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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. 

There is no planet B

Paula Caballero's picture
Also available in: Français | Español | العربية
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.

Connecting the dots in 2015 for sustainable development

Paula Caballero's picture
View from the River Congo between Kinshasa and Lukolela, DR Congo. Photo by Ollivier Girard for CIFOR via Creative CommonsWhat will 2015 stand for? Only half-way through the year, it may be risky to make predictions. But 2015, a year in which the international community is supposed to forge new deals for climate action and sustainable development, should be a year rich in connections. A year in which the health of the planet is finally understood to be of central concern to the future of people. A year in which the management of natural resources – from fish stocks and fresh water, to fertile soil, forest habitats and the carbon in the atmosphere - is understood to have significant national, international and inter-generational consequences.

Awareness is certainly progressing. From the streets of Sao Paulo, Brazil - a country that hosts nothing less than the mighty Amazon River, to the farmlands of California, people are coming to the realization that resources such as water are not limitless. More and more businesses are looking at the security of their supply chains and the footprint of their operations with zeal fueled by self-interest. And countries seem poised to adopt Sustainable Development Goals that signal an understanding that economic, social and environmental issues are inherently interdependent.

Climate change, water shortages and other environmental crises are bringing home the message loud and clear: we need to connect the dots between human actions across the landscape and seascape, or the earth will cease to care for us. It will cease to grow food, to store water, to host fish and pollinators, to provide energy, medicine and timber. Changing temperatures will stress systems already overwhelmed by unsustainable patterns of production and consumption, while a growing middle class will further strain planetary boundaries.

How can we help economies develop better, for lasting poverty reduction and prosperity, within the limits of natural resources? How can we make more rational use of natural and financial resources to maximize social and economic benefits and reduce carbon emissions while increasing our resilience to climate extremes?

#BestOf2014: Six Popular Environmental Stories You Shouldn’t Miss

Andy Shuai Liu's picture
As we get ready to kick off the new year, let’s recount the voices and stories about how we can enhance the way we interact with our planet. From Ethiopia to Indonesia, we’ve seen our efforts improve lives and help incomes grow as countries and communities strive for greener landscapes, healthier oceans and cleaner air.
Take a look back at some of the most popular stories you may have missed in 2014:
1. Raising More Fish to Meet Rising DemandPhoto by Nathan Jones via Flickr CC BY-NC 2.0

Aquaculture is on the rise to help feed a growing population. New #Fish2030 report:

— World Bank (@WorldBank) February 6, 2014

Trade in Fishing Services—Good or Bad? Separating Myth from Fact

Tim Bostock's picture
Small-scale fishers in West Africa. Courtesy MRAG, Ltd.A colleague recently quizzed me on the extent to which our latest report—Trade in Fishing Services: Emerging Perspectives on Foreign Access Agreements—specifically addresses the World Bank’s goals of reducing poverty and sharing prosperity in developing countries. My brief answer was “comprehensively!”. Helping the poor and protecting the environment may not be the first things that pop into your mind when you think about foreign fishing access arrangements. However, when considered as international trade in fishing services, these arrangements do have the potential to deliver real benefits to the poorest people in developing countries. How? Well, let’s immediately dive deeper into the report…
Foreign access rarely receives good press. Although over half of the world’s exclusive economic zones are subject to some form of foreign fishing arrangement, there is a perception that industrialized nations are "giving with one hand while taking away with the other." Criticism abounds regarding the role that foreign fleets play in overexploiting coastal state fish stocks, in engaging in illegal and unreported activity, in contributing to conflicts with small-scale fisheries and in generally undermining domestic fishing interests in vulnerable developing economies.

Empowering new generations to act

Paula Caballero's picture
Also available in: العربية | Español | Français | 中文
Photo by CIAT via CIFOR FlickrWhen I look at the rate of resource depletion, at soil erosion and declining fish stocks, at climate change’s impacts on nearly every ecosystem, I see a physical world that is slowly but inexorably degrading. I call it the "receding reality"—the new normal—slow onset phenomena that lull us into passivity and acceptance of a less rich and diverse world.

In my lifetime, I have seen waters that were teeming with multi-colored fish, turn dead like an empty aquarium. I have seen the streets of Bogota, my home town, lose thousands of trees in a matter of years.

It’s tempting to feel demoralized. But as the world’s protected area specialists, conservationists and decision makers gather in Sydney, Australia, this week for the World Parks Congress, there is also much to hope for.


