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South Asia

Let Scientific Precision Not be the Enemy of Common Sense

Zahid Hussain's picture

The supply of electricity is a necessary ingredient for economic and social development in low income countries. Electricity is considered to be one of the most important services for improving the welfare of individual citizens. In the digital age, it is difficult to visualize development without electricity. Apart from the availability of energy per se, change in the quality of energy is one of the most important drivers of productivity.

The process of economic development necessarily involves a transition from low levels of energy consumption to higher levels where the linkages between energy, non-energy inputs and economic activity change significantly as an economy meanders through different stages of development. With such progress, commercial fossil fuels and ultimately electricity becomes predominant. Further, the expansion of electricity supply is critical to minimize the consumption of biomass fuel that has been responsible for the massive deforestation, desertification and many health problems.

All of the above sounds fairly straightforward and non-controversial, right? Not really. Count on economists for coming up with Harry Truman’s proverbial “on the other hand”. In other words, there are no straight answers as is most often the case in the infernal complexities, contradictions and ambiguities of our favorite ‘dismal science’.

Six Questions for Indian Microfinance Institution SKS

Stephen Rasmussen's picture

This post kicks off a special blog series on the Microfinance Institution, SKS and it's IPO launch in coordination with CGAP. Over the coming weeks we’ll be featuring a variety of voices on the issues raised by the IPO. We welcome your participation in this discussion through comments.

A rare microfinance occurrence took place in late July this year. The Indian microfinance institution, SKS, became the second pure microfinance institution (MFI) globally to go public by listing its shares on the stock market. SKS is one of the largest microfinance institutions in the world with almost 6 million clients, mostly poor women living in rural areas. It has also been one of the fastest growing MFIs over the past few years, with a compound annual growth rate of 165% since 2004.

From one perspective, the IPO was a great success. It was 13 times oversubscribed, the company valuation reached the top of the offer band price (valuing the company at $1.5 billion), and the share price rose 42% in the first five weeks of trading. In the process SKS raised $155 million in fresh capital that will allow it to grow and serve far more people than it reaches now.

The Chicken and the Egg Ought to Come Together

Zahid Hussain's picture

The power supply situation in Bangladesh remains as precarious as ever; with power outages becoming more erratic and load shedding persistently higher than the corresponding months in the previous year (see Figure). Bangladesh is currently experiencing unprecedented levels of load shedding nationally. Brought about by a shortage of generation supply capacity, load shedding is a last resort measure to prevent a collapse of the national electricity supply system. The risk of load shedding will remain high until at least 2013 if further actions are not taken to ameliorate the situation. Specific and immediate interventions were needed to minimize the risk of load shedding until the new peaking plant and base load electricity generating capacity being built comes online.

The government has taken initiatives to increase the generation capacity to 7,000 MW by 2013 through various technologies (fossil fuel and renewable) with both private and public sector participation. A large portion of this plan relies on quick rental power based on imported liquid fuels which are expensive, more than three times the cost per unit of electricity at which power is currently produced by large power plants.

Open Forum: Have Your Say on Development!

Joe Qian's picture

World Bank Open Forum worldbank.org/openforum

World Bank Open Forum: On October 7-8, the world's financial leaders will be in Washington, D.C., working together to find solutions to the most pressing issues in the wake of the financial crisis. You're invited to join this online event featuring live-webcasts of expert discussions, special announcements, and a 24-hour global chat forum on three key issues: open data and development solutions, global job creation, and major development challenges.

China's Accountability and India's Voice

Yongmei Zhou's picture

As a Chinese working on public sector governance and living in India, I'm often asked to compare the two governing systems, the largest democracy in the world and the largest non-democracy in the world. The gap in political and civil participation between the two countries is well known.

India's civil society and media are much more dynamic and vocal. I particularly admire the impact of the Center for Science and Environment on environmental policy, Pratham on education, the Naz Foundation on gay and lesbian rights, and MKSS on Rights to Information. I’m not aware of equally impactful counterparts in China but would be happy to hear about those you have come across. Certainly China can benefit from moving towards a more open society, where minority voices are heard and rights protected, and where abuse of official power and natural resource is restrained.

But when it comes to building infrastructure and reducing poverty, China is doing much better. Why? We often hear "Yes, but China is an authoritarian regime." -- as if authoritarian regimes automatically are more capable of development. Yes an authoritarian regime can be more efficient in making policies -- good or bad -- because the process of consultation and public deliberation can be truncated. But which theory predicts that democracies are less capable of building good infrastructure quickly or taking care of the poor?

