Sitting out in the sun, in the middle of a public school premises, I intently looked at a woman clad in a patchy orange saree carrying a lean child on her lap. It was hard not to wonder whether her bare five years of primary school education really helped her understand public financial management! Indeed I was wrong. It was the sheer urge of entertainment and not curiosity about public financial management that drew her, and many more like her, to the premises of a government owned school in Hazaribaag, near the Beribaad, Mirpur area of Dhaka.
Saving Electricity–One Bulb at a Time!
|Waiting in line to exchange lightbulbs|
On a crisp October morning, all across Bangladesh in 39 districts, they flocked to their nearest schools and community centers, clutching their electricity bills and carrying small bags of used incandescent bulbs. There was much excitement and curiosity in the air – people stood in long snaking queues, gathered to chit-chat and watch what was going on. Men, women and even children waited patiently; expectantly.
They were waiting for the second round of free distribution of energy efficient compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) to begin.
CFLs consume one-fifth energy compared to regular bulbs. At a time when Bangladesh’s power generation capacity is much below the energy demand, using CFLs can significantly help in reducing peak electricity demand.
This is great news for the energy starved people of Bangladesh, many of whom have to endure hours of power cuts every day. During peak hours, the country faces electricity shortages of about 1,500-2,000 MW. In some areas, this means power cuts for at least 6 - 8 hours a day! Using CFLs will save electricity and help the people cut back on their electricity bills.
As my plane glides over the lush, green forest on the side of the mountains and descends into the narrow valley where the airport is located, I start to feel ...happy? Yes, happiness is the motto of the country of Bhutan—which is actually a kingdom. Interestingly, Bhutan is known for its development philosophy of Gross National Happiness.
While working to finalize the poverty mapping work that our World Bank team has been collaborating on with Bhutan’s National Statistics Bureau (NSB) and the Gross National Happiness Commission (GNHC), I realized that I am happy not just because I have had the opportunity to be in such a beautiful place, but also as I have had the chance to work with some highly dedicated, capable (and yes, happy!) civil servants.
The poverty-mapping exercise in Bhutan was carried out by a joint team of staff members from the NSB and the World Bank. The team uses a “Small Area Estimation” method developed by Elbers et al. (2003) . This method uses both the 2005 Population Census and the 2007 household living standard survey (BLSS) to produce reliable poverty estimates at lower levels of disaggregation than existing survey data permits. In the case of Bhutan, the team managed to come up with reliable poverty estimates at the sub-district (known as Gewog in Bhutan) level .This work was also supported in part by AusAID through the South Asia Policy Facility for Decentralization and Service Delivery.
This post is the second in a special blog series on the Microfinance Institution, SKS and it's IPO launch in partnership 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.
This is the first time that I have knowingly contributed to a ‘blog’; hence I am not familiar with medium’s etiquette. Am I to oppose, to concur, or to add? I’ll try to do all three.
Steve Rasmussen poses a number of important questions; they are mostly about the future, and about clients, which is surely where our focus should be.
I shall not comment on the rights or wrongs, legal or ethical, of the ways in which the shareholdings of the SKS clients’ Mutual Benefit Trusts were handled; Professor Sriram has already covered that issue, very well.
The United Nations hosted the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) Summit in New York City last month, with the participation of over 120 global leaders from both developed countries and emerging markets. This year’s summit was an especially momentous occasion since it marks 10 years since the Goals were set into motion and begins the 5 year countdown to 2015 when the goals are to be met.
At the awards ceremony on September 19th, both Bangladesh and Nepal received MDG country awards for advancements towards the development goals in health indicators with India receiving a nomination for greatly increasing access to education.
We asked South Asia's Human Development Director, Michal Rutkowski about these achievements.
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’.
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.
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?
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.
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.