Machine learning algorithms are excellent at answering “yes” or “no” questions. For example, they can scan huge datasets and correctly tell us: Does this credit card transaction look fraudulent? Is there a cat in this photo?
But it’s not only the simple questions – they can also tackle nuanced and complex questions.
Today, machine learning algorithms can detect over 100 types of cancerous tumors more reliably than a trained human eye. Given this impressive accuracy, we started to wonder: what could machine learning tell us about where people live? In cities that are expanding at breathtaking rates and are at risk from natural disasters, could it warn us that a family’s wall might collapse during an earthquake or rooftop blow away during a hurricane?
It is well established in the economic literature that it’s the rich who benefit from the lion’s share of energy subsidies. Yet, it is often the poor and vulnerable who protest loudly against these reforms. Why does this happen? What are we missing?
Starting this month, an estimated 9 million women will be able to get behind the wheel in Saudi Arabia after the historic announcement in September last year lifting the ban on women from driving. While international attention has often focused on the driving ban on women in Saudi Arabia, it has often missed the fact that women in several other countries are legally debarred from certain driving jobs. The World Bank’s recently released Women, Business and the Law 2018 report finds that 19 countries around the world legally restrict women from working in the transport sector in the same way as men.
This blog post was co-authored by Franz Drees-Gross, Director, Transport and ICT Global Practice, and Ede Ijjasz-Vasquez, Senior Director, Social, Urban, Rural and Resilience Global Practice.
Transport in its many forms – from tuk-tuks in Thailand to futuristic self-driving electric cars – is ubiquitous in the lives of everyone on the planet. For that reason, it is often taken for granted – unless we are caught in congestion, or more dramatically, if the water truck fails to arrive at a drought-stricken community in Africa.
It is easy to forget that transport is a crucial part of the global economy. Overall, countries invest between $1.4 to $2.1 trillion per year in transport infrastructure to meet the world’s demand for mobility and connectivity. Efficient transport systems move goods and services, connect people to economic opportunities, and enable access to essential services like healthcare and education. Transport is a fundamental enabler to achieving almost all the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and is crucial to meet the objectives under the Paris agreement of limiting global warming to less than 2°C by 2100, and make best efforts to limit warming to 1.5°C.
But all of this depends on well-functioning transport systems. With the effects of climate change, in many countries this assumption is becoming less of a given. The impact of extreme natural events on transport—itself a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions—often serve as an abrupt reminder of how central it is, both for urgent response needs such as evacuating people and getting emergency services where they are needed, but also for longer term economic recovery, often impaired by destroyed infrastructure and lost livelihoods. A country that loses its transport infrastructure cannot respond effectively to climate change impacts.
Hurricanes Irma and Maria recently devastated the Caribbean region. Infrastructure in Dominica was severely damaged and the country suffered a total loss of its annual agricultural production. The entire population of Barbuda had to be evacuated to Antigua and other islands. Estimates by the World Bank indicate that Irma caused damages equivalent to 14 percent of GDP for Antigua and Barbuda, and up to 200 percent of GDP for Dominica. The increasing frequency of hurricanes poses a threat to the economic development and wellbeing of 40 million people living in the region.
The World Bank and other development institutions acted quickly by offering support to assess damages and losses, respond to the disaster, and assist with recovery by delivering financial packages and supporting emergency operations. However, in the longer term, the focus is on building the resilience of these small island states to natural disasters.
Data: critical for responding to disasters, but also vulnerable to them
Systems of national statistics can provide critical information about the extent of a disaster, help guide recovery operations, and assess the preparedness of countries to future shocks. At the same time, the reliance of National Statistical Offices (NSOs) on local IT infrastructure makes them highly vulnerable to natural disasters. Computers, servers, and networks cannot operate without power; flooding and high humidity destroys hardware and storage media; looting and breaking into abandoned buildings puts sensitive information at the risk of falling into the wrong hands. Fortifying NSO buildings to withstand Category 5 hurricanes and enabling the offices to continue functioning afterwards is prohibitively expensive. Even if such structures were built, staffing would remain an issue, particularly if the entire population of the country was evacuated (as in case of Barbuda).
Cloud computing provides a very effective way to resolve that problem at a small fraction of the cost.
The first ever meeting of the Heads of Procurement of the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) took place on June 20-21 in Barbados with the dark storm clouds of Tropical Storm Bret as the backdrop. Fittingly, the discussion focused on how to create a common market for public procurement and to use procurement as a tool to better prepare for and respond to the natural disasters endemic to the region.
It has been almost four years since I first became involved with the regional public-private dialogue initiative, the Caribbean Growth Forum (CGF). In June 2012, I walked into the conference room at University of the West Indies, Mona Campus for the Launch of the first phase of the initiative and there was something electric in the air. It was new and fresh, but old fears lingered; was this to become 'just another regional talk-shop?'
Wide-eyed and optimistic I was determined that for my small part it wouldn't turn out that way.