This blog is part of a series highlighting the work of the Afghanistan Disaster Risk Management and Resilience Program
During the almost 4 years I spent in the World Bank office in Kabul, I experienced frequent earthquake tremors and saw the results of the significant reduction in winter snow, which severely impacts the water available for agriculture during spring and summer.
While limited in scope, my first-hand experience with natural disasters adds to the long list of recurring hazards afflicting Afghanistan. This list is unfortunately long and its impact destructive.
Flooding, historically the most frequent natural hazard, has caused an average $54 million in annual damages. Earthquakes have produced the most fatalities with 12,000 people killed since 1980, and droughts have affected at least 6.5 million people since 2000.
Climate change will only increase these risks and hazards may become more frequent and natural resources more scarce. Compounded with high levels of poverty and inadequate infrastructure, the Afghan population will likely become more vulnerable to disasters.
Risk information is critical to inform development planning, public policy and investments and over time strengthen the resilience of new and existing infrastructure to help save lives and livelihoods in Afghanistan.
Many countries, developed and developing, that want to become more competitive in global markets tend to jump to a quick conclusion that they need to invest more in infrastructure, particularly in transport sectors like ports. But while many regions, including South Asia, do face important infrastructure gaps, massive new investment is not the only way to improve regional competitiveness. Countries should realize that they also have significant potential to make more efficient use of the infrastructure they already have.
Building megaports all along the coast might reduce a country’s trade costs, but it also requires hundreds of millions of dollars in investment. Improving the performance of existing ports, enabling them to handle higher levels of cargo with the same facilities and in a shorter time, can be a far more cost-effective approach to reducing transport and trade costs. Closing the infrastructure gap does not just require more infrastructure, but also better infrastructure, and better use of existing infrastructure.
The report Competitiveness of South Asia’s Container Ports, which we launched today, provides the first comprehensive look at the 14 largest container ports in South Asia, which handle 98 percent of the region’s container traffic. It focuses on port performance, drivers, and costs.
Happy New Year to all our Sri Lankan friends and colleagues celebrating the Sinhala and Tamil New Year this month; and Happy Easter to those celebrating it.
This is my first opportunity to celebrate these various holidays in my adopted country. I love the energy, the buzz of excitement everywhere and the decorations coming up in many of the commercial districts. I have been asking so many questions about the importance of the New Year holiday; and at the same time enjoying the preparations for the festivities, the anticipation of the big day as well as the serious messages.
I have learnt that the Sinhala and Tamil New Year, also known as 'Aluth Avurudda' (in Sinhala) and 'Puthandu' (in Tamil) is very important to all Sri Lankans and it celebrates the traditional Lunar New Year. It is celebrated by most Sri Lankans – a point of Unity and a Joyful occasion.
Even more importantly the holiday coincides with the New Year celebrations of many traditional calendars of South and South East Asia – a regional point of unity! Above all, this is also known as the month of prosperity.
So what does the holiday mean to you as a Sri Lankan, or maybe you are someone like me who may not be Sri Lankan but loves the country and its people?
At the World Bank Group, promoting shared prosperity and increasing the incomes of the poorest 40 percent of people in every country we work in is part of our mission. The first goal is to end extreme poverty or reduce the share of the global population that lives in extreme poverty to 3 percent by 2030.
My visit to Pakistan began last week at the enormous Tarbela dam. Straddling the Indus River, this earth- and rock-filled structure is almost 500 feet high and 9,000 feet wide. It is a monument to Pakistan's scientific and engineering ability. It also illustrates the opportunities and challenges facing Pakistan.
I was last in Pakistan in 2011 and I can see that big changes have happened since then.
The country has worked through three tough years that brought improvements in security and a more stable economy. Much of the economic growth has benefited poor people and Pakistan's levels of inequality compare favourably to many middle-income countries.
Speaking to leaders in government, political parties, civil society, the private sector and various thought leaders, I sensed an optimism that the country had found its footing and is moving up the ladder of development.
This optimism is good news. But optimism needs to be supported by actions. Pakistan can move to a higher level of economic growth that reaches all parts of society, including the most marginalised, and thus fulfilling the dreams of a better life for all.
Three opportunities and challenges for Pakistan
In my discussions with the government in Pakistan we focused on three areas of opportunity and challenge: the first is higher growth and jobs. The government wants annual economic growth of 6 to 7 per cent compared to 4.7 per cent achieved in fiscal year 2016. But this will only happen if investment doubles to 30 per cent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Investments in energy, such as Tarbela, to end constant power cuts, as well as improvements in the business environment, so that companies hire more people, will be critical to success. A more favorable environment for private investment would open up opportunities for women, youth, and the underserved.
Poverty maps are a useful tool to visualize and compare poverty rates across geographic areas, and learn about how poverty is distributed within a country, which is often times masked in national or aggregated statistics. For instance, the national poverty rate in Bangladesh in 2010 was 31.5 percent, which is the latest year for which a household survey was collected by the government to produce official poverty numbers.
However, a look at zila (district) and upazila (sub-district) level poverty rates suggests that poverty levels differ quite substantially across the different areas of the country with large pockets of poverty concentrated in the north and south-west part of the country. For example, some of the zilas in the north belonging to the Rangpur and Dhaka divisions are among the poorest in the country with poverty rates well above 50 percent while some of the zilas in the south-east belonging to the Chittagong division have poverty rates well below 20 percent.
