A 90 day reflection of the new Country Director of the World Bank
I take this opportunity to thank all the Sri Lankans that opened their minds and hearts to help me understand the country context and constraints. During my first 90 days in Sri Lanka my colleagues and our clients gave me a warm welcome. I first met our core counterparts in the Government of Sri Lanka when I visited in July 2016. I have since travelled outside of Colombo several times, and I have met with many of our clients, development partners and stakeholders. I have also had the privilege to meet with our friends from the media, civil society groups, academia and private sector to better understand the current operating environment and discuss solutions to issues of common interest.
Cricket in Sri Lanka is followed with so much passion and enthusiasm. This thrilled me as it is the same in my home country, Zimbabwe. Many things about Sri Lanka and its people and culture bring back fond memories from home. Sri Lanka to me now is a second home so I am often torn with who to support when Sri Lanka plays Zimbabwe. It’s even harder to know how to react when Sri Lanka beat Zimbabwe recently.
I recently read an article by Kumar Sangakkara on the Spirit of Cricket. What an apt article. It just demonstrated so much what one can do when they find a common thread that they are all passionate about. Sri Lanka has many lessons to teach and to learn from the game of cricket.
I join my view into that of the article, that all Sri Lankans will need to work together regardless of location, gender, ethnicity, religion, political affiliation and social status. The focus should be on Sri Lanka’s priorities for development and how the Sri Lankan people can work together to win the match of ending poverty and sharing prosperity.
A 90 day reflection of the new Country Director of the World Bank
Armed with only a high school certificate, Daoud Shah Noor, 42, started working at the Ministry of Finance in 2012. The sole supporter of his family, he was unable to attend university because of prohibitively high tuition prices. Just four years on, Daoud is studying for his Master’s degree at the Dunya University, where he had graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration.
“Before university I was not professional in my work. Now I am doing the job more professionally and in a better way,” says Daoud, who comes from Parwan Province. Daoud is a beneficiary of the Public Financial Management Reform (PFMR), a project that aims to strengthen public financial management through effective procurement, treasury and audit structures, and high standards of financial monitoring, reporting, and control.
October 17 is the international day to end poverty. There has been much progress toward this important milestone: the World Bank Group’s latest numbers show that since 1990 nearly 1.1 billion people have escaped extreme poverty. Between 2012 and 2013 alone, around 100 million people moved out of extreme poverty. That’s around a quarter of a million people every day. This is cause for optimism.
But extreme poverty and the wrenching circumstances that accompany it persist. Half the world's extreme poor now live in sub-Saharan Africa, and another third live in South Asia. Worldwide nearly 800 million people were still living on less than $1.90 a day in 2013, the latest year for which we have global numbers. Half of these are children. Most have nearly no education. Many of the world's poor are living in fragile and conflict afflicted countries. In a world in which so many have so much, it is unacceptable that so many have so little.
Over 80 percent of Pakistanis consistently report that their economic wellbeing has either deteriorated or remained the same. Only 20 percent, disproportionately concentrated in the very top of the distribution, feel that they are better off and similarly small numbers believe that economic conditions have improved for their locality. If we took a poll today, it is possible that many of you would say that extreme poverty has risen rather than fallen.
But in fact, the national data tells a completely different story! According to the national poverty line set in 2001, Moreover, these gains were not concentrated among those close to the poverty line. Even the poorest 5 percent of the population saw an improvement in living standards.
Today I joined leaders and representatives from 70 countries and 20 international organizations and agencies at the Brussels Conference on Afghanistan. Together with its development partners, the World Bank Group pledged its continued support to the Afghan people and outlined a course of action to help all Afghans realize their dream of living in peace and prosperity.
Afghanistan has come a long way since 2001 and has made much progress under extremely challenging circumstances: life expectancy has increased from 44 to 60 years, maternal mortality has decreased by more than three quarters and, from almost none in 2001, the country now counts 18 million mobile phone subscribers.
Yet, enormous challenges remain as nearly 40 percent of Afghans live in poverty and almost 70 percent of the population is illiterate. This is made worse by growing insecurity and the return of 5.8 million refugees and 1.2 million internally displaced people. Much also remains to create jobs for the nearly 400,000 people entering the labor market each year.
