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On shaky ground: Housing in Europe and Central Asia

Ashna Mathema's picture
Housing in ECA


















The social, political, and economic transition of countries across Eastern Europe, the Caucasus, and Central Asia over the last three decades has been a long and arduous process, and many challenges remain. Among them, an imminent concern is the seismic threat faced by certain housing typologies that are believed to have outlived their design lifespan, and suffer from serious deterioration and disinvestment.

Transitions and Time Lags: Understanding a Dispiriting but Temporary Phenomenon

Antonius Verheijen's picture


Having spent much of my working life working with and in countries in transition, it remains painful to watch the disillusionment that so often strikes people that had the courage to change a bad political situation, but then are forced to live through economic hardship. It is those that chose change that seem always to suffer most. But one source of hope is that, fortunately, this hasn’t stopped people from trying. This was true for Southern Europe in the late 1970s (though I was still in school at the time), Central and East European countries in the 1990s, several African countries in the 2000s and, as history has a knack for repeating itself, Tunisia today. 

What is so unique about the growth (or decline) of cities in Eastern Europe and Central Asia?

Ede Ijjasz-Vasquez's picture
How fast is your city growing? The answer may depend on where you live.

There are the booming megacities such as Tokyo, Mumbai, and Nairobi. Then there are cities that are declining in population, such as Detroit.

In Eastern Europe and Central Asia, where we recently conducted a study on urban growth trends, we found unique demographic patterns affecting the urbanization process in the region.

For example, the region has had fertility rates below replacement levels for more than two decades, and most countries in the region have negative net migration rates.

This signifies that the population of most countries in the region is either growing very slowly or declining, and in some countries urban population has started to decline.

What does this mean for cities?

With a smaller labor force at hand, cities in Eastern Europe and Central Asia are increasingly competing against one another to attract human capital.

Resulting from this competition, we find that most of the cities in the region are shrinking while population growth is increasingly concentrated in a few cities. Per our estimates, 61% of the region’s cities shrank between 2000 and 2010, losing on average 11% of their population.

This scale of city population decline is unprecedented.
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Can the rubble of history help shape today’s resilient cities?

David Sislen's picture

Also available in: Русский | Română | Türkçe

Ruins of the Church of Saint Paul, following the 1755 Lisbon earthquake. (Photo via Wikimedia Commons)
Ruins of the Church of Saint Paul, following the 1755 Lisbon earthquake. (Photo via Wikimedia Commons)



Did you know that, in 1755, Portugal suffered a catastrophic disaster so severe that it cast a long shadow over politics, religion, philosophy, and science?

During an All Saints’ Day mass in Lisbon in that fateful year, an 8.5-magnitude earthquake collapsed cathedrals, triggered a 20-foot tsunami, and sparked devastating fires that destroyed nearly 70% of the city’s 23,000 buildings.

The death toll was estimated between 10,000-50,000, leaving the center of a global empire in ruins, with losses equivalent to 32%-48% of Portugal's GDP at the time.

Never in the European history had a natural disaster received such international attention.

The “Great Lisbon Earthquake” had a resounding impact across Europe: Depictions of the earthquake in art and literature – the equivalent of today’s mass media – were reproduced for centuries and across several countries. Rousseau, influenced by the devastation, argued against large and dense cities in the wake of the disaster, while Immanuel Kant published three separate texts on the disaster, becoming one of the first thinkers to attempt to explain earthquakes by natural, rather than supernatural, causes.

In the years to follow, careful studies of the event would give rise to modern seismology.

In Bulgaria, giving Roma children equal opportunity starts with free preschool

Daphna Berman's picture
Eugenia enjoying a music lesson together with preschool children in the Bulgarian village of Litakovo. (Photo: Daniel Lekov / World Bank)

In Bulgaria, where just 15 percent of Roma children complete secondary school, Eugenia Volen, 42, knows only too well how hard her job is.  

