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What’s the latest systems research on the quality of governance?

Daniel Rogger's picture



Blog reader: “Dan! The government is one big system. Why didn’t your blog on the latest research on the quality of governance take this into account?”
Dan (Rogger): “Well, typically frontier papers in the field don’t frame their work as ‘modeling the system’ [which do?]  However, Martin Williams at the Blavatnik School of Government hosted a conference last week on ‘Systems of Public Service Delivery in Developing Countries’ that directly aims to discuss how research can take into account the systemic elements of governance.
 

The miracle of mangroves for coastal protection in numbers

Michael W. Beck's picture
© Ursula Meissner/The Nature Conservancy
© Ursula Meissner/The Nature Conservancy

The North Atlantic hurricane season officially opens June 1, and there are predictions that storms this year could be worse than average again. That would be bad since last year was the costliest year on record for coastal storms. Communities and countries across the Caribbean and SE USA were particularly hard hit. The need for resilient solutions to reduce these risks is paramount.

There has been growing though largely anecdotal evidence that mangroves and other coastal habitats can play important roles in defending coastlines. Nonetheless it has been difficult to convince most governments and businesses (e.g., insurance, hotels) to invest in these natural defenses in the absence of rigorous valuations of these benefits.

So in 2016 The Nature Conservancy teamed with the World Bank and scientists from the public, private and academic sectors to identify how to rigorously value the flood protection benefits from coastal habitats. In short, we recommended that we value this ecosystem service by adopting tools and from the engineering, risk and insurance sectors and following an Expected Damage Function (EDF) approach. This approach assesses the difference in flooding and flood damages with and without coastal habitats such as mangroves across the entire storm frequency distribution (e.g., 1-in-10, -25 and -100 year storms).

The transition to low-carbon buses in Mexico: It’s not (only) about the money

Alejandro Hoyos Guerrero's picture
Credit: Taís Policanti/WRI
Transitioning from diesel buses to cleaner technologies can significantly contribute to tackling air pollution in cities and reducing the carbon footprint of urban transport. As alternatives to diesel are getting more and more viable, many governments and development partners are encouraging bus operators to make the switch, mostly by offering financial incentives such as example 1 or example 2.

However, after promoting cleaner buses in Mexico for five years, we have seen firsthand that financial incentives alone are not enough. Specifically, there are three main obstacles that impede the expansion of cleaner bus fleets, and should be addressed appropriately.

New technologies and risk aversion

In general, private bus operators tend to be very risk averse when it comes to experimenting with new vehicle technologies. This is not exactly surprising: according to our own calculations from different projects in Latin America, variables related to vehicle performance—like fuel and maintenance—make up over 2/3 of costs over the life cycle of a conventional diesel bus. In that context, operators who are not familiar with the performance of new vehicle technologies can understandably perceive the transition to a cleaner fleet as a huge financial gamble.

A low-priced water reuse process that also delivers renewable energy in rural areas

Christian Borja-Vega's picture

What do Yucatan (Mexico), Michoacan (Mexico), Karur (India), and Jan Kempdorp (South Africa) have in common? These are all places with successful stories of implementing Anaerobic Digestion (AD) for wastewater treatment. But what is AD? What are the benefits?  

AD systems are installed for many different purposes, such as a waste treatment step, a means to reduce odours, a source of additional revenues, or a way to improve public image. The AD treats water and waste, reducing adverse environmental impacts. Through AD, two main by-products can be obtained: biogas—that can be used as a fuel, and sludge—that can be used as a soil amender for improve crops. These AD “by-products” are important in the context of mitigating the impacts of climate change, where environmental co-benefits come from efficient use of “by-products”. For instance, livestock enteric fermentation, livestock waste management, rice cultivation, and agricultural waste burning are all sources of methane emissions, representing between 7 and 10 percent of global methane emissions. AD not only treats water through an environmentally sustainable approach, but also contributes to produce high rates of methane for recovery and further utilization.

Source: The Global Partnership on Output-based Aid, 2015. Note Number 8. Biogas Support Program in Nepal.

Understanding Risk Forum 2018: How data and technology can save (hundreds of) billions of dollars from natural disasters

Ede Ijjasz-Vasquez's picture
 

Natural disasters made 2017 a very expensive year.
 
At $330 billion, last year’s global losses from disasters set a record. These economic losses were primarily a result of meteorological events, such as floods and hurricanes, which are increasing in frequency and intensity due to climate change. An increasing number of people are also exposed to tectonic risks, such as earthquakes and landslides, due to rapid urbanization.
 
But growing disaster losses aren’t inevitable. Policy changes, education, and good disaster risk management practices have been proven to reduce losses – and the foundation of all of them is accurate, reliable information about disaster risks.
 
Risk data informs resilience investments. It drives decision-making. And it’s the focus of the open, global community of disaster risk management experts and practitioners called Understanding Risk (UR), which is supported by the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR).
 
This year, the community will convene at the Understanding Risk Forum 2018 May 14–18 in Mexico City. The Forum will highlight best practices, facilitate nontraditional partnerships, and showcase the latest technical knowledge in disaster risk identification.



It’s a critical time for a discussion of disaster risk information. A new GFDRR report, Aftershocks: Remodeling the Past for a Resilient Future, concludes that if past disasters were to repeat in the same places today, the losses would be far greater. Aftershocks, which will be discussed at UR2018, explores what we can learn from historic disasters to anticipate similar future events and build resilience ahead of time.
 
The good news is that the past few years have seen a surge of new ways to get more accurate, more detailed information more quickly, more easily, and in more difficult contexts. We can now use social media to gather increasingly valuable information in the immediate aftermath of an event. Drones are increasingly capturing high-quality images, and machine learning for image recognition is already helping us produce more and better risk data all the time.
 
