East Asia and Pacific
The prediction season is in full swing, and prognosticators have, as usual, appended the warning that economic forecasts at this stage are subject to exceptional uncertainty. Such exceptional uncertainty is always with us when looking ahead – there is always a fork in the road, no matter what the circumstances are.
The nuance this year is that, while the recovery in East Asia will depend on prospects for the rest of the world, notably in the advanced economies, the outlook for those economies hinges on policies to address the causes of the financial crisis. Thus far, it’s clear that very little has been done to redress the regulatory issues that led to a near meltdown of the global financial system – while the rebound from the financial and economic crisis has been substantially stronger than anticipated only months earlier. And these developments explain why opinions differ on the future path of regulatory reforms and their impacts.
This morning, my kids stood waiting for the school bus, crying. The bus was late, and they had been outside for about three minutes. No wonder. The temperature outside was -39 degrees Celsius. I thought we had bundled them up enough; they had so many layers on that they looked like astronauts. But they were still freezing.
This winter is especially cold. It's in the 30 degrees below zero every day, and has dipped below -40°C. In some parts of Mongolia, it has fallen below -50°C. There is frost on the windows of our office.
We’ve written before about a climate-related effort in developing countries known as REDD – or Reducing Emissions through Deforestation and Degradation. So one of the outcomes during last month’s U.N. climate conference that I found particularly interesting was an announcement from Google.org. During the conference in Copenhagen, the search giant's philanthropic arm introduced the prototype for an online application that will allow monitoring of forests around the planet.
Apparently, some believed that the overall topic of REDD may have been one of the few bright spots during the two-week conference. To me, it seems like this forthcoming online monitoring tool is no exception – particularly because Google products are often innovative, easy to use and reliable.
The announcement generated quite bit of media buzz, and Google.org’s press release has a nice explanation of why the online application, likely available to the public some time this year, might be so significant:
Traditional forest monitoring is complex and expensive, requiring access to large amounts of satellite data, lots of hard drives to hold the data, lots of computers to process the data, and lots of time while you wait for various computations to finish. … Google supplies data, storage, and computing muscle. As a result, you can visualize forest change in fractions of a second over the web, instead of the minutes or hours that traditional offline systems require for such analysis.
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.
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).