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When It Comes to Tackling Inequality, Start Early

Ana Revenga's picture
Also available in: Français | Español | العربية

It seems that everyone is talking about inequality these days, and I, for one, am happy to see this issue at the forefront in the development discussion.

We can look at inequality in a number of ways, which are not unrelated. One of the most visible types of inequality on the radar is inequality of outcomes — things like differences in academic achievements, career progression, earnings, etc. — which, in and of themselves, are not necessarily bad. Rewarding an individual’s effort, innate talents and superior life choices can provide incentives for innovation and entrepreneurship, and can help drive growth.  

However, not all inequalities are “good.” When inequality perpetuates itself because those born poor consistently do not have access to the same opportunities as those born rich, what emerges is a deep structural inequality that is bad for poverty reduction, bad for economic growth, and bad for social cohesion. How pervasive are these deep inequalities? Much more than we would like. Indeed, when we examine what is happening in many countries around the world today, we find large and persistent, even growing, gaps in earnings between rich and poor. And we find that those who start out in poverty or are part of a disadvantaged group tend to remain there, with little opportunity to work their way out.

How do we explain this, and what can we do to tackle it? We need to take a step back and look at where this inequality originates, and that is where the concept of equality of opportunity comes in to play. This concept broadly refers to access to a basic set of services that are necessary, at the minimum, for a child to attain his or her human potential, regardless of the circumstances — such as gender, geographic region, ethnicity, and family background — into which he or she is born. Too often, access to such basic services like electricity, clean water, sanitation, health care and education is much lower among children born into circumstances that place them at a disadvantage. Children from disadvantaged groups thus set off on an unequal path from day one, which curbs their opportunities and potential into adulthood.

Measuring Development Success in Difficult Environments

Laura Ralston's picture

The challenge of moving from conflict and fragility to resilience and growth is immense. More than half of the countries counted as low income have experienced conflict in the last decade. Twenty per cent of countries emerging from civil conflict return to violence in one year and 40% in five years.

While the use and production of reliable evidence has become more common in much of the international development debate and in many developing countries, these inroads are less prevalent in fragile and conflict-affected situations (FCS). Programming and policy making in countries affected by conflict and prone to conflict is often void of rigorous evidence or reliable data. It is easy to argue, and many do, that it is impossible to conduct rigorous evaluations of programs in conflict-affected states. However, in spite of the very real challenges in these environments, such evaluations have been conducted and have contributed valuable evidence for future programming, for example in Afghanistan, the DRC, Colombia, northern Nigeria and Liberia.

My unit Center for Conflict Security and Development, (CCSD) is teaming up with the Department of Impact Evaluation (DIME), as well as the International Initiative for Impact Evaluation (3ie), and Innovations for Poverty Action (IPA), in a series of activities to enhance the evidence base on development approaches to peace- and state-building challenges. A first goal is to scope out where our evidence base is thinnest: what are the programs and interventions that remain least tested, but have theories of change suggesting great potential? We are hoping to take stock of what we and other donor institutions have been doing in this area of development, and map this into what we have learnt and what we most need to learn more about. USIP, USAID, IRC as well as leading academics in this field and IEG, are kindly helping in this endeavor, and we hope to be able to share some initial findings at our fragility forum later this year.

Finding work in conflict-affected states: What can Liberia teach us?

Daphna Berman's picture


Each month, about one million people enter the labor force in Africa. Another one million start looking for work in India. Add to this millions of others around the globe, and worldwide, some one billion people will enter the labor force between now and 2030.
 
Why is that date important? That’s the deadline World Bank Group President Jim Kim has set for ending extreme poverty and boosting shared prosperity. Making this happen will require not only a healthy and skilled labor force, but also requires creating ample job opportunities, and ensuring that young adults can find productive work.

Are Super Farms the Solution to the World’s Food Insecurity Challenge? Ten Questions You Need to Ask Yourself

José Cuesta's picture
Also available in: Français | Español | العربية

Join me in a Twitter Chat on why global food prices remain high on Dec. 4 at 10 a.m. ET/15:00 GMT. I'll be tweeting from @worldbanklive with hashtag #foodpriceschat. Ask questions beforehand with hashtag #foodpriceschat. Looking forward to seeing you on Twitter.


Agriculture workers on a strawberry farm in Argentina. © Nahuel Berger/World Bank

Today there are 842 million who are hungry. As the global population approaches 9 billion by 2050, demand for food will keep increasing, requiring sustained improvement in agricultural productivity. Where will these productivity increases come from? For decades, small-scale family farming was widely thought to be more productive and more efficient in reducing poverty than large-scale farming. But now advocates of large-scale agriculture point to its advantages in leveraging huge investments and innovative technologies as well as its enormous export potential. Critics, however, highlight serious environmental, animal welfare, social and economic concerns, especially in the context of fragile institutions. The often outrageous conditions and devastating social impacts that “land grabs” bring about are well known, particularly in severely food-insecure countries.

So, is large-scale farming—particularly the popularly known “super farms”—the solution to food demand challenges? Or is it an obstacle? Here are the 10 key questions you need to ask yourself to better understand this issue. I have tried to address them in the latest issue of Food Price Watch.

At the UN Security Council on Fragility and Natural Resources

Caroline Anstey's picture

Imagine you are a leader of an African country and your entire government budget for the year is $1.2 billion.

That same year, an investor sells 51 percent of their stake in a huge iron ore mine in your country for $2.5 billion — more than double your annual government budget.