Water Water Everywhere But Not a Drop to Drink

Ray Nakshabendi's picture

Disasters seemingly have become so commonplace lately that many of us have become desensitized to them. Watching disaster unfold has become like hearing a cacophony of voices on a busy street but not really listening or paying attention to your surroundings. Take a second, and think of the millions that are in need and suffering, and imagine if you were in their shoes, another person’s suffering becoming a part of your own.

In Pakistan, about a month ago a natural catastrophe took place, a disaster so massive that a fifth of the country was inundated with water affecting 20 million people, a sizeable death toll, and with long lasting implications. I joined on a volunteer mission with Dr. Ahmad Nakshabendi, who had much experience with aiding victims of the 2005 earthquake, and embarked on a mission to assist based on our expertise.

Most Livable Slum

Mark Ellery's picture

Vancouver was rated as the most livable city in 2010. Is there any precedent of municipalities rating the livability of their slums?

Could a rating of the livability of slums leverage improved quality of services? For instance, in Bangladesh (where most slums are located on private land) poor services in slums are maintained because:

1. The Residents: are not so much illegal settlers as they are tenants renting accommodation. While they want improved services, they also know that better accommodation commands higher rents.
2. The Land Owner: does not invest in upgrading (as infrastructure is difficult to maintain) neither does he want to sell the land (as he will get far less than the land is actually worth) neither can he evict the residents (as middle-men are often housed on this land).
3. The Municipality: does not want to recognize these slums (because they do not have planning approval) neither does it want these residents evicted (as they constitute a sizeable vote bank).

If a municipality were to rank the livability of slums:
1. The Municipality: would gain popularity by recognizing the existence of these communities.
2. The Land Owners: would gain recognition for providing better living conditions for residents.
3. The Residents: would incur health & welfare benefits from the better living conditions.

In Pursuit of the Golden Deer

Naomi Ahmad's picture

This is a true story…

It is the year 2005. 26 young Bangladeshi men are crammed on a small rubber boat. Floating on the vast Mediterranean Sea. The boat's engine had stalled days ago.

10 days without food or water. The men are faced with a choice – death from drinking sea water or the inhuman alternative of having to drink one’s own urine. The pain of watching a brother or a dear friend slowly and painfully starve to death is too much. One by one the men start looking at each other - wondering which part of a dead body would be edible. Another weakly searches for something sharp enough to cut out a chunk of his own flesh, before collapsing dead from hunger and fatigue…

This is what a group of young Bangladeshis faced in 2005, when they embarked on an illegal journey to Spain. Only three survived the ordeal and lived to speak of the horrors of those 10 days.

Revisiting the Rules of the Game: Modular Approach to Project Design

Rajeev Ahuja's picture

Writing anything on “project design’ can be hazardous. For, development contexts are diverse, actors and sectors are varied, and design can take innumerable forms. Nevertheless, this non-prescriptive note may help Bank teams engaged in designing new lending operations as they rethink the rules of the game.

Designing a development project is, in many ways, akin to constructing an edifice. Just as a building requires a solid foundation together with flexible structures to withstand shocks, a project also needs firm foundations -- based on government policy, the institutional context, and the cultural milieu – as well as a flexible superstructure that can adjust when things change. Cast any project design in stone and the changing context will soon render it obsolete!

The development path is strewn with uncertainties, not all of which can be fully anticipated. Just as natural disasters, insurgencies, early elections and so forth can derail things, so too can the cobwebs of bureaucracy, technical revisions, policy changes, implementation impediments, and change in leadership, alter the context.

The Inexorable March of Branchless Banking

Ignacio Mas's picture

There are two ‘coming of age’ tests for bold new ideas. The first, still in the realm of the market for ideas, occurs when the concepts become entrenched as conventional wisdoms, when you no longer need to justify them as ideas. The second is when they gain traction in the marketplace, when you no longer need to justify them as a business proposition.

The ground has shifted massively on both counts since I wrote about the opportunities from branchless banking in this blog more than two years ago. Few now would dispute that a key step to achieve much broader financial inclusion is to take banking transactions outside of banking halls and into everyday retail establishments that exist in every village and every neighborhood, and that financial service providers need to put technology in the hands of customers (in the form of cards or, better still, mobile phones) to increase the convenience and security of those transactions.

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