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What El Niño teaches us about climate resilience

Francis Ghesquiere's picture
It was recorded by the Spanish conquistadors, and triggered famines that have been linked to China’s 1901 Boxer Rebellion and even the French revolution.

Named by Peruvian fishermen because of its tendency to appear around Christmastime, El Niño is the planet’s most large-scale and recurring mode of climate variability. Every 2-7 years, a slackening of trade winds that push sun-warmed water across the Pacific contributes to a rise in water temperature across large parts of the ocean. As the heat rises, a global pattern of weather changes ensues, triggering heat waves in many tropical regions and extreme drought or rainfall in others.

The fact that we are undergoing a major El Niño event should cause major concern and requires mobilization now. Already, eight provinces in the Philippines are in a state of emergency due to drought; rice farmers in Vietnam and Thailand have left fields unplanted due to weak rains; and 42,000 people have been displaced by floods in Somalia.

And this is before the event reaches its peak. Meteorologists see a 95% chance of the El Niño lasting into 2016, with its most extreme effects arriving between now and March. Coastal regions of Latin America are braced for major floods; India is dealing with a 14% deficit in the recent monsoon rains; and poor rainfalls could add to insecurity in several of Africa’s fragile states. Indeed, Berkeley Professor Soloman Hsiang has used historical data to demonstrate that the likelihood of new conflict outbreaks in tropical regions doubles from 3% to 6% in an El Niño year.

But despite its thousand-year history, the devastation associated with El Niño is not inevitable. Progress made by many other countries since the last major event, in 1997-98, shows that we can get a grip on its effect – and others caused by climate trends.

Social protection challenges in an urbanizing world - Part 1

Mohamad Al-Arief's picture
With 54 percent of the world’s population now living in urban areas, central and local governments around the globe are faced with both opportunities and challenges. This week, senior policymakers from 75 countries are gathering in Beijing for the 2015 South-South Learning Forum to discuss social protection challenges in an urbanizing world. Three ministers share their view on how this Forum provides an opportunity to extract lessons, learn from the emerging knowledge and capture practical innovations on meeting these challenges. 

Cities: The new frontier of social protection

Keith Hansen's picture
Also available in: 中文 | Español | Français
photo: Dominic Chavez/World Bank

​Consider this: By the time you had breakfast this morning, the world’s urban population grew by some 15,000 people. This number will increase to 180,000 people by the end of the day and to 1.3 million by the end of the week. On a planet with such a vast amount of space, this pace of urbanization is like crowding all of humanity into a country the size of France.

Cities are where most of the world’s population lives, where more and more of population growth will occur, and where most poverty will soon be located. 

But why do so many people choose cities? Poor people constantly pour into Rio de Janeiro and Nairobi and Mumbai in search of something better. The poorest people who come to cities from other places aren’t irrational or mistaken. They flock to urban areas because cities offer advantages they couldn’t find elsewhere.  The poverty rate among recent arrivals to big cities is higher than the poverty rate of long-term residents, which suggests that, over time, city dwellers’ fortunes can improve considerably.

Get smarter: A world of development data in your pocket!

Nagaraja Rao Harshadeep's picture
Many dinner conversations and friendly debates proceed in a data vacuum: “The problem is big… very big!” How big exactly? Most likely your friend has no idea. 

It is often said that we live in a new data age. Institutions such as the Bank, UN agencies, NASA, ESA, universities and others have deluged us with an overwhelming amount of new data obtained painstakingly from countries and surveys or observed by the increasing number of eyes in the sky. We have modern tools such as mobile phones that are more powerful than old mainframes I used to use in my university days. You can be in rural Malawi and still have access to decent 3G data networks.
Open data for sustainable development

The case for inclusive green growth

Sri Mulyani Indrawati's picture
Also available in: Español | Français | 中文 | العربية
Women fishers in Ghana. (Andrea Borgarello/World Bank - TerrAfrica)

Over the last 20 years, economic growth has helped to lift almost a billion people out of extreme poverty. But 1 billion people are still extremely poor. 1.1 billion live without electricity and 2.5 billion people without access to sanitation. For them, growth has not been inclusive enough.

In addition, growth has come at the expense of the environment. While environmental degradation affects everyone, the poor are more vulnerable to violent weather, floods, and a changing climate.

Development experts, policymakers, and institutions like the World Bank have learned a major lesson: If we want to succeed in ending poverty, growth needs to be inclusive and sustainable.

