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Cities: The new frontier of social protection

Keith Hansen's picture
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photo: Dominic Chavez/World Bank

​Consider this: By the time you had breakfast this morning, the world’s urban population grew by some 15,000 people. This number will increase to 180,000 people by the end of the day and to 1.3 million by the end of the week. On a planet with such a vast amount of space, this pace of urbanization is like crowding all of humanity into a country the size of France.

Cities are where most of the world’s population lives, where more and more of population growth will occur, and where most poverty will soon be located. 

But why do so many people choose cities? Poor people constantly pour into Rio de Janeiro and Nairobi and Mumbai in search of something better. The poorest people who come to cities from other places aren’t irrational or mistaken. They flock to urban areas because cities offer advantages they couldn’t find elsewhere.  The poverty rate among recent arrivals to big cities is higher than the poverty rate of long-term residents, which suggests that, over time, city dwellers’ fortunes can improve considerably.

Energy access is a social justice issue

Jim Yong Kim's picture
Also available in: Français | العربية | Español
Dignity-DTRT, a garment factory in Accra, Ghana, employs 1,500 workers, 75% of them low-income women. © Dominic Chavez/World Bank.
Dignity-DTRT, a garment factory in Accra, Ghana, employs 1,500 workers, 75% of them low-income women.
© Dominic Chavez/World Bank. More photos from Ghana.

ACCRA, Ghana — Energy rationing is popularly nicknamed “dum-sor,” or “on-off” in Ghana, an expression that people use to talk about the country’s frequent power outages. This is a challenge faced by countries across the region — sub-Saharan Africa loses 2.1% of gross domestic product from blackouts alone — and across the developing world.

While the lack of a consistent electricity supply is one of Ghana’s largest economic challenges, the truth is that the country has made progress in increasing access to energy. Today, about 75% of the country is connected to the national electricity grid. This is significantly higher than the regional average: only one in three people in sub-Saharan Africa has access to electricity.

Mauritania’s race against the rising sea

Nathalie Abu-Ata's picture
Photo by Nathalie Abu-Ata / World Bank


“If we don’t take action now…the city of Nouakchott will soon be underwater.” These words, spoken by Mauritania’s Minister on Environment and Sustainable Development Amedi Camara, during a recent workshop in the country’s capital city, echoed a recurrent theme during our visits with Mauritanian authorities and local communities alike. They have stuck with me since.

Floods are not a new phenomenon for Nouakchott. A busy port city on Africa’s west coast, Nouakchott is mostly below sea level and is particularly vulnerable to rising groundwater levels, seawater intrusions, porous soils, sand extractions, and heavy rains in low-lying areas. Poorly planned port infrastructure has dramatically altered the dynamic and flow of sediments along the coast leading to substantial erosion in the city’s south (up to 25 meters annually in some years).

To make matters worse, severe and sometimes deadly floods have struck the city in recent decades. Extreme weather and human interventions have played a significant role in making the capital, with one-third of the population, or 1 million people, increasingly vulnerable to floods. 

Paying it forward in a digital age: A global community committed to a mapped world

Alanna Simpson's picture
Specialists in Sri Lanka receive training on the InaSafe risk assessment platform. © World Bank
Specialists in Sri Lanka receive training on the InaSafe risk assessment platform. © World Bank

​​When I first heard about OpenStreetMap (OSM) – the so called Wikipedia of maps, built by volunteers around the world – I was skeptical of its ability to scale, usability in decision making, and ultimate longevity among new ideas conceived in the digital age. Years later, having working on many disaster risk management initiatives across the globe, I can say that I am a passionate advocate for the power of this community. And I continue to be struck by the power of one small initiative like OSM that brings together people across cultures and countries to save lives. It is more than a technology or a dataset, it’s a global community of individuals committed to making a difference.

Madagascar: Expanding the bandwidth of the extreme poor

Andrea Vermehren's picture
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​Photo: Laura B. Rawlings / World Bank


It is 8 AM. The winter sun begins to appear over the gray-green mass of trees above the village of Tritriva in Madagascar’s central highlands. The courtyard of a stone church is already filled with women, many holding still-sleeping children in their arms. They have assembled for the first time in two months to receive a cash payment from the Malagasy state.

The women are poor and all live on less than $2 per day. The money they receive from the government amounts to about a third of their cash income for the two months in between each payment: it will go a long way in helping them support their families for the rest of the winter.
 
Initiated by the Madagascar government,  with support from the World Bank, the payments are part of a new program implemented by the Fonds d'Intervention pour le Développement (FID) to combat poverty in rural Madagascar and provide sustainable pathways to human development.

