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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Starting with water and sanitation interventions and then trying to gauge the health impact can actually take us away from our desired goal of securing health improvements. Reversing this approach to start with health impact (first) and then determine causality (second) may create a more effective framework to optimize the trade-offs between water, sanitation and a range of other interventions!
The water and sanitation sector has been subject to numerous health impact studies. These are complex undertakings that require careful intervention and control conditions, extensive and carefully managed data sets, considerable time and money. Even in the best cases, quantifying the health impact of water and sanitation interventions is plagued by the high levels of uncertainty that surround the confounding variables. Furthermore, such studies do not quantify the relative health impact of choosing to invest in water and sanitation rather than breast feeding, or female literacy, or any other intervention. Even worse, such studies can draw a positive correlation between an intervention and the health impact … while the overall health for the particular target population has decreased. In such a scenario, it could be legitimately argued that investing in water and sanitation (and not female literacy) was the wrong choice - if the goal was a positive impact on health.
Pakistan’s deadly floods have affected more than 14 million people, with some estimates putting the figure considerably higher. The affected area covers 132,421 km, including 1.4 million acres of cropped land. Continuing rains have caused additional flooding and hindered relief activities.
The deep power crisis that Bangladesh is currently living through is affecting more people than the 40 percent population who currently have access to electricity. The reasons are simple.
For industries power outages increase production costs and the operating uncertainty that enterprises face. Losses arise from spoilage of goods-in-process and damage to machinery. Often the cuts in power supply cause production losses lasting beyond the duration of the outage. E-commerce and ICT cannot operate without reliable supplies of electricity. Mechanization of businesses is rendered ineffective, affecting productivity. SMEs rely on electricity for a variety of needs—lighting, refrigeration, grain mills, water pumping, food preservation and you name it. More generally, economic growth that creates jobs and enhances incomes requires electricity. Less and unreliable electricity translates into less and unreliable jobs. This is now a well established fact.
The million dollar question is what do we do to energize the economy?