To that end, here are five priorities we need to address to ensure a more prosperous and more secure future for all Afghans:
The concept of “Gross National Happiness” has been long discussed, debated, understated, overstated or seen as a gimmick. Now what is really Gross National Happiness? And how does the World Bank engagement fit in it? Let’s look into it together in an attempt to de-mystify the concept into what it really is, which is: a vision, broad policy directions trickling down to programs, a survey, a policy screening tool, and yes also, a foreign policy instrument and a brand.
The visionary statement, “Gross National Happiness is more important than Gross Domestic Product” was first enunciated by His Majesty the Fourth King of Bhutan in the 1970s. In turn, the Fifth King declared: “Today, GNH has come to mean so many things to so many people but to me it signifies simply - Development with Values. Thus for my nation today GNH is the bridge between the fundamental values of kindness, equality and humanity and the necessary pursuit of economic growth.” Article 9-2 of the constitution directs the state “to promote those conditions that will enable the pursuit of Gross National Happiness”.
GNH is translated into broad policy directions that provide the Government’s overarching, long-term strategies and five-year plans. The four pillars of GNH philosophy are: sustainable development; preservation and promotion of cultural values (traditional and cultural heritage paramount - its loss leads to a general weakening of society); conservation of the natural environment (Bhutan’s constitution: 60 percent forest coverage, green economy), establishment of good governance.
One year ago today, the first in a series of massive earthquakes rocked Nepal. Nearly 9 thousand people lost their lives in the disaster. Over 20 thousand people were injured – many critically. As many as 450 aftershocks have shook the country since.
In all, the earthquakes upended the lives of 8 million Nepalis – nearly a third of the population. The devastation was wide-spread: the Government of Nepal led an extensive exercise to assess the damages and losses, which a Post Disaster Needs Assessment estimated in the order of US$7.1 billion. As it turned out, the poorest and the most vulnerable communities were hit the hardest. The government estimates that the disaster pushed nearly 1 million Nepalis back into poverty.
From private homes to public infrastructure; and farms, businesses and historical monuments – hardly anything was spared in the trail of destruction. But from the government’s own assessment, rural housing stood out as one area of greatest need, in excess of US$1.2 billion. Early on, the government estimated that over half a million homes were destroyed.
In June last year, exactly two months after the first earthquake, 56 governments and international organizations came together in Kathmandu and pledged US$4.1 billion in reconstruction assistance. The World Bank Group was among them. At the International Conference on Nepal’s Reconstruction, the Bank Group offered a financial package of up to US$500 million.
Soon after the earthquakes, the Government of Nepal promised NRs. 200,000 (approximately US$1,900) in assistance to each family rendered homeless by the calamity. The Emergency Housing Reconstruction Program, supported by the World Bank and the governments of Japan, the United States, Switzerland and Canada, is designed to make good on that promise.
Bangladesh has a major opportunity to address one of its most pressing development challenges: creating 20 million new jobs over the next decade. And the trade agenda will be a centerpiece of any strategy that seeks to address this challenge.
Join me for a Facebook Q/A chat on January 28 to discuss this and other findings from the recently released report Toward New Sources of Competitiveness in Bangladesh co-authored with Mariem Mezghenni Malouche.
Below are some 4 highlights from the report, which we will be discussing. I look forward to your questions and a vibrant discussion!
- Bangladesh will need to expand its linkages with neighboring countries such as China and India as well as other Asian countries like Japan and South Korea. Not only are these very large markets, they are also potential sources of greater foreign direct investment. What are the critical steps that will allow this to happen? How can the recently signed Motor Vehicles Agreement between Bangladesh, Bhutan, India and Nepal help? What are the barriers to Bangladesh’s venturing into new markets?
- Bangladesh will need to gradually diversify its export base into new product areas while also strengthening its position as the second-largest garment producer in the world (after China). Our report explores the critical challenges that could allow this to happen. In your view, what challenges lie ahead if Bangladesh tries to diversify its exports? Can you name some prospective industries (for diversification)? What will be the role of foreign direct investment in this diversification? What kind of reforms are needed to attract more domestic as well as foreign direct investment?