Syndicate content

Environment

First Month on the Job in Bhutan: Trial by Fire

Mark LaPrairie's picture

After our rest at the Home Minister, Lyonpo Minjur’s rural ancestral home, the team embarked on the long journey back to Thimphu the next day -- only a couple hundred miles as the crow flies (if even that), yet a two day adventure across high mountain passes and along narrow endlessly winding roads with precipitous drops below. We reached the Swiss Guest House in Bumthang around 7pm, looking forward to hot showers and a meal.

Upon pulling up to the lodge, I received a call on my mobile from my friend Tashi, who was recently appointed by His Majesty to serve on the National Council (senate). Tashi was in eastern Bhutan to support earthquake relief efforts on the part of the National Council. Tashi called to inform me that, Wamrong, the town I lived in 21 years ago when I first came to Bhutan as a volunteer teacher, had mostly burned to the ground that afternoon.

Gross Domestic Product Not Sole Indicator of Progress

Joe Qian's picture

What is Happiness? Many of us equate it with money. However, since 1972, the kingdom of Bhutan under the leadership of its former King, Jigme Singye Wangchuck has measured its developmental success not solely through the economic lens of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) but also through a more complete approach known as Gross National Happiness (GNH). Its laurels were based upon the original four pillars of sustainable development, preservation and promotion of cultural values, conservation of the natural environment, and good governance.

These indicators have become increasingly important over the last three decades as it became apparent that blindly pursuing economic expansion has created growing pains in a number of countries. GNH has appeared to be very successful in Bhutan, a nation the size of Switzerland with a population of around 700,000. With initiatives such as maintaining at least 60% (currently 72%) of the land for forests and conservation, while maintaining 165 indigenous mammal species such as the rare snow leopard, Bhutan also has a fast growing economy.

Government spending on health and education is the highest in the region at 18% and Bhutan boasts a GDP growth rate of 21.4% and a per capita income level that is almost twice as much as much as India’s, although it was much poorer as recently as the 1980’s. Independent sources also seem to echo these sentiments as Business Week magazine rated Bhutan the world’s 8th happiest country.

South Asia Advances on Visual Tool Comparing Development over Time

Joe Qian's picture

The World Bank released its Data Visualizer tool last week, which compares 209 countries through the lens of 49 development indicators utilizing data ranging from 1960 to 2007. Using three dimensional bubbles whose sizes are proportional to populations and are color coded to the different regions (purple represents South Asia), they move horizontally or vertically based on their achievements on a number of indicators that range from GDP per capita to the percentage of children that are inoculated against measles.

Users will find similarities with the groundbreaking Gapminder World tool that Swedish Health Professor Hans Rosling first presented to the TED Conference in 2006. He concluded that the world is converging and that old notions of contrasting developed country (generally small families and long lives) with developing country (large families and short lives) to be grossly out of date.

24 Hours in the Life of Some Horizontal Learners

Mark Ellery's picture
In the face of families whose relatives have just died of arsenic poisoning advocating for institutional reform can seem a touch inane.

On the flip side, an urgent response to provide clean water or some relief to those affected is often neither sustainable nor scalable.

During a visit to Chapai Nawabganj we discovered that the Horizontal Learning Program enables rapid response - without undermining a sound policy position.

While visiting Meherpur municipality in Bangladesh last week, we learnt that 15 people had recently died in the nearby Amjhupi Union Parishad (UP) from arsenicosis. In a village meeting with the District Commissioner and UP Chairman we discovered that the citizens were drinking from both wells marked green (safe) as well as red (unsafe) because they were not confident that either of these sources had been correctly marked.

We were overwhelmed with the need for an immediate response but aware that any top-down solution could at best be partial. However, because of the Horizontal Learning Program (initiated by Union Parishads, facilitated by the Government of Bangladesh and supported by development partners) we were aware that local solutions to this problem had been developed by other Union Parishads.

At around 11 pm that night, it was resolved that a three member team from Amjhupi Union Parishad would join us to visit the nearby Ranihati Union Parishad of the neighboring Chapai Nawabganj Upazila (sub-district) to see how they had solved this problem. The solution was surprisingly simple, low cost and comprehensive.

Renewable biogas provides clean, affordable energy for rural households in Nepal

Environmental Specialist Javaid Afzal demonstrates supervision practices of Bank staff as he inspects the internal workings of a biogas plant currently under construction.

Trecking through the remote and rugged mountainous areas of Nepal, it was evident to me that the abundance of natural beauty starkly contrasted with the scarcity of access to affordable and environmentally sustainable energy sources.

In Nepal, Most households still rely on traditional energy sources for cooking and heating, such as firewood or agriculture residue with few having access to electricity.

The high demand for firewood has created a number of environmental problems such as deforestation, soil degradation, and flooding. Firewood also requires considerable time for families to collect and its use results in indoor air pollution which particularly impacts women and children.

