When the winners of the World Bank’s "Imagining Our Future Together" art competition first met last fall, the atmosphere was very much like the first day of school: Everyone was new, excited to meet others, and optimistic about possibilities ahead. As the exhibition of their art comes to World Bank headquarters next week and the 25 young artists prepare for their third and final meeting, their collaboration has accomplished more than we organizers ever imagined.
Historically, cities and civilizations have flourished along water bodies, which not only served as important transportation corridors to spur economic activity and trade, but also as prominent public spaces for religious and cultural interaction. Today, while a large number of cities have turned away from this important natural resource, many have reclaimed and transformed their waterfronts into thriving economic engines and nodes of social activity. Can cities redefine their relationship with water while managing challenges of rapid urbanization?
The World Bank’s South Asia Sustainable Development Unit, in collaboration with East Asia Pacific Sustainable Development Unit, is organizing a webinar on waterfront development to discuss different dimensions of waterfront initiatives and tools for a sustainable regenerative economic environment.
What if your shopping sprees could make both you and society happy? That every time you bought your favorite clothes, you also benefitted the poor and the environment? Some Japanese companies are indeed making this happen.
As part of their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) activities, Felissimo, a Japanese direct marketing and product design company funded the planting of trees in Orissa and West Bengal in India, where they source their materials from. By charging an extra dollar on every sale in Japan, they collected more than $4,850,000 over 15 years and used the funds to transform a degraded landscape into a forest, bringing elephants back into the area.
In a similar manner, the company also helped cotton farmers in Orissa switch to growing organic cotton to save their land, their workers, and their children from harm caused by fertilizers and pesticides. Between 2010 and 2012, about 5,900 farmers switched to organic farming in 5 villages. Consumer donations were channelized through a local NGO to help farmers make the transition. The money was also used to give scholarships to local children. In 2012 alone, around 250 students in 5 villages received scholarships. While the scale is still small, Felissimo has successfully created a funding mechanism to transform responsible purchasing behavior in one part of the world into social impact in distant lands through its CSR activities.
You might not think of health insurance as a suspenseful subject, but a recently released book on the subject proves different. As such, there is one missing entry on the back cover, describing the book "Government-Sponsored Health Insurance in India: Are You Covered?" by authors Gerard La Forgia and Somil Nagpal. Perhaps something like “The authors play with their readers’ nerves as they drill deeper and deeper into the mysterious workings of health insurance programs in India. Slowly a multi-faceted picture emerges, which the authors skillfully bring to bustling life, not least by adding fiscal and political economy spice throughout.”
Hot on the heels of Hurricane Sandy, Typhoon Bopha lashed the shores of the Philippines earlier this month, leaving 900 dead and 80,000 homeless. Extreme weather is becoming the norm. The World Bank-commissioned report, “Turn Down the Heat: Why a 4°C Warmer World Must be Avoided” found that scientists are unanimously predicting warming of 4 degrees Celsius by the end of the century. The social, economic, and environmental consequences will be devastating. Over the past 20 years, over half of South Asians – more than 750 million people – have been affected by natural disasters, with the loss of life estimated at more than 60,000, and damages above $45 billion.
It was a 4:30am wake-up call on a cold morning in Delhi for my flight to Lucknow. I stepped into the shower… only to find cold water. Not the best start of a day I have had!
When I got back from my trip a few days later, I asked the building manager why there had been no hot water at that time. “Sir” he said, “it is solar; 4:30 is too early!"
I had to think about that for a while. Different perspectives raced through my mind: First, I thought it was great that the water heating was solar and thus running on clean energy. After that, I thought that it was a real pity we do not know how to store solar energy so that we could still have hot water at 4:30 in the morning. After that again, I actually felt it was perfectly OK not to have hot water at 4:30 in the morning: we will not be able to solve our energy problems without some compromises for those of us who have hot water at all. And that brought me to the most important realization: millions and millions of people were waking up at the same time as I did, but theirs was a dark winter morning because they do not have electricity to turn on a light bulb, let alone get hot water for a bath.
“The World Bank is organizing an art show?” My neighbor seemed stunned. He has just got to know me, since I moved to India only in early September. To him I am the economist who moved to India from Washington. Quite possibly, he thinks I have come to India to try and tell the government what to do.
“Why?” He asked. I told him it was because we wanted to stimulate thinking about South Asia’s common future. “Why?” he insisted. I told him many other regions in the world have discovered that a common future brings better lives to citizens than separate futures. “Aha!” he said, “you want to promote free trade”. He thought he had recognized me again.
It was a most interesting conversation to me. The art show had not been my idea, but it felt very natural to me. After all, my wife is a painter and photographer, and I have therefore helped organize many art shows in the past. But this one is very different. It's a group exhibit by the winners of a competition we launched in all countries of South Asia.
For a number of years, a majority of South Asians have been painfully aware that climate change is real and, if left unfettered, has the potential to reverse the significant gains the region has made on poverty reduction and other Millennium Development Goals.
In 2009, the government of the Maldives held a Cabinet meeting underwater to remind the world that the country – which is on average 2.7 meters above sea level – will be completely wiped out if oceans rise.
Nepal’s government held a Cabinet meeting at the base of Mount Everest – at an altitude of 5,242 meters above sea level – to stress that 1.3 billion Asians depend on the seven major rivers with headwaters originating from the vulnerable Himalayan glaciers for their livelihoods.
As the World Bank Group, we are dedicated to a world free of poverty. Poverty has many manifestations, of course, but few are sadder than child hunger and malnutrition. It is not just the heart-rending pangs of hunger or the susceptibility of a malnourished infant or child to ailments and diseases. The persistent effects are even more troubling. Poor nutrition impairs physical and mental development so that children benefit less from education and are less productive as adults. It leads to increased morbidity and mortality, causing output losses and increased spending on health and social support. Long ago William Blake wrote "some are born to endless night," poignantly capturing the tragedy of lives blighted by childhood deprivation.
If the extent of hungry children in the world – more than 350 million – is an inconvenient truth, their numbers in the South Asia region are acutely embarrassing.
Like a Bollywood dance sequence, South Asia’s growth numbers tend to dazzle. It is the second-fastest-growing region in the world after East Asia. But behind the glamour lies a paradox. Despite robust economic growth, the total number of people living in poverty in South Asia has not fallen fast enough. Today, there are more poor people living under $1.25 a day in South Asia than in Sub-Saharan Africa.
Social indicators are lagging as well. South Asia has the highest rates of malnutrition in the world, with 250 million children undernourished. More than 30 million children still do not go to school. Gender discrimination remains a scar. Women’s labor-force participation in the region is among the world’s lowest, boys outnumber girls in school enrollment, and legal and judicial systems still do not address systemic gender violence.