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What El Niño teaches us about climate resilience

Francis Ghesquiere's picture
It was recorded by the Spanish conquistadors, and triggered famines that have been linked to China’s 1901 Boxer Rebellion and even the French revolution.

Named by Peruvian fishermen because of its tendency to appear around Christmastime, El Niño is the planet’s most large-scale and recurring mode of climate variability. Every 2-7 years, a slackening of trade winds that push sun-warmed water across the Pacific contributes to a rise in water temperature across large parts of the ocean. As the heat rises, a global pattern of weather changes ensues, triggering heat waves in many tropical regions and extreme drought or rainfall in others.

The fact that we are undergoing a major El Niño event should cause major concern and requires mobilization now. Already, eight provinces in the Philippines are in a state of emergency due to drought; rice farmers in Vietnam and Thailand have left fields unplanted due to weak rains; and 42,000 people have been displaced by floods in Somalia.

And this is before the event reaches its peak. Meteorologists see a 95% chance of the El Niño lasting into 2016, with its most extreme effects arriving between now and March. Coastal regions of Latin America are braced for major floods; India is dealing with a 14% deficit in the recent monsoon rains; and poor rainfalls could add to insecurity in several of Africa’s fragile states. Indeed, Berkeley Professor Soloman Hsiang has used historical data to demonstrate that the likelihood of new conflict outbreaks in tropical regions doubles from 3% to 6% in an El Niño year.

But despite its thousand-year history, the devastation associated with El Niño is not inevitable. Progress made by many other countries since the last major event, in 1997-98, shows that we can get a grip on its effect – and others caused by climate trends.

Leveling the field for women farmers in Uganda

Derick H. Bowen's picture
In Uganda, farming employs a massive 66 percent of the working population and accounts for a quarter of GDP. Population growth is among the highest in the world, with the number of Ugandans likely to at least double by 2050. It would be difficult to overstate  the urgency of creating enough jobs and producing enough food for everyone in this landlocked East African country.

How forensic intelligence helps combat illegal wildlife trade

Samuel Wasser's picture
Also available in: Español | العربية
 Diana Robinson / Creative Commons Over the past decade, illegal poaching of wildlife has quickly caught up to habitat destruction as a leading cause of wildlife loss in many countries.
Poaching African elephants for ivory provides a case in point. Elephant poaching has sharply increased since 2006. We may now be losing up to 50,000 elephants per year with only 450,000 elephants remaining in Africa.  In short, we are running out of time and unless we can stop the killing, we will surely lose the battle. Decreasing demand for ivory is vital over the long term, but the scale of current elephant losses makes this strategy too slow to save elephants by itself. The ecological, economic and security consequences from the loss of this keystone species will be quite severe and potentially irreversible. 

If You’re Watching the World Cup, You Don’t Want to Miss This

Michelle Pabalan's picture
Also available in: العربية | Español | Français
Team Burundi, Great Lakes Peace Cup
“Sport has the power to change the world. It has the power to unite in a way that little else does.”
- Nelson Mandela

Even though I didn’t grow up watching football, admittedly I’ve developed an interest in the sport during this month-long emotional World Cup soap opera. And like me, millions of people will be glued to their television sets for this Sunday’s finals match between Argentina and Germany. 
Above and beyond the superstars, the fans and controversies, I learned more about how this beautiful game is used to build communities, overcome social and cultural divides and advance peace. It seems sports have a way of changing the lives of people around the world - but what does this exactly look like?

President Kim on Discrimination’s Hefty Human and Economic Costs

Elizabeth Howton's picture
Also available in: Español | Français | العربية

Jim Yong Kim knows something about prejudice. When he was growing up Asian American in Iowa, kids would make “kung fu” gestures and hurl racial slurs at him. In an op-ed published in the Washington Post, the World Bank Group president writes that his experiences are “trifling indignities” compared to what gay and lesbian citizens of Uganda and Nigeria are now experiencing, in the wake of new laws making homosexuality a crime punishable by up to life in prison.

Institutionalized discrimination goes far beyond those countries, he notes; 81 other countries also criminalize homosexuality. It also goes beyond sexual orientation to encompass laws that discriminate against women and members of minority groups. And aside from being wrong, Kim writes, “Widespread discrimination is also bad for economies. There is clear evidence that when societies enact laws that prevent productive people from fully participating in the workforce, economies suffer.”

He points out the irony that AIDS activists, many of them gay, fought to ensure access to life-saving drugs for people with AIDS, most of them African. Kim concludes, “Eliminating discrimination is not only the right thing to do; it’s also critical to ensure that we have sustained, balanced, and inclusive economic growth in all societies.”

