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Since the UN’s High Level Panel announced its vision for the post-2015 development agenda in May, much debate has centered on the absence of a goal for inequality among the panel’s list of 15 proposed goals. Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, commenting on the goals in Jakarta last June, stressed that the principle of “no one left behind” was central to the panel’s vision, and that each of the U.N.’s goals focused on tackling inequality. The proposed education goals, in fact, include a commitment to ‘ensure every child, regardless of circumstance, completes primary education able to read, write and count well enough to meet minimum learning standards’.
"The fact that people listen to me, they don’t walk away, they rather gather around me. And the young people get very excited – that’s what attracts me the most. Young people are looking for things to do.”
- Muhammad Yunus, the founder and managing director of Grameen Bank, which pioneered microcredit, and a recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006.
- Muhammad Yunus
There is a broad consensus among the academics and policy makers that education is one of the most important policy instruments in promoting inclusive economic growth. For example, Stiglitz (2012, P. 275) notes "(O)pportunity is shaped, more than anything else, by access to education", and Rajan (2010, P.184) argues "..the best way of reducing unnecessary income inequality is to reduce the inequality in access to better human capital". A focus on building the human capital of the poor seems triply desirable: (i) it is the only asset that every poor person 'owns'; (ii) human capital is inalienable and thus less susceptible to expropriation, an important advantage in many developing countries suffering from a lack of rule of law; and (iii) returns to education are expected to increase over time with globalization because of skill-biased technological change. Recognizing this unique role of education, a large number of developing countries over the last few decades invested heavily in policies such as free universal schooling (at least at the primary level), scholarships for girls, free books, and mid-day meals. The basic assumption is that such policies would lessen the burden on poor families for educating their children, and thus help reduce educational and income inequality and improve the economic mobility of the children from poor families. However, this widely accepted policy view does not take into account the effects of corruption in schools in developing countries.
A recent EASIN Urban, Transport and DRM Community of Practice (CoP) meeting I attended in Seoul, South Korea was an eye opener in terms of the rapid urban development of the city of Seoul. Considered an East Asian tiger, manufacturing and an export-led economy have made Seoul a global city with neon skylines and the new focus of Asia’s technology boom. A presentation by Seoul Metropolitan Government (SMG), the agency responsible for the city’s urban planning, describes the city as a ‘strategic space for people to reside in since ancient times’. Nevertheless, the city and its urban identity have gone through various transformations – through the Japanese occupation (1910-1945) to restoration after the Korean war (1950-53) to industrialization (1960s-1970s) to development and globalization. In SMG’s words, Seoul is witnessing the ‘environmental and historical awakening as a world city’. Evidence of this was seen in sites I visited to the restored Cheonggyecheon stream and a former landfill converted to Haneul Park.
“Kefaya!” (“Enough!” in Arabic), was one of the main slogans in 2011 as people took to the streets and called for social justice. Although change has taken various forms across the region, the quest for social justice remains prevalent throughout.
One of the key ways to promote social justice is through better public services. As surveys suggest, social justice for citizens largely means equal access to quality public services such as healthcare and education.
I must admit to being notoriously bad with a mobile phone. I forget to take it with me, leave it in parks and cafés and have never migrated to a smart phone – a simple old Nokia handset is my trusty aide. And on my part this has probably contributed to some skepticism about the discussion of development and mobile phones – which can sometimes seem a little evangelical.
The World Bank has committed itself to twin goals: eliminating extreme poverty by 2030 and boosting shared prosperity, measured as the income of the bottom 40 percent in any given country. This recently inspired a post by Nancy Birdsall arguing that median income would be a better measure of shared prosperity, and another post by Lant Pritchett arguing that the extreme poverty goal is too narrow, which sparked comments by Martin Ravallion and others.
My view on those intriguing issues is that the train has already left the station. The question of what the goals are has been settled, and the question we are now pondering within the World Bank is what it means to “operationalize the goals.” We understand that projects should be prioritized in terms of how much they contribute to these goals. But how?
“They say this land will change next year”, Kallo said. We were standing on the edge of her barren land, just after a late monsoon down poor. Even when wet, I could see the land was useless, it looked very much like the sand dunes by the sea in my own country. Nothing grows on them except some long hard grass. Nobody could make a living off that land….
Kallo is a widow who also lost her elder brother and her son. She scrapes by on some manual labor she does, but her life is visibly tough, it shows in her face. She is not able to pay for school for her two children and struggles to make ends meet. “I do not know what it means, but they say the land will be better.” she insisted. “I will go to the meeting and get my registration card.”
The more the world urbanizes – and we’re forecast to be 70 percent urban-dwellers by 2050 – the more critical clean, efficient, safe transportation becomes. Access to better jobs, schools, and clinics gives the poor a ladder out of poverty and towards greater prosperity.
But transport as we know it today, with roads clogged with cars and trucks and fumes, is also a threat. We have inefficient supply chains, inefficient fuels, and a growing car culture, with all the congestion, lost productivity, and deadly crashes that brings. Urban air pollution exacerbated by vehicle traffic is blamed for an estimated 3 million deaths a year, according to the Global Burden of Disease report, and the black carbon it contains is contributing to climate change. The transport sector contributes 20 percent of all energy-related CO2 emissions, with emissions growing at about 1.7 percent a year since 2000, contributing to the growing threats posed by climate change.
To sum it up, much of today’s transport is unhealthy for people and planet.