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Urban 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So, instead of disregarding wood energy as outdated, we must think of the economic, social and environmental benefits that would derive from modernizing its use.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.

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.

Five reasons to act now to #endpollution

Paula Caballero's picture
Did you know that about 3.7 million people worldwide died in 2012 from diseases related to ambient air pollution? That is nearly the population of the city of Los Angeles expiring every year from preventable causes.

When you combine death-by-smog with deaths related to exposure to dirty indoor air, contaminated land and unsafe water, the grand total of deaths from all pollution sources climbs to almost 9 million deaths each year worldwide. That’s more than 1 in 7 deaths and makes pollution deadlier than malnutrition.
Photo via Shutterstock

This fact deserves to be better known, as there are ready solutions. Inaction is not an option.


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.

The disaster reality that must change

Rachel Kyte's picture
Cyclone Pam hit Vanuatu on March 15, 2015. Satellite image via NASA
Cyclone Pam, March 13, 2015. Satellite image via NASA

It’s one of the harsh realities of today. 

Just as representatives from around the globe began to gather in Sendai, Japan, for an international disaster risk conference, authorities in Vanuatu were issuing evacuation alerts with Cyclone Pam intent on a destructive path towards the Pacific island nation.

On the eve of the official opening of the World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction in Sendai, three cyclones – including the ferocious Cyclone Pam – were casting a menacing shadow over the Asia Pacific region.

It underscores a simple point. The threats posed by natural disasters are on the rise.

WorldPop's high-resolution mapping: the first ingredient for success in development projects

Tatiana Peralta Quiros's picture
Follow the author on Twitter: @tatipq

Modeled 2012 population in Guatemala at a spatial resolution of 100 m2
People are at the center of all development work: whether we act to prevent and address disasters, protect vulnerable communities, finance projects in infrastructure, education or health, our ultimate goal is always to serve people. Being able to identify, understand and locate beneficiaries as accurately as possible is an essential first step in that process, and the only way to make sure we provide services to those who need it most with maximum impact.

Inside the World Bank, the number of people passionate about using spatial data for development speaks to the relevance of spatial datasets in supporting critical decision making. In an effort to use spatial data more strategically, we recently conducted an informal poll among several Bank units and some partner institutions to find out what types of spatial data are most relevant to development professionals.

This survey found that the spatial distribution of the population was a key data layer needed by Bank staff. The results of the survey showed that that while national level data are useful, subnational detail on administrative boundaries, trade & transport infrastructure, population distribution and socio-economic data down to the city level are just as critical to the majority of respondents.

Arrival cities: migrants and social inclusion - Live online March 11

Maitreyi Bordia Das's picture
Follow the author on Twitter: @DasMaitreyi

Want to learn more about urban migration and social inclusion? Watch live discussion on March 11 at 12:30pm EST.
I just finished reading Doug SaundersArrival City – a fascinating book about cities as the fountains of development and dynamism. This portrayal isn’t by any means new, but Doug brings today’s cities alive, with stories of migrants who come from overseas or from villages.  Every city has its distinctive pattern, every informal settlement its own history.
Doug’s vivid account took me back to my hometown, Jaipur, Rajasthan, India: a city better known as a romantic tourist destination than as an “arrival city”. But there it is. A city that by most accounts, is very livable (perhaps that’s why angst against the city is low and it isn’t written about quite as much), and is host to thousands of migrants of all ilk.
Of the many that have over years begun to call Jaipur home, are families from Cooch Behar district in West Bengal. The bottom line is that women from Cooch Behar are overwhelmingly domestic workers in Jaipur homes. Why? For two reasons. First, Jaipur suddenly grew from being a mid-sized city in the 1990s to a thriving metropolis, up there among top ten Indian cities, by 2011, with a huge demand for domestic labor. 
Second, taboos and norms (which would have to be a whole other discussion) make local Rajasthani women reluctant to work in the homes of others. Strangely, it’s fine to work in others’ fields or on construction sites, but not in others’ homes. So, it is difficult for the rich and the growing middle class to find local women to work in their homes. I forgot to say that domestic workers are overwhelmingly women, in case anyone was wondering.
Why Cooch Behar: a district way out at the other end of the country? That’s a story of social networks that establish migration patterns. Jaipur was a princely state and the Maharaja married the princess of Cooch Behar – the famed Gayatri Devi, in whose entourage came the first set of ladies-in-waiting. Over time, this migration route solidified and fulfilled Jaipur’s demand for female domestic workers. Some micro studies show that almost half of all female domestic workers in Jaipur come from Cooch Behar.

A Public-Private Push for Infrastructure and ‘Inclusive Growth’

Donna Barne's picture
Also available in: العربية | Français

Swiss Re Group Chief Investment Officer Guido Fürer, European Investment Bank President Werner Hoyer, World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim, and Australian Treasurer and Chair of the G20 Finance Track Joe Hockey at the signing ceremony for the Global Infrastructure Facility. © Simone D. McCourtie/World Bank

The idea of “Inclusive growth” and how to achieve it was talked about a lot in the days ahead of the 2014 World Bank-IMF Annual Meetings. Among the solutions on the table was a new initiative that could help unlock billions of dollars for infrastructure and improve the lives of many.

About 1.2 billion people live without electricity and 2.5 billion people don’t have toilets. Some 748 million people lack access to safe drinking water. The Global Infrastructure Facility (GIF) announced by World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim this week hopes to lower these numbers by developing a pipeline of economically viable and sustainable infrastructure projects that can attract financing.

Better Understanding Disaster Risk: A New Dataset Is Set to Make a Difference

Alanna Simpson's picture
These maps of the Niger Delta show the increased detail through higher-resolution datasets newly released by the U.S. Geological Survey. Credit: USGS

​​Imagine you are a city official who wants to ensure all future infrastructure and urban development in your city is climate- and disaster-sensitive. The first step is to understand the natural hazards of today and tomorrow—flood, storm surge, sea level rise, etc.—and how they could impact your city. Thanks to higher-resolution geospatial datasets released this week by the U.S. Government, you will now be able to have a better understanding of the risks your city faces and how to manage them. 

These newly available Digital Elevation Models (DEMs) were developed by the U.S. Government and detail the surface of the earth in 3D. By illustrating the geography and topography of an area, they enable users to quantify the potential destructive impact of water-related hazards. As a city official, you will be able to base your analyses on 3D maps showing the natural terrain and elevation of your city, which determine the path of the water. 

To Save Lives and Livelihoods, Start By Understanding Disaster Risk

Francis Ghesquiere's picture
Understanding Risk Forum 2014

In 1999, the state of Odisha, India, was hit by the most powerful tropical cyclone ever recorded in the North Indian Ocean, causing nearly 10,000 fatalities and US$5 billion in damages. For the next decade, the government of Odisha and partners worked to identify and mitigate cyclone risk. When the similarly intense Cyclone Phailin struck Odisha in October 2013, the region counted 99.6% fewer deaths.
We cannot prevent a monsoon or cyclone from striking ­­– and as population growth, urbanization, and climate change are on the rise, the frequency and impact of natural disasters will increase. But with innovation, collaboration and a better understanding of risk, we can build communities that are more resilient to natural hazards.