In December 2014 and January 2015, I took a leave of absence from the World Bank to volunteer in a UNHCR refugee camp in Iraq.
Just a few months before, in October, I attended a TEDx talk (a shorter TED talk, under 18 minutes) on “Ending War for Ending Poverty,” here at the World Bank, where Reza Deghati, a well-known French-Iranian photographer, known as Reza, described his humanitarian work teaching photography to children affected by war. He had recently set up a photography school under a tent in Kawergosk, a camp for Syrian refugees in northern Iraq. After listening to him for only a few minutes, I knew I would be volunteering in that Syrian refugee camp as well.
Afghanistan is vulnerable to a number of natural hazards, including earthquakes, flooding, drought, landslides and avalanches, as well as hazards arising from human interaction. Among low income countries, Afghanistan is second only to Haiti in terms of the number of fatalities caused by natural disasters between 1980 and 2015. In the last few years, however, the Afghan Government has increasingly understood how the consequences of extreme weather events and disasters add to existing security risks. Severe and prolonged droughts, for instance, have increased food insecurity, causing on average $280 million in economic damage to agriculture each year. Natural disasters and climate-related shocks affect 59 percent of the population, concentrated in economically poorer regions, as opposed to security-related shocks (15 percent).
The availability of disaster risk information is particularly important for a fragile state like Afghanistan where 4 out of 5 people rely on natural resources for their livelihoods. To strengthen resilience, investments in Afghanistan need to incorporate information on natural hazards in their planning, design and implementation. To help support government efforts, the World Bank and the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR), in close cooperation with the Afghanistan National Disaster Management Authority (ANDMA), recently produced a comprehensive multi-hazard assessment level and risk profile, documenting information on current and future risk from fluvial and flash floods, droughts, landslides, snow avalanches and seismic hazards. The main findings, methodology and expected outcomes were recently discussed and presented to the Disaster Risk Management community of practice within the World Bank Group. A number of takeaways from the discussion are presented below:
What is Afghanistan’s risk profile and vulnerability?
Flooding is the most frequent natural hazard historically, causing average annual damage estimated at $54 million; large flood episodes can cause over $500 million in damage
Historically, earthquakes have caused the most fatalities, killing more than 10,000 people since 1980
3 million people are at risk from very high or high landslide hazard
Droughts have affected 6.5 million people since 2000; an extreme drought could cause an estimated $3 billion in agricultural losses, and lead to severe food shortages across the country;
An estimated 10,000 km of roads (15 percent of all roads) are exposed to avalanches, including key transport routes like the Salang Pass
As the world marks World Refugee Day on June 20, we must remember that it is not only the refugee crisis that is hampering development efforts in many countries. There is also a silent emerging crisis of people driven from their homes to another part of their own country, people known as internally displaced persons (IDPs). It is a growing issue that several countries are facing, with enormous social and political pressures to address.
In Afghanistan, there are an estimated 1.2 million people who are internally displaced because of insecurity or are being forced to leave their homes due to natural disasters. This is in addition to the nearly 6 million people who have returned to Afghanistan since 2002, making one in five Afghans a returnee. In 2016, more than 620,000 Afghans returned from Pakistan alone.
The massive influx of returnees and IDPs is placing tremendous pressure on Afghanistan’s already fragile social and economic infrastructure and is a threat to regional stability.
When I first took up my position as Country Director of the World Bank for Afghanistan, I was struck by the plight of returnees and IDPs and by how hard-pressed the Afghan government was in dealing with them. During my first days in office, back in November 2016, I visited a United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) center on the outskirts of Kabul. The center serves as the first entry point for returnees where they can receive assistance—including cash—and attend awareness and safety sessions to help them better integrate in their new communities.
In Afghanistan violence is a daily fact of life. The United Nations Assistance Mission to Afghanistan released their 2016 Annual Report on Protection of Civilians in Afghanistan in February, which documented 11,418 casualties in 2016, a 3% increase since 2015, including 3,498 deaths. Child casualties rose by almost a quarter (24%)—to 923 killed and 2,589 wounded. As a result, there are always lots of questions about how you deliver services in parts of the world like Afghanistan that are affected by ongoing, day to day violence.