And imagine having ordered a review into mining licenses granted by previous regimes and knowing that the investor who made the $2.5 billion sale had been granted a mining license in your country for free.

It's what happened in Guinea. It's a story I heard Guinea's president, Alpha Condé tell the G8's trade, transparency and taxation conference in London. And it's a story I thought well worth sharing at the UN Security Council's meeting on fragile states and natural resources last week.

The Prize & Price of a Hot Breakfast

Patti Petesch's picture

Breakfast in Peru. Samuel Bravo Silva/Flickr Creative Commons

Without a doubt my most vivid memories from my work on the new gender report On Norms and Agency: Conversations about Gender Equality with Women and Men in 20 Countries were my journeys to Peru and Liberia to pilot questions for focus groups. We conducted pilots in rural and urban areas, but as terribly different as these settings were, the level of similarities that emerged surprised me.

Namely, I imagined that traditional gender norms would be much less apparent in modern and rapidly urbanizing Lima when in fact, it was not the case. Young women in Lima described their day as getting up before sunrise in order to get a hot breakfast on the table, and then juggling a flurry of activities - including part-time work as supermarket cashiers and bank tellers. The descriptions were very similar to those we heard from women in other countries.

It was startling that gender norms in a modern city were not much different from norms in a rural community of a low-income country. Just like women from poorer and more traditional places, women in Lima helped their husbands make ends meet on top of long hours of household work. Just like in less developed communities, teenage pregnancies for girls as young as 12 and 13 were cited as a problem of deep concern. All of this in a place where girls went to high school and college, and had access to a modern family planning clinic right in their neighborhood.

Climate Lessons from a Hotter Arab World

Rachel Kyte's picture

Photo credit: Curt Carnemark/World Bank

This week in Doha, the marble corridors of the Qatar National Convention Center resonate with voices from around the world. Over half way through the UN Climate Change Conference, as ministers arrive and the political stakes pick up, a sense of greater urgency in the formal negotiations is almost palpable. But in the corridors, negotiations are already leading to deals and dreams and action on the ground.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon opened the discussions by saying we need optimism, because without optimism there are no results. He reminded us all that Superstorm Sandy was a tragic awakening. He reiterated the call for a second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol, a global agreement and 100 billion in climate finance by 2020.

Meanwhile our focus was firmly on the region ...

Progress in the Corridors at the Convention on Biological Diversity

Rachel Kyte's picture

Elephants. World Bank/Curt Carnemark

Sometimes, international convention meetings can be heart-breakingly slow-moving. The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) – one of the three conventions born after Rio in 1992 to drive sustainable development – which has been meeting in Hyderabad in India this week, is no exception. I’ve seen tough negotiators from all corners of the Earth emerge from conference rooms wearing pained expressions.

It’s outside the negotiating rooms – where the major topic of the moment is how to mobilize the financial resources needed to meet the CBD’s ambitious Aichi Targets – where things are a lot brighter.

Compelling Ideas at the UN: Energy, Health, Education and #whatwillittake

Jim Yong Kim's picture

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UNITED NATIONS | It has been a week of inspiring ideas and action plans at the United Nations General Assembly in New York. I met with a number of world leaders, including Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. We talked about the importance of creating jobs for ex-combatants, the pressing need for more energy sources, and more. You can hear my thoughts on our meeting in the video below.

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Improving capacity building in post-conflict and fragile settings

Nina Vucenik's picture

Young children in school. Ghana. Photo: © Curt Carnemark / World BankThree African ministers shared their experience with Bank officials on Thursday when they met to discuss ways to develop capacity in post-conflict countries.

 “We are here to listen—tell us how we can better assist you. And please, be frank,” said Obiageli Ezekwesili, World Bank Africa Region Vice President.

Ezekwesili asked the ministers from Liberia, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to discuss capacity development efforts in their countries, and to identify what has and has not worked, and how donors can provide more effective support for human development, infrastructure, and public sector reforms.

Several common themes emerged from the ministers’ interventions, including:

  • Donors prioritizing support for primary and secondary education, and not higher education
  • Donors pressing a “one size fits all” approach on countries, trying to replicate programs that were successful elsewhere
  • The failure by expatriate advisors in civil service posts to transfer their knowledge and skills to local counterparts
  • Tension among returning members of the Diaspora and local populations that stayed behind, partly around incentive structures for civil service
  • An urgent need to deliver skills-training and create job opportunities for young ex-combatants
     

South Africa. Photo: Trevor Samson / World BankAugustine Ngafaun, Minister of Finance for Liberia, outlined the enormity of the challenges facing his country, which has “75 percent of the educational facilities destroyed” combined with a “massive brain drain” as a result of professionals fleeing during Liberia’s recent conflict.

“We have very few doctors, teachers and hardly any engineers,” said Ngafaun, Liberia's Minister of Finance.

He also noted that, despite the importance of the mining sector for Liberia’s growth, there are not even five geologists in the entire country.

Rwanda’s Finance Minister James Musoni noted that even though the reconstruction challenges were daunting, his country has made significant progress since the 1994 genocide. He said it is crucial for the donor community to understand the context in which each country operates, as in some cases the political leadership may not be ready.

Ezekwesili stressed the need to build confidence in all sectors, pointing out that “development solutions work only to the extent that the capacities of the nation-state, the private sector, and civil society are strong.”

“The lack of capacity is magnified by the stress of the post conflict environment,” Ezekwesili said. 

Story: Improving Capacity Building in Post-conflict and Fragile Settings—African Ministers Share their Experience