What happens if you don’t pay your bill? Lessons from Central and Eastern Europe

Georgia Harley's picture


We all have regular bills to pay for the ubiquitous services we consume – whether they be for utilities (water, heating, electricity etc.), credit cards, memberships, or car payments.  But, not everyone pays.  

So why don’t people pay?  Why are some countries better at this than others?  And what can be done to improve systems for debt collection?

A mixed report: How Europe and Central Asian Countries performed in PISA

Cristian Aedo's picture
 Aigul Eshtaeva / World Bank
While more ECA program countries are participating in the PISA assessment of 15-year-old students' skills, education poverty in these countries has only slightly declined since 2000. (Photo: Aigul Eshtaeva / World Bank)

Recently, the OECD released the results for PISA 2015, an international assessment that measures the skills of 15-year-old students in applying their knowledge of science, reading, and mathematics to real-life problems. There is a sense of urgency to ensure that students have solid skills amidst modest economic growth and long-term demographic decline in Europe and Central Asia (ECA).

Economic marginalization of minorities: Do laws provide the needed protections?

Elaine R.E. Panter's picture

Never in recent history has anti-minorities rhetoric — anti-immigrants, anti-religious-minorities, anti-LGBTI — been so pronounced in so many countries around the world. Those groups, we are told, are the cause of our current economic crisis because they steal our jobs, fuel criminality and threaten our traditional way of living. And yet, the causes of our economic crisis are probably more nuanced, and initial research seems to suggest that more and not less social inclusion will help us overcome the instability of our times.

The exclusion of minorities from the labor force is becoming politically and economically unsustainable for many states that are struggling to retain their legitimacy and strengthen their competitive potential in an increasingly global marketplace. As a consequence, governments, international development agencies and academic institutions are now looking seriously at ways to develop policies that guarantee a more equal and sustainable form of economic development — development that addresses both short- and  long-term economic goals.

The World Bank’s Equality Project attempts to address this problem. The idea driving the project is that institutional measures that hamper the access of ethnic, religious and sexual minorities to the labor market and financial systems (such as legal and policy restrictions, or the absence of appropriate, positive nondiscrimination actions) directly affect their economic performance and, as a consequence, represent a cost for the economy: If a sizeable percentage of the population is not given the opportunity to acquire a high-quality education, a good job, secure housing, access to services, equal representation in decision-making institutions and protection from violence, human capital will be wasted, income inequality will grow and social unrest will ensue. The World Bank’s widely cited Inclusion Matters report puts it succinctly: “Social inclusion matters because exclusion is too costly. These costs are social, economic and political, and are often interrelated.”

The project collected and validated data on the legal framework of six pilot countries: Bulgaria, Mexico, Morocco, the Netherlands, Tanzania and Vietnam. The methodological approach of collecting cross-country comparable data according to key indicators yielded some general but interesting results, published in a research working paper in March 2017.

Why we need to talk about Roma inclusion

Ede Ijjasz-Vasquez's picture

The Roma are Europe’s largest ethnic minority group, and arguably the most discriminated-against one. Despite efforts to promote Roma inclusion over the last decades—including from the European Union institutions, governments, development organizations, and civil society organizations—a large share of the Roma remain poor, and have inadequate access to basic services.

The economic benefits of LGBTI inclusion

Georgia Harley's picture
Civil Rights Defenders/Photo: Vesna Lalic
Civil Rights Defenders/Photo: Vesna Lalic
Discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people is an all too familiar story. Members of this community are frequent targets of violence and other human rights abuses, and often face prejudice and hardship at work, in their communities, and at home.

Action is needed to address these problems and ensure that everyone – regardless of race, gender, age, sexual orientation, or gender identity - has an equal chance to live a healthy and prosperous life
This is not only the right thing to do, it also makes economic sense: a growing body of evidence indicates that discrimination against LGBTI people has a negative economic impact on society.

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