These emerging technologies, including artificial intelligence and machine learning, will be one of the major themes of this year’s UR Forum. To find out more about the UR Forum, and how you can get involved, watch the video blog and visit understandrisk.org.
 
And don’t forget to keep up with all the great ideas coming out of #UR2018 by following along on Twitter: @UnderstandRisk, @GFDRR, and @WBG_Cities.

“The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” – William Faulkner

Barbara Minguez Garcia's picture
Ponto-cho Alley, Kyoto. (Barbara Minguez Garcia / World Bank, 2016)
Ponto-cho Alley, Kyoto. (Barbara Minguez Garcia / World Bank, 2016)
 

Ponto-cho mapIt is 7:45 p.m. in Ponto-cho, the historic narrow alley at the core of the Japanese city of Kyoto. Close to the Kaburenjo Theater – where still today Geikos and Maikos (Kyoto Geishas) practice their dances and performances – the traditional adjoining buildings with restaurants and shops are full of guests. Local people, tourists, students… On this Saturday in mid-April, the warm weather brings a lot of people to the streets nearby.

At 7:46 p.m., a M 5.1 earthquake strikes. Seven seconds of swaying. It doesn’t cause major damage, but it is enough to spread panic among a group of tourists. Screams, shoving, confusion… drinks spill, candles fall, people rush.

At 7:49 p.m., the fire starts spreading through the old wooden structures, also threatening the historic theater. Access is difficult due to the narrow streets and panicking crowd.

What happens next?

It could be a fire in the Ponto-cho traditional alley. It could be an earthquake shaking the historic center of Kathmandu (Nepal), the archaeological site of Bagan (Myanmar), or the historic town of Amatrice (Italy). It could be Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines or Hurricane Irma in the Caribbean, blasting sites with rain, flooding, and gale-force winds.

Cultural heritage assets around the world are at risk. They are often vulnerable due to their age, as well as previous interventions and restorations made without disaster risk or overall site stability in mind. Heritage sites reflect legacies, traditions, and identities. With all this, they carry a large cultural and emotional value of what could be lost – certainly beyond the traditional calculus of economic losses.

In many cases, it is not possible or advisable to conduct reconstruction on cultural heritage sites post-disaster. Therefore, the essence and soul of a cultural heritage site is at risk of being lost forever, making preparedness and preservation even more critical.

How can we protect these special places and traditions from the threat of natural hazards?

Communicating volcanic risk: lava, eruptions and uncertainty

Jon Mikel Walton's picture
Volcán de Fuego in Guatemala, one of Central America’s most active volcanos, spews ash and lava flows in January 2018, just 70 kilometers west of Guatemala City. Image credit: NASA
Volcán de Fuego in Guatemala, one of Central America’s most active volcanos, spews ash and lava flows in January 2018, just 70 kilometers west of Guatemala City. Image credit: NASA

We live in an age of compounding uncertainty. The unpredictable impacts of climate change and the rapid urbanization of societies is increasing the complexity, difficulty, and necessity of making sound decisions when faced with numerous options. This uncertainty is acute with respect to natural disasters – for example, predicting hurricane intensity or locating the next big earthquake remain challenging tasks despite advances in science and monitoring tools.
 
The challenge of anticipating and communicating the risk of volcanic eruptions to communities requires complex decision-making. Ecuador’s Cotopaxi Volcano and Indonesia’s Mount Agung are recent examples where the warning signs were present (small earthquakes, increasing gas emissions, and more), yet an eruption came much later than expected. Volcanic eruptions are therefore a double-edged sword that often creates a decision-making dilemma. While signs of volcanic activity can provide adequate time for preparation and evacuation, the very same signs can also create conditions of extreme uncertainty, which can be exacerbated by piecemeal communication around eruption events.
 
So, what have we learned from recent experiences on the challenges of communicating volcanic risk? 

This International Women’s Day: let’s design infrastructure better

Caren Grown's picture


Photo: Carol Mitchell | Flickr Creative Commons

As the backbone of development, infrastructure provides vital support for the twin goals of poverty reduction and shared prosperity. Considering the different needs, roles, and responsibilities of men and women in infrastructure design makes the achievement of these goals more sustainable.

Women and men face constraints both as beneficiaries and producers of infrastructure services. For example, there can be inequitable access to roads, financing for electricity connections, or clean water. There are also inequities in the infrastructure business value chain: Do utilities have a balance of women and men on technical and leadership teams? Is there diversity on boards, with regulators or policy makers? Are women-owned firms in supply chains?

The invisible door: Three barriers limiting women’s access to work

Namita Datta's picture
Women’s labor force participation worldwide over the last two decades has stagnated, and women generally earn less than men. (Photo: Tom Perry / World Bank)
How can we Press For Progress —the theme of International Women's Day 2018— to improve women's opportunities at work? Despite progress on women’s health and education in the past few decades, the gender gap on access to jobs has remained a stubborn challenge.

How to attract and motivate passionate public service providers

David Evans's picture

In Gaile Parkin's novel Baking Cakes in Kigali, two women living in Kigali, Rwanda – Angel and Sophie – argue over the salary paid to a development worker: "Perhaps these big organisations needed to pay big salaries if they wanted to attract the right kind of people; but Sophie had said that they were the wrong kind of people if they would not do the work for less. Ultimately they had concluded that the desire to make the world a better place was not something that belonged in a person's pocket. No, it belonged in a person's heart."
 
It's not a leap to believe – like Angel and Sophie – that teachers should want to help students learn, health workers who want help people heal, and other workers in service delivery should want to deliver that service. But how do you attract and motivate those passionate public servants? Here is some recent research that sheds light on the topic.
 


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