Read the full op-ed here.

Why We Need to Count Elephants (and Other Natural Resources)

Julian Lee's picture
Also available in: Español | Français | العربية | 中文

Elephants with Mount Kilimanjaro in the distance. Curt Carnemark / World BankLate last year, ministers and delegates from some 30 countries met in Botswana to discuss how to fight the booming illegal trade in ivory that is decimating Africa’s elephant population.
CITES estimates that 22,000 elephants were killed in Central and East Africa in just the year 2012. Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Gabon, Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda are just a few of the countries affected by elephant poaching. The poached ivory is used for ornamental carvings that serve as status symbols, religious icons, and collector’s items for buyers across East Asia, Europe, and North America. This is not just a conservation issue. Wildlife crime is also a development and security challenge: It undermines government authority, breeds corruption, increases the supply of small arms, and destroys valuable natural resources. So the growing political attention wildlife crime is receiving – British Prime Minister David Cameron will host the next summit in February – is a welcome sign of high-level political commitment to address the crisis.

Women and Trade in Africa: Putting a Face to the Research

Maura K. Leary's picture
Also available in: Français

This past May, I traveled to Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania to produce “Mind the Gap: Gender Equality and Trade in Africa” with a Nairobi-based film crew. As I headed off on my first official trip, I read and re-read the chapters that this film was designed to complement — all part of a fantastic new book, “Women and Trade in Africa: Realizing the Potential.”  I felt very comfortable with the facts and figures — tourism in Kenya accounts for 12.5 percent of GDP; cotton is the third largest export in Uganda; small business owners are a huge part of Tanzania’s export economy, etc. — but did not fully understand the situation we were trying to explore until I met Mary.

The Fight to End Wildlife Crime Is a Fight for Humanity

Valerie Hickey's picture

Available in ไทย

Elephants in Kenya. Curt Carnemark/World Bank

Elephant ivory is on the march. Not elephants, but their ivory. The elephants are left bloodied and dead on the range. So are many rangers who work to protect a country’s natural capital. In the past 10 years, over 1,000 rangers have been murdered in 35 countries alone; the International Ranger Federation tell us that as many as 5,000 may have been murdered worldwide in that time.

At the CITES COP – the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species – the halls in Bangkok ring loud with concern for the elephants and other charismatic species, particularly rhinos, that are being exterminated across Africa in pursuit of private profit, at the expense of communities that rely on nature for their food, shelter, start-up capital, and safety net in a warming world.

So why should the World Bank care? Our concern is to build strong economies and healthy communities by revving the engine of inclusive green growth as we prepare countries and communities for the impacts of climate change.

What does this have to do with elephant ivory you ask? Simply put, we cannot achieve our dream of a world without poverty without taking account of the rise in wildlife crime.

Longreads: The Way Out of the Food Crisis, Extreme Heat and Global Warming, London 2012 Bridges Divide, Combating Ebola

Donna Barne's picture

Find a good longread on development? Tweet it to @worldbank with the hashtag #longreads.


Food crisis warnings are getting louder, with many urging action to head off a repeat of 2007-08’s soaring prices and shortages. The Hindu lists driving forces behind food crises and “corrective steps” in “The Looming Global Crisis and the Way Out.” The story suggests a food crisis is no longer a “freakish phenomenon” in the same way extreme weather is no longer disconnected from global warming. Hot, very hot, and extremely hot summer weather has become more common since 1951, according to research by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. NASA includes a visualization of temperature changes through the decades in “Research Links Extreme Summer Heat Events to Global Warming.” The just-wrapped London Olympics that dominated the Twittersphere for two weeks wasn’t a mere sporting event, argues The Guardian in “Briefly But Gloriously, London 2012 Bridged the Divide.” The Games at times demonstrated the power to “transcend negative stereotypes and transform perceptions” of developing countries. With concern over an Ebola Virus outbreak easing in Uganda, Development Policy Blog interviews epidemiologist Dr. Kamalini Lokuge, a veteran of responses of Ebola outbreaks, before her trip to the stricken area.

AIDS Debate Poses Tough Funding Questions to Top Thinkers

Donna Barne's picture

AIDS Debate

The question was on the pros and cons of HIV/AIDS funding and the tools were sharp insights and passionate views as some of the most influential figures in the fight against AIDS and poverty participated in a lively debate before a packed World Bank auditorium July 23.

The webcast event, co-hosted by the Bank, U.S. Agency for International Development/ U.S. President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, and the medical journal The Lancet, asked a panel of experts to weigh global funding for HIV/AIDS in a fiscally strained, post financial crisis environment. The debate was part of the first International AIDS Conference to be held in Washington in 22 years.