Delta regions constitute only 5% of the land area but are home to more than 500 million people. The proportion of deltas susceptible to flooding is projected to further increase, thus affecting negatively the livelihoods of local populations, in particular farmer communities.
Recently, the International Council for Science (ICSU) endorsed the Global Sustainable Deltas Initiative (SD2015). The objective of this initiative is to bring attention to the importance and vulnerabilities of delta regions worldwide. To this aim, the University of Minnesota-led Belmont Forum DELTAS project is working to create a global vision for deltas through scientific integration, collection and sharing of data and stakeholder engagement.
Goals (SDGs), now is the time to consider these delta specific challenges in a broader context.
One of the many successful fiscal initiatives implemented in Afghanistan was the HIPC, the Highly Indebted Poor Country program, a joint IMF–World Bank effort to reduce the public debt of poor countries. We called this the forgiveness of debt.
At an early stage in this work I had to meet with a senior Afghan government official to explain the program. The official, the Deputy Auditor General, was a dedicated, serious man who had trained in the former Soviet Union as an engineer and did not speak English, so we relied on an interpreter.
In those days any Afghan who spoke some English could find work as an interpreter, and ours was a medical doctor. He told me he was anxious to find work in his own field but in the meantime was willing to work anywhere, even interpreting in this arcane field of auditing, although he was unfamiliar with the jargon. The conversation was not to be long; just outline that the external public debt, which was mostly Russian debt from the communist era, would be absorbed by a trust fund and hence “forgiven” if Afghanistan met the program requirements – basically good fiscal transparency and discipline.
In Nepal’s hamlets and villages, in the first days following the 7.8 magnitude earthquake on April 25, families sheltered under crude lean-tos, made of whatever relatively waterproof materials they had to hand.
Keshav and his family
Keshav Thapa Magar, who lives with his wife, son and two daughters on the southeastern edge of the Kathmandu valley in Kot Gaon, had a typical earthquake experience for families of his 100-household village. The village consists in Newars, Magars, Chhetris and Tamangs, who mostly lived in traditional mud-brick or mud-stone houses before the earthquake destroyed them. Keshav’s own house, his cousin’s (like his, a traditional house) and his mother’s concrete post-and-beam house were all destroyed on April 25.
It has been a month since a 7.8 magnitude earthquake hit central Nepal on April 25. What happened next?
Having experienced a real threat of death, many survivors manifested avoidance (“I don’t want to talk about it!”), hyper-vigilance (“What’s that noise? Is the ground moving?”), intrusive thoughts (“What if the next big one may come while I’m asleep …?”) -- classic stress reactions.
Many Bank staff have had many sleepless nights as the aftershocks continued, more than 250 to date above a magnitude of 4, thirty above 5, four above 6, and—just when we first thought that life was becoming normal again—a 7.3 on May 12.
That one came like the first one, in the middle of the day, but it felt like an unwelcome nighttime guest, full of foreboding. People ran into the streets screaming, or silly giddy on realizing that they had survived another one—but even more terrified at what would come next. More people died; more buildings collapsed. People who had moved back into their houses moved out again.
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.
On a sunny Thursday last week in Peshawar, capital of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province and the fifth largest city in Pakistan, the energy at the venue of the Digital Youth Summit 2015 was palpable from the beginning.
Young people were lined up to access what has become the largest tech conference of Pakistan, while others were working as volunteers to help manage the event. A coalition of prestigious sponsors joined the World Bank, the KP IT Board and Peshawar 2.0 to put on a two and half-day summit to inspire the next generation of digital innovators in Pakistan.
Arsalan Ahmed Jaraal, a student at the Institute of Management Sciences, who is volunteering at the event, said friends are persuading each other to attend the Summit. It saw the participation of 3000+ youth and 80+ speakers, over 30+ sessions and breakout events.
With energetic, social media savvy youth presence, it wasn’t surprising that the Summit trended on Twitter in Pakistan and more than 1.2 million people were reached on social media.
While this is the second such summit, there were also several firsts this year. This year saw many more international and national speakers flock to Peshawar to take part in the event. Two Pakistani American entrepreneurs, who met for the first time at the summit, announced that they would be launching a fund targeting high net worth Pakistani Americans as seed funding for Pakistani tech startups. This is perhaps the beginning of an angel investment network that leverages to expatriate community.
In addition, the Summit saw the first investment in a Peshawar based startup. Ebtihaj, Haroon Baig, Zahid Ali Khan, and Mubassir Hayat—all of them in their early 20s-- founded Messiah, an app that allows users to easily connect with loved ones and first responders in case of an emergency. At the summit, they were offered investment in their startup, by two angels—Shubber Ali and Kash Rehman—as well as from Oasis 500, a Jordan based investment company. The team will be attending a 100 day acceleration program in Amman later this year.
Nepal is coping with the consequences of a disastrous earthquake. During the next months the government will be under a lot of pressure to respond quickly to the needs of the population.
Public procurement units across the country will also feel this pressure. They will be deciding over the purchase of goods and services with taxpayer money. On the one hand, the purchases are urgently needed. On the other, there is a risk that taxpayer money can be wasted if decisions are taken too hastily.
One instrument that can be helpful in this kind of situation is a framework agreement. This should be part of any country’s Disaster Risk Management plan. Its aim is to have a procurement system ready that responds quickly to an emergency. But this quick response should not increase risks beyond what policymakers have defined as acceptable. Special procurement procedures for emergencies should be part of disaster management systems and should especially include tailored framework agreements.
Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University (BSMMU) is a leading post-graduate medical institution and the only medical university in Bangladesh. It plays a unique role in enhancing the quality of medical education and research. BSMMU is one of the largest beneficiaries of the Academic Innovation Fund (AIF) under the Higher Education Quality Enhancement Project (HEQEP) which has brought about significant improvements in the quality of medical education and research.
Launching the first-ever virtual classroom for medical education in Bangladesh
Teaching quality in medical education and training is increasingly a thorny issue in Bangladesh. Teachers in medical colleges are inadequate both in quantity and quality. Currently there are only around 120 pharmacology teachers across 86 medical colleges in Bangladesh.
To address the challenge, the AIF supported the Department of Pharmacology of BSMMU to establish the first-ever virtual classroom system for medical college students in Bangladesh. The system has a great potential of changing the landscape of medical education and training in Bangladesh.
The “Virtual Teaching-Learning Program on Pharmacology” sub-project was launched to pilot innovative use of information technology in medical education by establishing a virtual classroom environment. Under the pilot, medical college institutions across Bangladesh are connected to the virtual classroom. It allows senior medical professors in Dhaka and even international experts from abroad to deliver their lectures to students in medical colleges in different regions. Students can attend real-time online classes, download teaching materials, and assess their competence in self-administered test.
“So far 36 topics are available to the students for free. An online question bank has been uploaded containing about 4,000 questions. We also established a synchronous teaching system that is so far connected with 32 medical colleges. Professors in Dhaka now remotely teach classes to students outside of Dhaka, and sometimes international guest lecturers also give lectures via the synchronous system. It is an exceptional experience for students in remote areas to listen and ask questions to renowned medical professionals. The bandwidth of internet connectivity is the only challenge. BSMMU is connected to high-speed Bangladesh Research and Education Network (BdREN), whereas colleges in remote areas have only narrow-band connectivity and cannot receive our synchronous broadcasting. It is now essential for the colleges to get broad-band internet connectivity.” says Professor Mir Misbahuddin, the sub-project manager at Department of Pharmacology, BSMMU.
Establishing a world-class genetic research environment
The “Modernization of Genetic Research Facilities and Patient Care Services” sub-project by the Faculty of Basic Medical Sciences is another success at the BSMMU. The sub-project installed a Next Generation DNA Sequencer, the only one of its kind in the country, and established a modern fully equipped genetic research laboratory. The sub-project aims to promote research on human genetic diseases in Bangladesh, which have never been addressed due to the lack of proper facilities, and invites international experts in genetics and molecular biology to train medical researchers in Bangladesh.
“With this Next Generation Sequencer, we can now analyze the DNA sequence of Bangladeshi citizens and explore the genetic data of most prevalent genetic diseases in Bangladesh.’ explains Laila Anjuman Banu, sub-project manager and professor of Genetics & Molecular Biology. “Currently, we are developing a database of patients suffering from breast cancer and hypertrophic cardiomyopathy in Bangladesh. The database is useful for researchers in Bangladesh for further researches on developing molecular diagnostics and designing targeted therapeutics in the near future. This is a cutting-edge arena for medical research worldwide. We have published two papers already using this new sequencer.” she added.
AIF sub-projects awarded to other departments such as Anatomy, Urology, and Palliative Care have been equally successful.
It is Day Ten since the earthquake struck Nepal and the scale of the devastation is only just becoming evident. The official death toll has now crossed 7,000, of which 5,000 have been confirmed in remote rural areas. As many as 15,000 people are injured, many critically. Aftershocks continue to rattle central Nepal and most people are still too jittery to come to terms with what has happened.
While Kathmandu is steadily fighting to get back to some sense of normalcy, the situation is very different outside the capital where all districts around Kathmandu and between Kathmandu and the tourist town of Pokhara have been very severely affected. Relief supplies - food, water, shelter and medical aid, are slowly starting to move into these areas. Let no one be mistaken, the Nepal earthquake while having impacted parts of Kathmandu quite severely is also a rural disaster of huge proportions.
The World Bank South Asia Disaster Risk Management team and the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR) arrived in Kathmandu on Thursday to start planning for the post-disaster damage and needs assessment, discuss with the government a planning process for transitioning into early and mid-term recovery and help support the Nepal World Bank office coordinate with other development partners.
arrived in Kathmandu on Thursday to start planning for the post-disaster damage and needs assessment, discuss with the government a planning process for transitioning into early and mid-term recovery and help support the Nepal World Bank office coordinate with other development partners.
We visited the older neighborhoods of Bhaktapur, Basantpur and Patan in the Kathmandu Valley. A majority of the collapsed houses in these areas were old brick and mud structures that had become weak with age. These were densely built neighborhoods with narrow streets and removing debris from the area is extremely challenging. We also visited an area called Gongabu, a relatively new developed suburb with tall framed-structure buildings. We found a lot of collapsed buildings and many 5-6 storey buildings completely tilted which will have to be demolished. These type of suburbs are going to pose a big challenge in Kathmandu.
From Gorkha, epicenter of the earthquake
Over the past few evenings we have been meeting journalists returning from the field. A journalist who had returned from Gorkha, the epicenter of the earthquake, described an area that had been very severely impacted. The roads were not passable and he had to walk over 5 kilometers to access villages. Every cluster of hamlets he visited, he found almost all the houses to have collapsed. Families had lost all their stock of grain, which is usually stored inside the house, and were trying to dig through the rubble to salvage whatever they could. This story repeats in most other rural districts which have seen major devastation.