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Middle East and North Africa

Leveraging Islamic finance promotes growth and prosperity of small businesses

Bertrand Badré's picture
Also available in: العربية | Français | 中文 | Español
Shop owners get ready for another day of work in Cairo, Egypt. © Dominic Chavez/World Bank

From the smallest rural villages in Bangladesh to the large, bustling metropolitan centers of Cairo or Istanbul, small and medium enterprises (SMEs) are the lifeblood of Islamic communities around the world, keeping local economies humming.

I first became interested in the potential of leveraging Islamic finance to grow SMEs when I led a seminar on the topic in 1997. I’ve come full circle, almost 20 years later, when I had the opportunity to speak last month in Istanbul at a conference on “Leveraging Islamic Finance for SMEs” organized by the World Bank Group, the Turkish Treasury, the Islamic Development Bank and TUMSIAD, the largest association of SMEs in the country with 10,000 members.

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.

I am a migrant

Jim Yong Kim's picture
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Courtesy Jim Yong Kim

​In 1964, I came to the United States from South Korea, then an extremely poor developing country that most experts, including those at the World Bank, had written off as having little hope for economic growth.

My family moved to Texas, and later to Iowa. I was just 5 years old when we arrived, and my brother, sister, and I spoke no English. Most of our neighbors and classmates had never seen an Asian before. I felt like a resident alien in every sense of the term.

Get smarter: A world of development data in your pocket!

Nagaraja Rao Harshadeep's picture
Many dinner conversations and friendly debates proceed in a data vacuum: “The problem is big… very big!” How big exactly? Most likely your friend has no idea. 

It is often said that we live in a new data age. Institutions such as the Bank, UN agencies, NASA, ESA, universities and others have deluged us with an overwhelming amount of new data obtained painstakingly from countries and surveys or observed by the increasing number of eyes in the sky. We have modern tools such as mobile phones that are more powerful than old mainframes I used to use in my university days. You can be in rural Malawi and still have access to decent 3G data networks.
Open data for sustainable development

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.

Clean air as a poverty reduction priority

Ernesto Sanchez-Triana's picture
​Many parts of the development community have long embraced the following narrative: When nations are young and poor, they are willing to sacrifice natural resources—dirtying their water and their air—to promote economic growth and meet their population’s basic needs. Then, once these nations achieve a certain level of wealth, they become less concerned with accumulating material goods and more concerned with quality-of-life issues, and only at that point are they willing to spend money—or sacrifice growth—for benefits like clean air.

However, a recent resolution by the World Health Organization's (WHO) governing body shows that this narrative is beginning to change. 

Can land registration institutions be reformed in deeply entrenched bureaucracies?

Wael Zakout's picture
Turkey has radically transformed its land title registration system, and decreased the turnaround time for recording property transactions to just two hours.
Turkey has radically transformed its land title registration system, and decreased the turnaround time for recording property transactions to just two hours.
I just returned from Turkey where I visited the Turkish Tabu Cadastre Agency (Land Registration Agency of Turkey). The agency had changed so much that I did not recognize it.
I remember my first visit to the agency in 2007. The agency is heavily staffed (15,000), has more than 100 branches and its main headquarters had once almost fallen apart. In my first visit, the head of the agency gave me a nice surprise: he showed me a land book that dated back to the 18th century, and included a record of my great-great-grandfather’s land title in Palestine.
The head of the agency had great plans to transform the agency by improving land records, introducing computerization and integrating the system into the overall e-government program, and setting a time limit of one day to register land transactions. Based on that an ambitious reform agenda, we worked together over a few months’ ‘time to prepare the cadastre modernization project. The Bank partly financed this reform through a $100 million loan, while the Turkish government funded the rest of the program. The project started in 2007, and I moved on to other positions later that year.
This time I had a second surprise. The institution is completely transformed. The main office has been completely and beautifully renovated. It now resembles any other government office in the US or Europe. The agency presented its achievements. It was amazing to see what had been accomplished in 8 years. The government is about to complete the renovation of the cadastre and the computerization of all land records, including historical records from Ottoman times. Service delivery has improved dramatically, with property transactions now being registered within 2 hours. They also integrated cadastre registration into the overall e-government program, which allows any Turkish citizen to access the record of their land/property online. Above all, customer satisfaction has reached 97% — something unheard of for land agencies, often known to be among the most corrupt agencies in many countries.

Rousseau isn’t the first, nor last, to negotiate a ‘social contract’

Mehrunisa Qayyum's picture
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Webcast Replay

“50% of Arab world citizens are dissatisfied with public services in their area,” according to a World Bank survey — which prompted not one, but two sessions at the World Bank Group-International Monetary Fund Spring Meetings. So it was no coincidence that the meme #BreaktheCycle emerged in another Middle East and North Africa (MENA) panel, “Creating Jobs and Improving Services: A New Social Contract in the Arab World,” which also revisited the theme of the social contract in both oil-importing and exporting countries.

Economists weigh in on oil prices and an uneven global recovery

Donna Barne's picture
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World Bank chief economists, clockwise from upper left: Senior Vice President and Chief Economist Kaushik Basu, Augusto de la Torre (Latin America and the Caribbean), Shanta Devarajan (Middle East and North Africa), Francisco Ferreira (Sub-Saharan Africa), Sudhir Shetty (East Asia and Pacific), Hans Timmer (Europe and Central Asia), Martin Rama (South Asia).

​Lower oil prices are a boon for oil importers around the world. But how well are oil-producing countries adapting to the apparent end of a decades-long “commodity supercycle” and lower revenues? And what does this mean for the global economy?

World Bank economists provided insights on the situation in six developing regions at a webcast event April 15 ahead of the World Bank Group-IMF Spring Meetings. The discussion focused on the challenge of creating sustainable global growth in an environment of slowing growth.

World Bank Chief Economist Kaushik Basu said the global economy is growing at 2.9% and is “in a state of calm, but a slightly threatening kind of calm. … Just beneath the surface, there’s a lot happening, and that leads to some disquiet, concern – and the possibilities of a major turnaround and improvement.”

Snowmelt, climate change and urban pollution—new perspectives

Tracy Hart's picture
Image by U.S. National Climate Assessment via Washington PostIt's been a snowy winter—not only here in Washington D.C., but also in places I travel, namely Jerusalem and Amman. The past week, the snowmelt runoff into Rock Creek in D.C. has been a sight to watch. It's also been a teachable moment for my daughter: we've talked about how snowmelt contributes to surface water flows.

Actually I talk, and she goes "okay, okay" looking out the window.

She and I have learned a few new facts to share: one is the linkage of irregular precipitation associated with global climate change.

Chris Mooney, the environment and climate change writer for the Washington Post, recently wrote a great article explaining why more snow is another result of climate change. D.C. is on the south border of the NE of the United States, where, as you can see from the map, (provided by the US National Climate Assessment), extreme rain/snow events have increased dramatically. Similarly, in Jerusalem three weeks ago, the snow came with sleet, blueberry-size hailstones (see below) and lightning.