Around Christmas time and at the beginning of every academic year, I have routinely sent cash to my extended family back home in Zimbabwe. That’s been the pattern since I joined the World Bank mid-career and settled in Washington D.C. 23 years ago.
I am not alone; the number of Zimbabweans that have left the country is estimated at more than 3 million. Most have left since 2000, for reasons varying from the socio-economic to political.
YANGON, Myanmar — The government here has put forward ambitious plans to dramatically increase access to electricity and health care, especially in rural areas. Both are huge problems; some 70% of all people in Myanmar do not have access to electricity, and public health issues, including the spread of TB, need to be more effectively curtailed. What can we can do about these problems? Actually, quite a bit. Watch the video from the Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon.
DAVOS, Switzerland – When we talk about particularly difficult issues at the World Bank Group, I always ask my team a simple question: What’s the plan?
If they have a plan, the next question I ask is whether the plan is serious enough to match the scale of the problem. Here at the World Economic Forum at Davos, one of the main issues before us is an extraordinarily tough one – how do we reduce the growing income inequality around the world? Income inequality has grown to enormous proportions but my question to World Bank staff and folks here in Davos is the same: What’s the plan to lessen income inequality across the world?
Income inequality can appear to be an intractable problem. But the fact is we already know a lot about how economies can grow in a way that includes even the poorest. We need a plan to tackle inequality and we think there are at least five things that we can do right now that could help.
DAVOS — The theme of this year's World Economic Forum here involves income inequality and how to close the wide gap between rich and poor. I think this is a smart choice for the meeting, which attracts some of the most powerful and wealthiest people in the world. But to battle income inequality, you need a serious plan. Watch this video from Davos to hear what we recommend as a smart plan of action.
Right now, as you read this, wherever you are, we are in uncharted territory. Our global population of 7.1 billion is headed for more than 9 billion by 2050. With our growing numbers and aspirations for shared prosperity comes a growing demand for energy to power homes, businesses, industry and transport. Our continuing reliance on fossil fuels is generating pollution and a dangerously high amount of greenhouse gas emissions – this past summer, the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere passed levels not seen in 3 million years.
If you were in Beijing last week, you felt the impact in your lungs: Just 16 days into the new year, the city woke up to its first “airpocalypse” of 2014, the latest in a series of dangerously high smog days. Beijing’s mayor announced plans the same day to cut coal use by 2.6 million tons and ban heavily polluting vehicles.
That was an important local step, and we are seeing forward-thinking cities and national governments make similar moves as they develop the architecture for a cleaner, low-carbon future.
International Green Week in Berlin, the world's largest exhibition for agriculture, food, and horticulture, is the sort of place where you can taste food from all over the world, see animals of all shapes and sizes (ever heard of a Pustertaler Schecken?), and explore the latest innovations in GPS-guided agricultural machinery. The event attracts not only 400,000 curious visitors, it also draws global decision-makers from government, the private sector, science, and civil society, including some 70 ministers of agriculture.
Established in 1926, this event could probably make a reasonable claim that it has seen it all before. But, of course, it hasn’t. This year, the focus was on resilience.
The already present impacts of climate change are demanding innovation and partnership in agriculture on a scale never seen before. It is not an academic discussion about some uncertain future – it is posing challenges to farmers today, and it’s having an impact on their bottom lines.
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.
I got together with my friend Asma'a one evening at a popular Cairo café overlooking the Nile. Like many of the young Egyptians I had met that summer, Asma'a was smart, motivated — and unemployed. Since graduating with a law degree, she had applied for countless jobs to no avail, and had all but given up on finding a job in her field of study. She was particularly upset that evening because her parents had forbidden her from accepting a waitressing job, deeming the work to be morally inappropriate. Feeling ever more desperate, Asma'a said she would be willing to take any job just to be able to work.
Asma'a is one of 865 million women worldwide who have the potential to contribute more fully to the global economy. These women represent a powerful resource for driving economic growth and development. Yet the underuse of women's talents and skills is holding many countries back. An International Monetary Fund study estimates that if women like Asma'a were to participate in the labor force at the same rate as men, they could raise GDP in Egypt by 34 percent. Employed women also invest more of their income in their children's health and education, helping families to escape the cycle of poverty.
Late 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.