Increasingly we live in a world where poverty and violence are deeply interconnected, and if we are to affect the former we have to deal with the latter. But both services and violence come in so many different forms that disentangling the relationship is tough. What works in one context may not work in another. It is too easy to say that nongovernmental organizations are best at delivering services in situations where state authority is contested, just as it may be false to suggest that state delivery of services is always likely to build state legitimacy in the eyes of citizens. The relationships between service delivery and violent conflict are more nuanced than this on the ground and require context-specific analyses that try to understand the nature of the political settlements around conflict, what drives violence and what is the nature of the bargains being struck by local and national elites that either allow or block service delivery.
Well, we have recently tried to do this in a new publication which has just come out, called “Social Service Delivery in Violent Contexts: Achieving Results Against the Odds”. The report tries to disentangle what works and what doesn’t based on research in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Nepal. It probes how social service delivery is affected by violent conflict and what the critical factors that make or break successful delivery are.
I am still shaken and saddened by the many lives lost to the attacks in Kabul two weeks ago and since then there has been more violence. As we grieve these tragedies, now is the time to stand strong with the people of Afghanistan and renew our commitment to build a peaceful and prosperous country.
To that end, we announced this week a new financing package of more than half-a-billion dollars to help Afghanistan through its struggle to end poverty, increase opportunity to help stabilize the country, and ensure all its citizens can access basic services during a time of economic uncertainty.
Afghanistan has come a long way since 2001 and achieved much progress under extremely challenging circumstances. Life expectancy has increased from 44 to 60 years, maternal mortality has decreased by more than three quarters and the country now boasts 18 million mobile phone subscribers, up from almost none in 2001.
Yet, the development needs in Afghanistan remain massive. Nearly 40 percent of Afghans live in poverty and almost 70 percent of the population are illiterate. The country needs to create new jobs for about 400,000 people entering the labor market each year. The situation is made more challenging by the return of around 5.8 million refugees and 1.2 million internally displaced people.
Our new support is in line with our belief that Afghanistan’s economic and social progress can also help it address security challenges. Our financing package meets the pressing needs of returning refugees, expands private-sector opportunities for the poor, boosts the development of five cities, expands electrification, improves food security, and builds rural roads.
Globally, there are over 98 mobile subscriptions per 100 people, so the chances are, you have a cell phone. Now look at your recent calls, both sent and received: Who do you call most often? Who calls you the most? Do you send, or receive more calls? All this is cell phone metadata: not the content of the calls, but ancillary information, the “who, where and when”.
It’s information that can reveal a lot about you. Your cellphone carrier already uses it to bill you, and may also be using it to target marketing or special offers at you. And with appropriate privacy protections, it can offer researchers a similar opportunity. In this week’s episode of Between 2 Geeks we ask how cellphone metadata (“call detail records”) can help researchers understand entire societies.
October 17 is End Poverty Day. Every day is a day to end poverty, but it helps to designate one day per year to reflect on this goal and how we can work to achieve it.
In Mongolia, poverty declined from 2010 to 2012, and again from 2012 to 2014. Since poverty rates very closely track overall economic growth, this is not surprising. Growth in labor incomes over the period helped reduce poverty, and this growth, in turn, was generated by increases in real wages in the non-agricultural sector and non-wage income in the agricultural sector. Mongolia’s fondness for universal social transfers also contributed: poverty rates fell from 38.8 percent in 2010 to 21.6 percent in 2014, based on the national poverty lines.
That was then, this is now.
Although the 2016 poverty level is not yet available, we can be sure that the economic downturn has not helped. Overall growth of GDP is projected to be only 0.1 percent for 2016, with production in the non-mining sector declining. And Mongolia’s pro-cyclical policies that funded social programs in the boom years now face opposite pressures. Social welfare programs that are categorically targeted and pro-cyclically funded are more difficult to scale up when times become difficult.