While country level poverty maps are generally widely available, accessing the underlying information is not always easy or is unavailable in a user-friendly format. Moreover, there is not a straightforward way to link these disaggregated poverty statistics with other socio-economic indicators and even if one attempts to do, it might take a substantial amount of time to put together all this information.
Specifically, poverty maps are often times disseminated in the form of printed reports, which do not allow users to directly access the data in a digitized format or link it to other socio-economic statistics. Lowering barriers to access poverty statistics and facilitating the linking of these indicators to other non-monetary living standards statistics is important to facilitate the use of poverty statistics, make them more relevant for policy and program planning, and promote more evidence-based policymaking.
Goma is a girl, born in rural Kalikot. Her parents are illiterate, belong to the Dalit community and are in the bottom 20 percent of Nepal’s wealth distribution. Champa is also a girl born to a household very similar to Goma’s, but her parents are from a village in Siraha. Avidit is a boy born to an upper caste household in urban Kathmandu. Both his parents have a university education and come from affluent backgrounds.
In a society where opportunities are equally available for children of all socio-economic backgrounds, Goma, Avidit and Champa would all have equal odds of becoming doctors, or engineers or successful entrepreneurs. But in Nepal, the life trajectory of these children begins to diverge very early in life.
On the streets of Shimla, residents stare at a strange group of visitors. The group looks and acts different from other tourists to this hilly capital of India’s mountain state of Himachal Pradesh.
Not Indian, and definitely not the usual European retirees. Oh, and even stranger, the group starts taking photos of parking lots, trash cans, and the tiny alleys that snake up and down the city.
That was how a group of global experts in a gamut of urban matters appeared to the citizens of Shimla. It was the group’s first day in a town they had never seen, nor ever imagined they would visit.
But here they were - experts at solid waste management, urban parking, public transportation, IT and city planning - at the request of the government of Himachal Pradesh (HP). HP is renowned for its pleasant climes, verdant forests and snow-clad peaks that not only act as a carbon sink for India’s burgeoning economy but also serve as a source of five perennial rivers that sustain the lives of million in the teeming plains below.
The inspiration for the experts’ visit came from the highest levels of the state government. Dr. Shrikant Baldi, the state’s additional chief secretary, had visited Korea to attend a global green growth conference sponsored by the World Bank. There he saw the real-life application of strategies that his government needed to take their own green growth agenda forward.
As the local mirab - “water master” and I walked along the high-elevation canal, high winds blew sand in our mouths and eyes. The elevation canal in Herat province is famous for its “120 days of wind.” Located in the far west of Afghanistan, Herat is home to the Hari Rud River basin, giving the province the potential to be an agricultural heartland. But the area I walked was not green and lush, rather, it looked like desert.
Herati farmers cultivate wheat, barley, and vegetables, but also face severe water shortages and irrigation issues. “Poor people cultivate wheat as a major crop to have at least something to eat,” said a local villager. “Most years, the flood flushes away our soil bags and we cannot divert water into the canal.”
The water shortages are not due to the lack of water, but rather the lack of efficient water management. As Regional Manager of the On-Farm Water Management Project (OFWMP) in Herat, I was there to visit sites for potential irrigation projects in three villages: Kushk-e-Baad Saba village in Injil district, and Deh Surkh and Deh Pada villages in Zenda Jan district. Through these projects, we could work with local villagers to transform this dusty desert into fruitful farmland.
In 2003, Meiko Nishimizu, the World Bank Vice President for South Asia at the time, referred to Kathmandu as “an island of prosperity in a sea of poverty that is Nepal”. This was a time when the country was besieged with a violent conflict, with the state struggling to keep control of urban areas while rebels and security forces locked horns in the countryside. Her invocation of Martin Luther King Jr’s quote that “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere” must have resonated deeply with those in Kathmandu, especially those that may have associated inequality with the rise of the conflict.
Thirteen years on, as we think about Nepal’s progress on poverty reduction since then, it is appropriate to reflect on inequality and how it has evolved during this period. Has every Nepali benefitted from the living standards improvements that have been realized in the country? Or have some been left behind?
The year 2015 was rough on Nepal. The catastrophic earthquakes that struck the country in April/May caused widespread destruction of life and property and was followed by disruptions in the south that brought cross-border trade with India to a complete standstill for 4 months. As dramatic as these recent shocks have been, Nepal is no stranger to conflict and fragility. A 10-year violent Maoist conflict ended in 2006 but the ensuing years of drafting a new constitution were turbulent; politics often dominating the discourse as opposed to economics. But despite these unfavorable odds, Nepal made rather surprising progress on improving living standards and reducing poverty.
Between 1995 and 2010, absolute poverty – measured as the proportion of people living below the national poverty line of Rs.19,261 per person per year – declined steadily by around 2.2 percentage points a year. This helped the country meet the MDG target of halving income poverty by 2015 quite comfortably. Living standards improvements were realized not just based on income or consumption but also along multidimensional measures of well-being that take into account access to essential services such as education, health and drinking water and sanitation. What was behind this progress on poverty reduction Nepal achieved amidst a violent conflict and a tumultuous post-conflict recovery?