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Afghanistan

Afghanistan debt - when words get lost in translation

Paul Sisk's picture
Photo Credit: Rumi Consultancy/World Bank

 

One of the many successful fiscal initiatives implemented in Afghanistan was the HIPC, the Highly Indebted Poor Country program, a joint IMF–World Bank effort to reduce the public debt of poor countries. We called this the forgiveness of debt.
At an early stage in this work I had to meet with a senior Afghan government official to explain the program. The official, the Deputy Auditor General, was a dedicated, serious man who had trained in the former Soviet Union as an engineer and did not speak English, so we relied on an interpreter.

In those days any Afghan who spoke some English could find work as an interpreter, and ours was a medical doctor. He told me he was anxious to find work in his own field but in the meantime was willing to work anywhere, even interpreting in this arcane field of auditing, although he was unfamiliar with the jargon. The conversation was not to be long; just outline that the external public debt, which was mostly Russian debt from the communist era, would be absorbed by a trust fund and hence “forgiven” if Afghanistan met the program requirements – basically good fiscal transparency and discipline.

The fumble that may have saved his life

Alexander Ferguson's picture



Ahmad Sarmast may owe his life to a fumble with his cellphone. He bent down in his seat to pick up his mobile just as a suicide bomber detonated his charge behind him at a music and theatre performance at the Institut Français d’Afghanistan in Kabul.

The founder and director of the Afghanistan National Institute of Music survived the December blast that killed one and injured more than 10. Dr. Sarmast suffered perforated ear drums and shrapnel in the back of his head.  But the experience has not deterred him from his ambition of reviving and rebuilding Afghan musical traditions through establishing and leading the country's first dedicated music school.

“Music represents the right to self-expression of all the Afghan people,” he told me during a tour of the modest building in a suburb of Kabul where ANIM is housed.

girl playing piano

The institute’s young musicians, many of them former street vendors or orphans, have toured the world to showcase Afghan music and present a more positive face of the war-torn country. An ensemble played at the World Bank in 2013 and went on to perform amid great acclaim at the Kennedy Center and Carnegie Hall in New York.

Wanted! Your proposals on Regional Integration in South Asia

Sanjay Kathuria's picture
Wanted! Your proposals on Regional Integration in South Asia



Home to Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka, South Asia is one of the fastest growing regions in the world and yet one of the least integrated. Intra-regional trade accounts for only 5% of South Asia’s GDP, compared to 25% of East Asia’s. Meanwhile, with a population of 1.6 billion, South Asia hosts one of the largest untapped talent pools.

To encourage young researchers in the region who aspire to use their research to inform policy making, the World Bank Group calls for research proposals on South Asia regional integration. Proposals will be carefully reviewed and the most suitable proposals (no more than five overall) will be awarded with a grant based on criteria listed below. An experienced researcher from the World Bank’s research department or an external academic will mentor and guide the young researcher in the implementation of the research.[1]
 

Will South Asia make the most of cheap oil?

Markus Kitzmuller's picture

The world economy today presents itself as a diverse canvas full of challenges and opportunities. Advanced economies continue to struggle towards recovery, with the US on its way to tighten monetary policy as the economy picks up while a still weak Eurozone awaits quantitative easing to kick in. At the same time, plunging oil prices have set in motion significant real income shifts from exporters to importers of oil. Astonishingly, amidst all this turmoil, South Asia has emerged as the fastest growing region in the world over the second half of 2014. Led by a strong India, South Asia is set to further accelerate from 7 percent real growth in 2015 to 7.6 percent by 2017, leaving behind a slowing East Asia gradually landed in second spot by China.



While bolstered by record low inflation and strong external positions across the region, the biggest question yet to be addressed by policy makers in South Asia will be how to make the most of cheap oil.
All countries are net oil importers as well as large providers of fuel and related food subsidies, therefore bound to benefit from low oil prices. However, the biggest oil price dividend to be cashed in by South Asia is one yet to be earned, and not one that will automatically transit through government or consumer accounts. The current constellation of macroeconomic tailwinds provides a unique opportunity for policy makers to rationalize energy prices and to improve fiscal policy. Decoupling external oil prices from fiscal deficits may decrease vulnerability to future oil price hikes – something that may very well happen in the medium term. Furthermore, cheap oil offers a great opportunity to introduce carbon taxation and address the negative externalities from the use of fossil fuels.

The World Bank’s latest South Asia Economic Focus (April 2015) titled “Making the most of cheap oil” provides deeper insights regarding South Asia’s diverse policy challenges and opportunities stemming from cheap oil.
A first major realization is that the pass through from oil prices to domestic South Asian economies is as diverse as the countries themselves, thanks to a variety of different policy environments across countries and oil products. This is also reflected in recent dynamics, seeing India taking determined action towards rationalizing fuel and energy prices, even introducing a de facto carbon tax and beginning to reap fiscal and environmental benefits. Other countries have so far shown less or no enthusiasm towards reform, in spite of significant and/or increasing oil dependency (particularly in electricity generation, one of the region’s weak spots). 

Public spaces - not a “nice to have” but a basic need for cities

Sangmoo Kim's picture
The benefits of public spaces in the poorest parts of the world
Source: World Bank Staff

We often think of amenities such as quality streets, squares, waterfronts, public buildings, and other well-designed public spaces as luxury amenities for affluent communities. However, research increasingly suggests that they are even more critical to well-being of the poor and the development of their communities, who often do not have spacious homes and gardens to retreat to.

Living in a confined room without adequate space and sunlight increases the likelihood of health problems, restricts interaction and other productive activities. Public spaces are the living rooms, gardens and corridors of urban areas. They serve to extend small living spaces and providing areas for social interaction and economic activities, which improves the development and desirability of a community. This increases productivity and attracts human capital while providing an improved quality of life as highlighted in the upcoming Urbanization in South Asia report.

Despite their importance, public spaces are often poorly integrated or neglected in planning and urban development. However, more and more research suggests that investing in them can create prosperous, livable, and equitable cities in developing countries. UN-Habitat has studied the contribution of streets as public spaces on the prosperity of cities, which finds a correlation between expansive street grids and prosperity as well as developing a public space toolkit.

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