With a large and unsustainable budget deficit (projected to reach 18 percent of GDP for 2016), and with growing levels of debt, Mongolia has little choice but to focus on fiscal consolidation. Can they do so without hurting the most vulnerable people in society?
Half the world's extremely poor are children. New analysis from the World Bank and UNICEF finds that almost 385 million children were living in extreme poverty in 2013. 8 out of 10 of those children lived in just 20 countries. Read more in "Ending Extreme Poverty: A Focus on Children
In 2013, an estimated 767 million people were living under the international poverty line of US$1.90 a day. Even as the world's population has grown, the number of poor has gradually fallen. But in spite of this progress, with over 1 in 10 people considered poor, poverty remains unacceptably high. Read more in the new report on Poverty and Shared Prosperity
In the early 1990s and 2008, secessionist conflicts led to the internal displacement of 6 percent of Georgia’s population, making it one of the countries with highest incidences of internal displacement.
We tend to think that the displaced will be able to go home soon, but in reality, they remain displaced for years. A total of 246,974 men, women and children from the Georgian regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia are still unable to return, now living in the capital city of Tbilisi and in smaller urban and rural areas close to their regions of origin.
After more than 25 years since the first wave of displacement, Georgia’s internally displaced are a diverse group. Some live in independent private housing, are employed and have managed to provide good education to their children. Others continue to live in collective centers, are spatially and socially isolated from the rest of the population, and have been chronically poor and unemployed since they became displaced.
While meeting the immediate needs of the displaced is important at the outset, such changes over time suggest that we need to think differently about how better to support them in the long term.
One example is the monthly benefit of 45 Lari (approximately 20 USD) provided to all internally displaced citizens by the Georgian government, regardless of their levels of poverty or employment. Some of the country’s poor, who have not been displaced, have begun to question this benefit.
After all, why should someone who is not poor, receive such support?
Georgia’s displaced and non-displaced are equally likely to be poor. However, the displaced tend to rely on social transfers, remittances, and informal jobs, and are more likely to be unemployed for long periods of time. Those in rural area have significantly less information, opportunities for employment, or access to good quality education and services.
Those who still live in non-renovated, public collective centers experience inadequate living conditions. These households are often socially isolated, separated from friends and family and unable to form ties in uncertain housing conditions. Regardless of income, these households remain extremely vulnerable.
The displacement "status," – i.e., formal recognition of having been displaced from a conflict area – has a strong symbolic and political value among the entire Georgian population. To the displaced it signifies hope of returning to their homeland. To others it signals the state’s commitment to reintegrating the two occupied territories. For many – rich or poor – holding this status is a matter of dignity.
Research confirms the diverse economic and social situations of the displaced. It also recognizes the political difficulties of removing such a symbolically important benefit, or targeting it exclusively to the poor.
But given fiscal constraints in Georgia, providing benefits to those that do not necessarily need them is problematic in the long term. In this regard, the report supports the eventual phasing out of the benefit, already initiated by the Georgian government, while taking steps to help those in need, with the following recommendations:
Livelihoods support is essential especially for households at risk of falling into poverty, with activities that are tailored to the diverse needs of this population, their skills and location. Access to land for those in rural areas with agricultural skills, and access to finance and training for those who are entrepreneurial, are two activities that could work well with these groups.
Addressing housing conditions and supporting access to private housing is important. Currently, 80 percent of government assistance for the internally displaced goes for housing. These resources could gradually be reallocated towards livelihood assistance for the poorest.
The poorest households, eligible for social assistance, should be encouraged to apply to the Targeted Social Assistance program – the regular social assistance program for vulnerable Georgians.
It is perhaps most important to ensure that the population, both displaced and not, understands why these reforms are necessary. The time has come for an adjusted approach, so that scarce resources can be used more effectively to benefit those in need, especially the poor and vulnerable.