Europe and Central Asia
Only half of the working age population participates in the labor force in the Western Balkans. This is low by both European and global standards - but participation among women is even worse. This rate was only about 42% in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and a mere 18% in Kosovo in 2012 - the lowest in all of Europe and Central Asia. This participation gap persists throughout a woman’s life, contributing to low employment rates, and widens during child bearing years. In Bosnia and Herzegovina, the gap between male and female employment rates has reached a whopping 44 percentage points for those aged 25 to 49 years with a young child living at home.
Failure to address these labor market inequalities is a missed opportunity for faster economic growth, poverty reduction and increased shared prosperity in a region struggling to recover from the neighborhood effects of the Eurozone crisis.
Bishkek, Kyrgyz Republic – Laura Tuck, the vice president for the World Bank’s Europe and Central Asia unit, talks about her trip to Kazakhstan, the Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan and important issues related to the economic growth of the region that she discussed in these Central Asian countries.
Between five and five-thirty in the morning is the only time she gets to herself, which she uses to work out, or read a book. After that, the grind of everyday life in Poland’s countryside takes over. She cooks, washes, cleans, irons, and cooks for her seven children, aged two to fifteen. And it doesn’t stop until late at night.
Elzbieta’s family and other families with multiple children are rather unique in Poland, which has one of the lowest fertility rates in the world. When asked why they didn’t have children in a recent country-wide survey, 71 percent of Poles said unstable employment and difficulties in balancing work and family life were big factors.
Their fears are not without reason -- with each child, the risk of poverty increases tremendously -- families with three or more children are more likely to be in the lowest income group, with 26.6 percent of households with four children living in poverty in Poland, according to the Main Statistical Office.
Even buying clothes for children is a daunting task, in such cases. “We have started participating in lotteries organized by local clothes stores, with no luck so far,” Elzbieta said. “We do it because taxes for children’s clothes and shoes were recently raised, and families like ours are most affected. Families with children are just not given a chance.”
Elzbieta talked to me as she picked flowers in a nearby field, while watching her five-year old daughter. The flowers she collected would later be dried on a bench outside her rural home and used for making herbal teas for the family. Even buying tea is a financial challenge for Elzbieta’s family, whose income, a total of PLN 3,280 (about $1,100) comes from social assistance for children, including a disabled child (PLN 2,000) and her husband’s income – after the payment of a home renovation loan – of PLN1, 280.
But hospitality is not to be spared.
“In two weeks, everything will be red,” he said. “And what do you do with all these cherries?” I asked, half dreaming of one of my mother’s best tarts.
Export to Russia, came the reply. A river of sour cherries flowing from this small corner of Serbia, across Europe and into Russia is a less interesting image than my mother’s spectacular tart, but in a country where signs of the ongoing economic crisis abound, this is good news.
Every field we looked at had new plantings alongside more established trees. A new parasite is apparently threatening these cherry orchards, and foreign experts are working with local growers to control it. Still, it seems clear that people are investing in the business, and this means jobs – though only temporary, tough and lasting long hours of cherry picking, these jobs are a blessing for those who have little else to rely on.
Ivan and his wife Daniela, in the village of Vlahovo, are a case in point - and the face of poverty in the region.
There is nothing worse than having to wonder if you will be able to afford tomorrow's meal. Or the day after's.
But for millions of poor in the Kyrgyz Republic, it is routine - and their every day reality. The World Bank interviewed several families in the country recently to showcase the real face of poverty in the region, where the poor spend significantly more to stay warm and buy enough food to survive than in other parts of the world because of the region's extremely long and cold winters.
The World Bank recently interviewed several families in Armenia to depict the hardships people face when they cannot earn more than $5 a day per person. The country faces long, harsh winters and paying to stay warm and eat enough to survive the cold can quickly eat into the poor's meager incomes.
The Face of Poverty package aims to show how tough life can be for these families and their belief that education is the singular way out of poverty for their children.
Watch the full documentary here.
The global economy is finally emerging from the financial crisis. Worldwide, growth came in at an estimated 2.4 percent in 2013, and is expected to rise to 3.2 percent this year. This improvement is due in no small part to better performance by high-income countries. Advanced economies are expected to record 1.3 percent growth for the year just finished, and then expand by 2.2 percent in 2014. Meanwhile, developing countries will likely grow by 5.3 percent this year, an increase from estimated growth of 4.8 percent in 2013.
The world economy can be seen as a two-engine plane that was flying for close to six years on one engine: the developing world. Finally, another engine – high-income countries – has gone from stalled to shifting into gear. This turnaround, detailed in the World Bank’s Global Economic Prospects 2014 launched last Tuesday, means that developing countries no longer serve as the main engine driving the world economy. While the boom days of the mid-2000s may have passed, growth in the emerging world remains well above historical averages.
High-income countries continue to face significant challenges, but the outlook has brightened. Several advanced economies still have large deficits, but a number of them have adopted long-term strategies to bring them under control without choking off growth.
If you love books as much as I do, perhaps you too cherish the sensation of holding a new book in your hands for the first time. Or the way your nose twitches when dust lifts off the pages of an old paperback you just discovered on a bookstore shelf. Books are real treasures – they appeal to many different senses and can create memories that stay with us from childhood.
Today, more and more books take a very different form to when I was a kid. The Internet now provides us access to a vast electronic library where billions of books are available digitally rather than in the old-fashioned paper form. But there are many of us who still prefer the real thing. With this in mind, my colleagues and I at the World Bank office in Astana, Kazakhstan, held a book donation on the threshold of the New Year at the National Academic Library - one of the four depositary libraries in different regions of Kazakhstan (Almaty, Astana, Ust-Kamenogorsk, and Pavlodar) back in 2005 as an effective channel for sharing of knowledge and information.
For the event, we brought a ton of World Bank publications from the country office, inviting people to walk in and take any books that appealed to them. It took just one hour to clear the shelves! As people selected multiple books from the shelves, I asked, “Are you really going to read all of those books?” Their responses surprised me pleasantly.