A solution has been the introduction of biogas as a way to bring cleaner, safer, and more affordable energy to rural households. It is created when animal and human waste are converted into clean sources of cooking fuel, replacing the need for wood, dried dung, and fossil fuel based sources of energy. Its byproduct can also be used as a natural fertilizer to increase agricultural yield.

Have Innovation and Entrepreneurship Found Solutions for Affordable Housing?

Joe Qian's picture

The recently elected government has recently announced an ambitious goal of eliminating slums in India in its most recent five year plan. Will this be a possibility? If you ask the construction companies, the answer is yes. A number of entrepreneurs and enterprises have embarked on new initiatives to provide affordable housing called such as Tata and its construction of Shubh Griha north of Mumbai.

With the increased rate of economic growth over the last few years, housing developers have tended to focus on the higher end luxury developments causing property prices to soar; I was astounded that luxury apartment homes in Mumbai cost the same as they do in New York and London. As demand for these properties have fallen due to the global financial crisis and increased interest rates, the focus on lower cost housing has increased due to a larger market coupled with acute shortages of housing in urban India.

Thirsting for Social Change: Women, Agriculture, and a Stream of Opportunity

Brittney Davidson's picture

The cows were judging me. The unforgiving Indian summer sun was beating down on the crop field where I stood, and though I desperately wanted to listen the soft-spoken villager who was explaining the trials and accomplishments of his agriculturally centered village, my attention was pulled to the cattle several meters away. Perhaps I was dehydrated, perhaps a little woozy, but I am not proud to say that I could have sworn those grazing beasts were eyeing me, watching me wither under the intense gaze of the mid-afternoon sun. “Weakling,” They seemed to say.

And perhaps I was.

From my brief time spent in this rural, South Indian village, I had seen people deal with far more than the uncomfortable heat. These villagers like many throughout the rural areas of South Asia, worked long and tedious hours in their fields. Heat was not simply a discomfort, but could mean less water, less grass to feed the cattle, fewer crops, and, as a result, the inability to sustain spending on education, healthcare, and sanitation.

Will the Nano Fulfill the Promise of Mobility in Developing Countries?

Joe Qian's picture

Much in the same way the Ford Model T revolutionized transportation in the United States and the Volkswagen Beetle did in Germany, the Tata Nano (small in Gujarati) seeks to do the same for India and the rest of the developing world, with millions still seeking to realize dreams of four wheel mobility. Will the Nano become a resounding success and revolutionize the concept and accessibility of the car, or will it cause increased problems and growing pains in its mission to provide transportation to the broader public?

With a price starting at $2,200 dollars including taxes and fees, the Nano significantly undercuts the current cheapest car in India by almost half and may open the door to aspiring drivers around the world as the most affordable automobile in history (when accounting for inflation). The market potential is seemingly unlimited as only 0.7% of Indians owned automobiles in 2007.

However, economic development has already caused an explosion in the number of motor vehicles perpetuating increased fatalities due to accidents, standstill traffic, and smog filled cityscapes.

Its founder, Ratan Tata says that his inspiration is derived from poignantly watching the way entire families are transported on motorcycles complete with a rider, passenger, along with two children hanging onto the back. He noted the terrible toll in road deaths involving two-wheelers and called for a safer four-wheeled vehicle that will transport families in a dignified manner.

The Global Food Crisis: Will Investments in Agricultural Technology be enough?

Forhad Shilpi's picture

Contributed by Forhad Shilpi and Uwe Deichmann

Will investments in agricultural technology by themselves be sufficient to ensure long-term productivity growth in the farm sector and, more importantly, for rural poverty reduction?  As rapidly rising food prices threaten food security and the poverty gains made by developing countries, many have blamed declining funding for agricultural technology development for this state of affairs (for example, the New York Times).

This question is highly relevant for South Asia.  Shanta Devarajan has commented on the recent rice export ban by India and its implication for its neighbor, Bangladesh, which has become a net rice importer this year due to floods and cyclone impacts.  But Bangladesh also provides evidence that agricultural technology by itself is unlikely to lead to adequate growth in agricultural output if factors such as physical and economic geography and infrastructure needs are not considered.

In a recent study, we examine these issues for Bangladesh. During the early 1990s, Bangladesh experienced widespread diffusion of green revolution technology in rice, its main crop. As a result, rice production has more than doubled since the early 1970s. The spread of green revolution technology is usually expected to boost wages for farm workers.  But we found regional differences in rural wages that run counter to the traditional argument.

Water, climate change, and the poor

Four hundred million people--if it were a country, it would be the third largest in the world--rely on the Ganges River and its tributaries for their livelihood.    Six thousand rivers provide a perennial source of irrigation and power to one of the world’s most densely populated and poorest areas.  The Himalayas, “the water tower of the Ganges,” provide 45 percent of the annual flow.  These facts represent the potential payoffs to the populations of Bangladesh, India and Nepal as well as the threat that climate change poses to poor and already &lt

Pages