Unleashing private investment in renewable energy

Korina Lopez's picture
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Angus McCrone, Jin-Yong Cai, and Rune Bjerke discuss renewable energy. © Franz Mahr/World Bank


More than 700 million people live in extreme poverty around the world. If that number seems daunting, then consider this: 1.1 billion people – more than three times the population of the United States – live without electricity.

So it goes without saying that ending energy poverty is a key step in ending poverty itself. And world leaders agree – a sustainable development goal just for energy was adopted last month. It emphasizes the role of renewable energy in getting us to the finish line of reaching sustainable energy for all by 2030. What will give us a big boost in that race? Private financing.

Why we can’t afford to ignore agricultural risk

Stephen P. D’Alessandro's picture
Climate smart farming practices in Senegal.
Climate-smart farming practices in Senegal. Photo: M. Tall/CCAFS



Launching on September 25, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) will call for no less than an end to poverty, hunger and malnutrition by 2030. This is welcome news--and for the nearly 800 million people worldwide who will go to bed hungry-- long overdue.

To get there, it’s not just about raising yields. It’s also about managing risks to protect the most vulnerable. Along with gains in productivity, we also need more resilient agricultural systems. Failing this, unmanaged risks will upend the road to 2030. Climate change only ups the ante with promise of increasing weather extremes and new and more virulent pest and disease outbreaks. 

There is no planet B

Paula Caballero's picture
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Zanizbar, Tanzania. Photo by Sonu Jani / World Bank

At this week's UN Sustainable Development Summit, the world's oceans will be getting the attention they have long deserved -- but not always received. They are the focus of Sustainable Development Goal 14: "Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas, and marine resources for sustainable development."

The inclusion of oceans for the first time in the international-development agenda illustrates the ambitious and holistic view of challenges and solutions that nations are embracing. With the SDGs, nations are calling for a future in which nature is managed to drive economies, enhance well-being and sustain lives -- whether in Washington or Nairobi, on land or sea.

Fifteen years ago, nations convened at the UN and created an unprecedented set of guideposts, the Millennium Development Goals. In that timespan, the number of people living in extreme poverty was more than halved. But the oceans were not part of those goals. We now have the opportunity to focus minds globally on restoring healthy oceans for resilient economies and thriving communities. 

This attention comes not a moment too soon.

New efforts aim to mine opportunities, tackle bias and abuses in DR Congo

Caren Grown's picture
“Before the war, the fields produced and the men were still working,” one woman, a mineral transporter in the Democratic Republic of Congo, told researchers studying the impact of mining there after two decades of conflict. “Now we make money by growing in the fields of others and carrying things from the mines. What has changed life now is that the fields no longer produce and our husbands are no longer working,” she said, adding, “After the war, it’s resourcefulness” that keeps people going.
 

Old fuel for a new future: the potential of wood energy

Paula Caballero's picture
A woman buying a clean cookstove in Tanzania. Klas Sander / World Bank

The use of wood energy – including firewood and charcoal – is largely considered an option of last resort. It evokes time-consuming wood collection, health hazards and small-scale fuel used by poor families in rural areas where there are no other energy alternatives.

And to a certain extent this picture is accurate. A study by the Alliance for Clean Cookstoves found that women in India spend the equivalent of two weeks every year collecting firewood, which they use to cook and heat their homes. Indoor air pollution caused by the smoke from burning firewood is known to lead to severe health problems: the WHO estimates 4.3 million deaths a year worldwide attributed to diseases associated with cooking and heating with solid fuels. Incomplete combustion creates short-lived climate pollutants, which also act as powerful agents of climate change.

But wood is a valuable source of energy for many of the 2.9 billion people worldwide who lack access to clean cooking facilities, including in major cities. It fuels many industries, from brickmaking and metal processing in the Congo Basin to steel and iron production in Brazil.  

In fact, the value of charcoal production in Africa was estimated at more than $8 billion in 2007, creating livelihoods for about seven million women and men, and catering to a rapidly growing urban demand. From this standpoint, wood energy makes up an enterprise of industrial scale. 

So, instead of disregarding wood energy as outdated, we must think of the economic, social and environmental benefits that would derive from modernizing its use. After all, wood energy is still one of the most widespread renewable fuels at our disposal. We already have the technological know-how to enhance the sustainability of wood energy value chains. Across the European Union’s 28 member states, wood and solid biofuels produced through “modern” methods accounted for nearly half of total primary energy from renewables in 2012.

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