Crowding in Technical and Financial Resources in Support of Forest Landscapes

Paula Caballero's picture
Mexico butterflies by Curt Carnemark / World Bank ​As financing for development talks wrapped up last week in Addis, many conversations revolved around the “how much” as well as on the “how” of achieving universal sustainable and inclusive development in the post 2015 context. Work in the natural resources arena has valuable lessons to offer. 

There is a growing consensus that a new approach is needed to meet the financial needs of developing countries to ensure sustainable, inclusive and resilient growth paths. We all know that Official Development Assistance (ODA) finance is limited and cannot address the massive investment needs of countries. In addition to increased domestic resource mobilization, the more effective engagement of a variety of players, especially from private sector, NGOs, and philanthropic organizations, will be key to close the finance gap. 

In Ethiopia, a safety net program helps improve gender roles

Maniza Naqvi's picture

Abebech, a single mother of three, in Arsi Negelle district in Ethiopia heads out for another shift at the construction site for gully embankments, part of a public works program offered by the Government of Ethiopia to address food insecurity.
Ethiopia’s Productive Safety Net Program (PSNP) reaches an estimated 9 million people across the regions of Amhara, Oromiya, Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples Region, Tigray, Afar, Somali, Dire Dawa, and Harar.  Food or cash payments are provided to very poor households. Payments are made in return for community work known as ‘public works’ – with participants working on soil and water conservation, construction of schools, health posts, childcare centers and road building. The work is scheduled usually after harvest season to ensure food security and enough money to carry through seasonal food shortages.
Poor households in Ethiopia face a series of economic, social and environmental risks and vulnerabilities with risks often higher for women. While women help with farming and related work, they also receive unequal access to resources, financing, training, and are also more vulnerable to household-related shocks -- illness, death of household member, drought, flood, price shocks, job loss, loss or death of livestock.  Women in rural areas typically received poor education and are paid lower for the same type of work as their male counterparts.

Lessons on Forests from Brazil to Ethiopia and Mozambique

André Rodrigues de Aquino's picture
Photo by Andrea Aquino / World Bank​Can Ethiopia and Mozambique learn a lesson from Brazil on harnessing forests sustainably for economic growth?
Thanks to a recent knowledge exchange program, yes!
As we can all imagine, Africa’s lush greenery and planted forests offer huge potential but the sector’s expansion faces major barriers like access to land, lack of access to affordable long-term finance and weak prioritization of the sector.
Take Ethiopia, for example. About 66.5 million cubic meters of the country (46% of total wood-fuel demand) is subject to non-sustainable extraction from natural forest, wood- and scrublands, resulting in deforestation and land degradation. In Mozambique, charcoal is still produced from native forests, leading to immense pressure on natural resources, and way beyond its regeneration capacity. Both countries want to know how the forest sector can contribute to their national development plans and help grow their economies and reduce rural poverty, while being environmentally sustainable.
This topic is of even more importance as we celebrate the International Day of Forests on March 21, and helps us raise awareness on the need to preserve forests and use this natural wealth in a responsible and sustainable manner.

#BestOf2014: Six Popular Environmental Stories You Shouldn’t Miss

Andy Shuai Liu's picture
As we get ready to kick off the new year, let’s recount the voices and stories about how we can enhance the way we interact with our planet. From Ethiopia to Indonesia, we’ve seen our efforts improve lives and help incomes grow as countries and communities strive for greener landscapes, healthier oceans and cleaner air.
Take a look back at some of the most popular stories you may have missed in 2014:
1. Raising More Fish to Meet Rising DemandPhoto by Nathan Jones via Flickr CC BY-NC 2.0

Aquaculture is on the rise to help feed a growing population. New #Fish2030 report:

— World Bank (@WorldBank) February 6, 2014

Why We’re Making a Stand for Resilient Landscapes in Lima

Magda Lovei's picture
Photo by Andrea Borgarello / TerrAfrica, World Bank)​World leaders and land actors are in Lima this week to help advance climate action. Climate resilience—including the resilience of African landscapes—will be at center of the agenda as they define the role of sustainable, resilient landscapes for a new development agenda.
Why should the world—and Africa in particular—care about resilience?
The importance of resilience as an imperative for development is nowhere as obvious as in Africa. Fragile natural resources—at the core of livelihoods and economic opportunities—are under increasing pressure from unsustainable use, population pressure, and the impacts of climate change.
Sustainable development will only be possible in Africa if natural resources are valued and protected. It will only be possible if their resilience to shocks such as climate change is improved. ​Resilient landscapes—where natural resources and biodiversity thrive in interconnected ecosystems that can adapt to change and protect people from losses—are important to the work of ending poverty and boosting prosperity.