As an upper-middle income country with a majority of its population living in cities, Malaysia is situated among the countries that prove urbanization is key to achieving high-income status. Asking “How can we benefit further from urbanization?” Malaysian policymakers have identified competitive cities as a game changer in the 11th Malaysia Plan. To this end, the World Bank has worked with the government to better understand issues of urbanization and formulate strategies for strengthening the role of cities through the report, “Achieving a System of Competitive Cities in Malaysia.”
While Malaysia’s cities feature strong growth, low poverty rates, and wide coverage of basic services and amenities, challenges still remain.
Its larger cities are characterized by urban sprawl, particularly in Kuala Lumpur, where population density is low for an Asian metropolis. This inefficient urban form results in high transport costs and negative environmental impacts. This is matched by low economic density, indicating Malaysia’s cities can do better in maximizing the economic benefits from urban agglomeration.
A second challenge hampering Malaysia’s cities is the highly centralized approach to urban management and service delivery, a system that impedes the local level, and obstructs service delivery and effective implementation of urban and spatial plans.
Third is a growing recognition of the importance of promoting social inclusion to ensure that the benefits of urbanization are widely shared.
Photo: Gennadiy Ratushenko / World Bank
My colleague Victoria and I had an opportunity recently to meet with students at the Tajik-Russian Slavonic University in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, as part of our research and preparation for a new report called Tajikistan Jobs Diagnostic: Strategic Framework for Jobs.
Curious to learn about their future professional ambitions, we asked one class of students how many of them would like to work in the private sector after they graduate. Only about 10% of the students raised their hands. We also asked them how many would like to work for the government. This time, around 20% raised their hands.
Several of the government’s recent economic initiatives have the potential to kick-start Thailand’s economy. To achieve the economic transformation it has been aspiring for, having a skilled workforce and much more strategic investments in research and development (R&D) will be important.
Following nearly four decades of impressive economic growth at 7.7 percent, the Thai economy has slowed sharply to 3.3 percent over the last decade from 2005-2015. At this rate of growth, it would take Thailand well over two decades to achieve high-income status.
A new World Bank report “Getting Back on Track: Reviving Growth and Securing Prosperity for All” cites that a main reason for the slowdown is a loss of competitiveness.
Today, other middle-income countries have caught up, while more advanced economies in the region have surged further ahead, particularly in technological readiness, higher education and training, innovation, financial market development, institutions, and business sophistication.
My visit to Lao PDR this week has convinced me that this nation is moving toward the right path to sustained economic growth, which could lead to less poverty and better lives for all of its people.
Over the past two decades, Lao PDR has made significant development progress. It is one of the fastest growing economies in East Asia, with GDP growth averaging 8 percent a year since 2000. Lao PDR also successfully met the Millennium Development Goal of reducing extreme poverty, based on its national poverty line, to below 24 percent by 2015 from 33.5 percent in 2002.
As I have witnessed during my trip, people are enjoying better living conditions, with improved access to water supply, sanitation, roads, and power. Indeed, Lao PDR’s electrification program is one of the most successful in the world, and more than 90 percent of households now have access to electricity. Lao PDR also has built 50 percent more road surfaces in the last decade, and two-thirds of all Lao villages are now connected by all-season roads.
What goes up must come down.
The end of the commodities boom is a wake-up call for Indonesia, as the reversal in economic transformation has adversely impacted employment growth in recent years. How can Indonesia continue to create jobs for its growing labor force?
Jobs in manufacturing and services offer a solution, as historical patterns of job creation have shown.
In the past 20 years (excluding the economic crisis of 1997-1999), manufacturing and services have been important sources of job creation, while employment in agriculture continues to decline. From 1990 to 2015, jobs in agriculture fell to 34% from 56% of all employment, while service sector work has surged to 53% from 34%, and manufacturing jobs have increased from 10% to 13%.
Geographically, the capital of Solomon Islands, Honiara, is a hilly city, a maze of ridges and valleys.
In front of me, concrete steps descend 30 meters down the face of a ridge, winding their way down in a gravity-defying manner; nothing else stands on the slope, it’s simply too steep.
The steps are part of a system of footpaths that link communities of thousands of people below to the main public road above.
Over the past 60 years as Honiara has developed, so too have informal settlements. These are often located at the bottom of steep valleys without basic services such as roads, water and electricity.
Today is the International Day of Persons with Disabilities.
In every society globally, unemployment rates for persons with disabilities are higher than for people without disabilities. The International Labor Organization reports that, in some Asia-Pacific countries, the unemployment rate of people living with disabilities is over 80%.
Myanmar is undergoing a historic transition. After decades of armed conflict and economic stagnation, the country is beginning to make important strides toward realizing its potential and the aspirations of its people.
Our engagement in Myanmar started more than 60 years ago when it became a member of the World Bank, soon after gaining independence from British rule.
Back in 1955, the Bank’s first economic report stated: “the lack of security remains a disrupting influence on the economic life of the country” while “the long term economic potentials are bright” on account of its moderate population growth and abundant natural resources. It also noted the importance of “encouraging private sector enterprise to improve the standard of living of the people”— these are topics that continue to resonate in today’s development discourse.
In the early 1950s, Myanmar’s GDP per-capita was comparable to that of Thailand, Korea, and Indonesia. Like others in the region, Myanmar was coming out from colonial rule and a period of struggle. Sixty years on, Myanmar has a per capita GDP just above $1,100, less than one third the average for ASEAN countries and one of the lowest in East Asia.
The good news is that Myanmar has begun the catch up process. Major political and economic reforms since 2011 have increased civil liberties, reduced armed conflict, and removed constraints to trade and private enterprise that long held back the economy.
I met Gilford Jirigani at a workshop in Port Moresby a few months ago. What struck me about him was his natural confidence and poise as he captured the audience’s attention - including mine-as he told us how one project changed his life. He went from being an unemployed kid, down and out and unclear about his life in the city, to eventually becoming one of the pioneers of a youth program aimed at increasing the employability of unemployed youth in Port Moresby in 2012.