5 Ways Marine Parks Benefit People

Amanda Feuerstein's picture
Photo via Shutterstock​Marine Protected Areas will be a topic for discussion at the IUCN World Parks Congress, which is opening today in Sydney.  And it should be: MPAs—which are marine spaces that restrict human activity and manage resources to achieve long-term conservation of nature—are one of the many tools for better ocean management.  This is one of the reasons the World Bank Group supports efforts to establish MPAs in countries including Indonesia and Brazil.

Every MPA is not created the same; some allow fishing and some do not, some are small and some are large, some are connected and some stand alone. When they are well planned and well executed, MPAs can help feed communities, protect jobs and boost biodiversity in the ocean. Here are the top five reasons why MPAs can be GREAT!

1. Spill Over Effects

The benefits of an MPA extend far beyond the boundaries of protection. When well planned, MPAs act as the home base for migratory species. These species use the protected area to reproduce, feed or congregate. But they do not stick around for long. This is called the “spill over effect” and it is hugely beneficial to local fishing communities. Even if fishing is restricted inside the MPA, just outside the border the fish are more numerous and far larger. For example, in Indonesia, community income increased 21 percent in 258 villages near a network of six protected areas.

​A Better Way To Healthy Oceans?

Valerie Hickey's picture

Last night, and every night, 840 million people go to bed hungry. It’s our job at the World Bank to get that number to zero. That can’t happen without healthy oceans.  Period.

Oceans directly support the livelihoods of more than 300 million people, are at the center of the war against climate change and provide food security for hundreds of millions.  To feed a world with a growing population, we need more seafood and we need to make sure it’s available not just today, but every day. Additionally, as the world gets smaller, oceans provide the transport links that connect us and carry our goods. Simply put, oceans are our past, present and a capstone of our future.

Strong blue economies need healthy oceans. Today’s sick oceans need investment to become healthy once more. We need to foster an investment model – not an aid model – that is ready for the brave new world of development finance. This is what we are now focusing on: How to build an investment model that can deliver results at speed and scale to build strong economies, good governance and healthy, well-fed communities. So where will this investment come from?

To Feed the Future, Manage Seafood Smartly

Susan Jackson's picture

By 2050, the world's population will have risen to 9 billion people. Consumption of fish as a percentage of protein in diets around the world is growing too, especially in the last five years as noted in a recent United Nations Report. Fish makes up over 16 percent of the world's animal protein food supply, and food fish supply, including aquaculture, has increased at an average annual rate of 3.2 percent, which means it’s growing at an even faster clip than the world's population. But the supply of wild-caught commercial fish species, such as tuna, is not infinite. Realistic, well-defined and long-term focused management strategies need to be in place now so that despite an unwavering growth in population and consumption, wild fish stocks can thrive well into the future.

Consumption of fish will continue to increase. In both the developing and developed world, more consumers want access to more fish. In less developed, food-deficit countries -- specifically coastal ones -- fish like tuna provide an affordable source of nutrient rich food.

Translating the language of fisheries economists for global ocean health

Timothy Bouley's picture

Economists speak a secret language. Markets, management, supply, costs, returns, rents – words I think I know, until I see them on a PowerPoint slide with a graph and an equation that starts with a sigma. Suddenly, it becomes clear these markets aren’t only the ones where I buy my peaches and rent is something more than a monthly check.

This past week I attended the bi-annual conference for the International Institute of Fisheries Economics and Trade. The hottest topics in fisheries economics were presented – the global state and outlook of aquaculture, capture fishery models, artisanal fishing, governance, rights based management, individual transferrable quotas, the impact of climate change, and dozens of others. Mostly comprising academics, the talks were technical, pithy, and representative of latest. An honest opportunity for discourse amongst equals to share and vet their work on ocean economies.

As a non-economist, I was in the minority here (though not a complete outsider – ecologists, trade experts, and fishermen were also in the mix). In spite of this lack of ‘expertise’ it is clear that the issue of ocean health is an economic one. We lose billions of dollars every year from mismanaging our fisheries and degrading ocean habitats. That money comes out of everyone’s our pockets. From small-scale fishers to large industry fleets to average consumers, we all pay the price. Economics can indeed play a large role in solving our ocean health problems, how challenging it is to get economists to agree on these solutions is another matter…