain.
|Explaining the housing program admistered by the Multi-Donor Fund to a group of residents.|
(Geumala Yatim, who started working with communities in Aceh soon after the 2004 tsunami hit, is writing a book about her experiences there. This is adapted from one of its chapters).
At the time, I was at my friend Oscar’s house, getting ready to attend a Christmas party at another friend’s house. Oscar asked me to turn the TV on to CNN or BBC. “I heard there’s a big natural disaster somewhere on the tip of Sumatra. Aceh probably. Not sure,” he said. Up until we left the house, both channels were relaying non-stop reports on natural disasters in Thailand and Sri Lanka. No reports on what was happening on the tip of Sumatra thus far.
It surprised me a little bit when I was driving my family along the west coast of Aceh a couple of weeks ago. Not too far from Banda Aceh, the capital city of Aceh’s province, a 15 meters wide- fresh-paved asphalt road built by the US absolutely has framed Aceh into another window of opportunity. This strategic road will connect Banda Aceh and some other districts in the west coast, which was washed away by the tsunami. Before the disaster, it was narrow and poorly maintained.
A YouTube map that shows where people are when they view the videos. That the video might be of interest to a dry country like Niger – where herding of goats and other livestock is so important – is not so surprising.
A colleague of mine recently sent a link to a group of us showing some photos taken in Inner Mongolia, China, showing the land degradation being suffered there and its impacts. One of the photos (#16) shows a twisted and broken tree trunk surrounded by sand on the edge of the Taklamakan Desert. The caption says that the trees were “killed by the moving sands.” I have a different take on it.
The picture shows what is probably a Euphrates Poplar, and I would suggest that the trees were probably killed by its surface roots becoming roasted after herds of goats and other livestock ate the trees' fallen leaves. These leaves would normally act as a natural insulation layer and mulch, and over time quite a number of plants grow in the shade and protection. With the trees steadily roasted, so the whole area degrades and the sand blows in. You can see one of the World Bank’s senior agriculturalists, Rick Chisholm, explaining this in the first of my two YouTube videos on Lake Aibi in northwest, Xinjiang, China. (Go straight to 8m 30s on the time line to see the specific segment).
|A recently released Post-Disaster Needs Assessment tells of big numbers: total damage and losses following typhoons Ketsana and Parma was US$4.3 billion. (Photo by Nonilon Reyes)|
My mind raced back to the remote town of Balangiga in Eastern Samar, as the Philippines government, development partners and the private sector were discussing the findings of the Post-Disaster Needs Assessment (PDNA) in a recent dialogue in Makati City.
The PDNA—prepared by a team of local and international experts from the government agencies, private sector, civil society and development partners—tells about big numbers: total damage and losses following two typhoons, Ketsana and Parma, was US$4.3 billion. And resources needed for the Philippines to pick up the pieces and eventually get back on its feet is equally big—more than US$4.4 billion (pdf). There were discussions about how the PDNA could serve as a framework for recovery and reconstruction, but my mind kept telling me that one of the key principles to effectively address floods and disasters in Metro Manila and other parts of Luzon—on top of the required resources, processes, and governance reforms—lies in the experiences of residents of that remote town in the Visayas Islands.
|Some recipients of a scholarship given to young girls in Cambodia at the end of primary school. The program has had a significant effect on girls’ secondary enrollment. (photo by Deon Filmer)
Those of us who have had the pleasure of raising an adolescent girl – and survived the experience – might blanch at the thought of a program to stimulate education that gave her, rather than the doting parent, a grant equivalent to 3% of the family’s average per capita monthly consumption. And yet, that’s exactly what a policy experiment, conducted by my friend Berk Ozler and other researchers, did in Malawi. What’s more, they found that raising these girl-targeted cash transfers increased school attendance much more than raising those given to parents.
Empowering women with resources has long been recognized as a powerful weapon to safeguard investments in human capital. Research has shown that transfers to women have a more powerful effect than to men in raising school attendance and ensuring that kids are immunized. But more recent research, like Berk et al.’s, is showing that policies aimed directly at adolescent girls and young women may have an even greater effect, not only in encouraging schooling but in ensuring reproductive health. Pascaline Dupas’ policy experiment in Kenya showed that simply giving young women information showing that older men were more likely to be HIV-positive led them to eschew partnering with ‘sugar daddies’.
A few days before the start of the U.N. climate conference this week in Copenhagen, the results of an interesting – and very relevant – poll were released by the World Bank. While world leaders and other high-level representatives from more than 190 countries negotiate during the two-week conference (Dec. 7-18), this multi-country survey attempts to give a voice to average people in the developing world.
In a few hours, world leaders and representatives from up to 192 countries will meet in Copenhagen, Denmark, for the highly anticipated United Nations Climate Change Conference, which starts on Monday and lasts for two weeks.
|Residents of Honiara eating dinner during a blackout. Energy in the Solomon Islands can be unreliable and expensive.|
A few nights ago, when I returned to my house on the ridges above Solomon Islands capital Honiara, my alarm clock was flashing 2 p.m. It was obviously wrong, and I have stopped relying on it for the time. Instead it is simply a very noisy gauge of how long it has been since the last power outage.
Unreliable energy supply is perhaps one of the harder things to get used to when living in Honiara. Long overdue maintenance being carried out on the city’s diesel chugging generators causes power outages for 72 hours per month on average. What is worse is that this actually seems efficient compared to rural areas which, due to a lack of spare parts and diesel, can lose power for up to a week.
The online population in Asian and Pacific countries grew by 22 percent last year. China led the growth with an incredible 31 percent increase – to 220 million – in total unique Web visitors. These latest numbers of the region’s explosive Internet growth are according to a report, released last month by Internet researcher comScore, measuring online audiences in the region and individual countries between September 2008 and 2009.
The report indicates that Internet audiences in Japan, India and South Korea also saw double-digit growth and that the Asia-Pacific region now has 41 percent – or 441 million people – of the global Internet audience. It’s interesting to see how quickly things have changed since the last time we wrote about an earlier report from comScore.
If you want to examine more of the report’s findings you can see the related press release, or download a presentation on the subject here. (Note: To download the slides, you have to provide them with your name and some contact info.)
I’ve pointed before to World Bank evidence that shows the Internet may lead to improved economic growth, job creation and good governance. What else do you think such increased connectivity could mean for development in the region?