The cool thing about working in infrastructure is everyone knows your business.
We’ve all paid bills, lost power during storms, and worried about the quality of the water we’re about to drink. We’ve all been on a dead phone line sputtering, “Hello? Hello?” having just confessed, “I love you,” to a disconnected piece of plastic.
And if we in the professional world care about these basic services that are so fundamental to our lives, we know their reliable and affordable delivery is even more crucial for the poor. When a long wait for a new phone connection means no link to the outside world, no power means no study, and tainted water means sick children, then utility services are the difference between stagnation and growth, poverty and opportunity.
Everyone knows when services work and when they don’t. But infrastructure economists have long struggled to understand why some utilities work well and others don’t. Is there a package of reforms that will get us more connections, higher levels of efficiency, better quality service and cheaper rates?
In Pakistan, one-third of primary school age children are not in school, and girls fare worse than boys – 37% of girls of primary school age are not in school, compared with 27% of boys*. Children living in remote parts of the country often have even fewer opportunities to get an education.
In Sindh province, on Pakistan’s southeastern border, government officials and World Bank experts crafted an innovative education program twinning public subsidies with private entrepreneurs to bring schools to poor villages where none existed. The goal of the program, which is ongoing, is to help all children have the chance to get not only an education, but a good one.
My experiences with field work thus far have been nothing if not adventurous. I seem to attract broken glass – a rock the size of a small coconut crashing through my 3rd floor window in Zanzibar, for instance, or the windows of my taxi being broken with baseball bats by an armed mob in Mali. Just the other day, my boss and I came within inches of dying in a fiery plane crash – we were on our way back to the main island of Zanzibar from Pemba island in a tiny 12-seater Soviet-era plane, and were just about to land in a strong crosswind when the engine on my side failed. We managed to land, somehow, and taxied to a stop right there on the runway to wait for a vehicle (ironically, it ended up being an ambulance) to take us to the terminal.
Financial Markets… European stocks extended their gains on Monday, after reaching a 5-year high last week, as Lawrence Summers’ withdrawal from the Federal Chairman race eased the risk of an early end of U.S. monetary stimulus. The benchmark Stoxx Europe 600 Index rose 0.7% to the highest level since June 2008 as the German DAX index rallied 1.3% to a record high level.
Today (September 16) is International Ozone Day. This day offers the international community the opportunity to laud the achievements of the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer. Since 1987, the Protocol has worked to reduce the production and consumption of ozone-depleting substances (ODS), man-made industrial chemicals that damage the earth’s ozone layer.
Yet, as has become clear over the past few years, International Ozone Day is about more than just successful ozone layer protection. Given that many substances that deplete the ozone layer also have global warming potential (GWP), the transition to the use of substances with lower or no GWP has contributed important climate co-benefits over the years. As a result, the Protocol’s agenda has increasingly focused on cross-cutting themes linked with climate mitigation and energy efficiency. From both ozone and climate perspectives, the Protocol is widely recognized as a success.
The World Bank–China Montreal Protocol partnership is a testament to this success. Over the past two decades, it has phased-out more than 219,000 tons of ozone depleting substances from sectors as varied as refrigeration, air-conditioning, foam manufacturing, aerosol production, and fire extinguishing. Since these substances have GWP, the phase-out also avoided the equivalent of 885 million tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) or having the effect of taking 184 million cars off the roads.
"Losing power is felt physically, emotionally, in waves of sensation, in moments of acute distress. I know now that there are the odd moments of relief as the stress ekes away and the hard weight that felt like it was sitting uncomfortably between your shoulder blades slips off. It actually takes you some time to work out what your neck and shoulders are supposed to feel like.
I know too that you can feel you are fine but then suddenly someone’s words of comfort, or finding a memento at the back of the cupboard as you pack up, or even cracking jokes about old times, can bring forth a pain that hits you like a fist, pain so strong you feel it in your guts, your nerve endings.”
Julia Gillard, former Prime Minister of Australia who served from 2010-2013
As quoted in The Guardian, September 13, 2013, Julia Gillard: Losing power 'hits you like a fist' - exclusive
Most of us in the developed world don’t think twice about how we conduct our financial lives. Our paychecks appear automatically in our checking accounts; bills are paid with the tap of a few keys; we swipe our debit card and a barista hands us a cup of coffee. Simple. Convenient. Low cost. Digital. For people in the developing world, it’s another story. It’s much more complicated. It’s hardly ever convenient. And rarely digital.
I’m speaking at the Alliance for Financial Inclusion’s Global Policy Forum today to share the results of a new report from the Gates Foundation and McKinsey & Company, Fighting Poverty, Profitably: Transforming the economics of payments to build sustainable, inclusive financial systems, completed about payment systems around the world. We wanted to learn more about the costs associated with current payment systems and find ways to provide poor people in developing countries with affordable, efficient and secure ways to send and receive money.
The numbers are staggering. Almost one third of the populations of Algeria and Morocco are under the age of 15, with Tunisia following close behind. This ‘youth bulge’ is placing immense pressure on the education systems of the Maghreb.