Ten Pacific Island countries which are members of the World Bank have a population of about 2.3 million people, scattered across an area equivalent to 15% of the globe’s surface, with a development trajectory that will be shaped by their economic geography.
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HONIARA, February 28, 2014 – This week, I attended the G20 meetings in Australia, where I spoke repeatedly, and fervently, about the need to invest in infrastructure for job creation and economic grow... Show More +th. I was adamant that this is central to achieving the World Bank Group’s goals of ending extreme poverty and increasing shared prosperity.It is vital for emerging economies to realize their aspirations. It is vital for the mother who hopes that the water coming out of the pipe is clean - and available - so her children do not get sick; for the informal settlement dweller who wants his children to study but cannot afford an electricity bill; for farmers who need all weather roads and reliable shipping to get their goods to market.Just two days later, I was on a three hour flight to Solomon Islands, a beautiful tropical country of over half-a- million people, inhabiting 30 percent of its 1,000 islands, atolls and islets which are scattered across an immense, 1.34 million square kilometers of ocean. Given the unique challenges of its geography, perhaps no other country has a deeper need for reliable and high quality infrastructure. From air and marine transport links, to good roads, telecommunications and energy generation, all are needed for provision of reliable services, and to enable local businesses to grow and expand.Talking to the Solomon Islanders that I was privileged to meet, their stories have imparted the reality and the magnitude of the infrastructure issues that challenge growth and progress in their country.I heard that Solomon Islands has the lowest ratio of roads per square kilometers of land in the Pacific, and that only 16 percent of the country’s households have access to electricity, most of this powered by expensive imported diesel, and the majority of them are clustered in the capital, Honiara.Solomon Islands was ranked 97 out of 189 countries in last year’s joint IFC – World Bank Ease of Doing Business Index. The business people I spoke with told me that the cost of doing business is extremely high, and the price of energy is a huge part of this cost. The electricity tariff is US$0.90/kWh, one of the highest in the world.I’ve learned that shipping services to the most remote parts of the country are irregular and that the air transport system can be very unreliable. Limited infrastructure often results in the sudden cancellation of flights and boats, leaving passengers stranded for days out in the provinces, and people without goods and supplies.I also learned that Solomon Islands is one of the world’s most at risk countries from natural hazards – like earthquakes, tsunamis, cyclones and floods. This makes it absolutely crucial to consider disaster risk management in all infrastructure project designs. At the same time, with supportive infrastructure, it was clear to me that Solomon Islands has great potential to increase economic returns from its vast and un-spoilt fisheries and tourism, provide better services to its far flung population and engage more regularly with its neighbors.A lot of work has been done to improve critical roads, water and shipping infrastructure in Solomon Islands, with the support of donors like the Asian Development Bank, the Governments of Australia and Japan.We as the World Bank Group are proud to be providing assistance to the Government and the citizens of the Solomon Islands in this area. With other donors, we have facilitated regulatory reforms in the telecommunications sector to encourage competition, lower costs, and increase the use of mobile communications. In just four years, the number of Solomon Islanders with mobile phone access has increased from 11 percent to over 54 percent. This is a remarkable achievement.In the energy sector, the World Bank Group is supporting the Solomon Islands Electricity Authority with investments in generation and transmission lines, and breaking new ground in helping the Government develop a hydro power project that could bring transformational change to the lives of the people.As perhaps the largest development project in the country’s history, the Tina River Hydro Project could replace around 75 percent of the diesel-powered generation capacity on the Honiara grid with clean, renewable hydropower. This would considerably reduce the cost of electricity generation, bringing tremendous benefits to households, and provide a huge stimulus for the private sector. If a project of this magnitude is realized, it promises a profound impact on Solomon Islands’ ability to attract investment.There is no doubt that providing support for infrastructure in an environment such as Solomon Islands, as elsewhere is challenging, and evidence shows that investors in infrastructure are very sensitive to country risk. In this sense, it is the job of institutions such as the World Bank Group to assist governments to manage such risks, whether through enabling effective regulation and policy, through increased transparency, or risk sharing through instruments such as guarantees. I am excited to see many of these issues coming together in our collaboration with the Government in Solomon Islands. Of course, our efforts should not stop there. More than many other places I have been to, Solomon Islands demonstrates the need for innovative solutions and effective partnerships across private, government and donor agencies, in order to build effective infrastructure that reduces poverty, raises living standards for all, and helps this country to achieve its abundant potential. Bertrand Badré is World Bank Managing Director and Chief Financial Officer Show Less -
Pacific Island nations are living close to the edge, where the effects of climate change are tangible. With the planet today already 0.8 ºC warmer than in pre-industrial times, Pacific Islanders can s... Show More +ee and feel the impacts.In the Marshall Islands, the highest point above sea level in the atoll nation is only 3 meters. It is an appropriate venue for this week’s Pacific Islands Forum which focuses on: “Marshalling a Pacific Response to Climate Change”.In May this year, an unprecedented drought in the northern atolls of the Marshall Islands left many without enough food and water. In July, storm surges combined with king-tides washed over the seawall, flooding the capital city, washing over the airport runway, and contaminating limited freshwater supplies.In a very real sense, the Marshall Islands and the wider Pacific region are on the front line of climate change and more frequent natural hazards.As the recent World Bank global report, “Turn Down the Heat” warned, without ambitious climate action we could experience a 2ºC (3.6ºF) warmer world in our lifetime and 4ºC (7ºF) increase by the end of the century. A 4ºC temperature means the risk of sea levels rising from 50cm to 1 meter over the coming century, leading to the loss of freshwater reserves in many island states. Coral reef systems could become extinct, and low laying atolls face the risk of being submerged.Climate change could undermine future food security and have serious implications for people’s health. Natural hazards such as cyclones and tidal surges, which already cause loss of life and immense damage across the Pacific, may increase in intensity.In the face of this rising tide, failure to act on climate change risks putting prosperity out of reach of millions of people in the developing world; it also threatens to roll back decades of development.It is not too late to hold warming to 2ºC. But this will require commitment and decisive action from a range of global partners to reduce emissions.The World Bank Group is working with the global community to find and implement solutions, providing over $8 billion dollars in 2012 to help mitigate global temperature rises.Even if new policy measures manage to limit global warming to around 2 degrees by the end of the century, huge investments will still be needed to help countries adapt and to strengthen the resilience of the communities most at risk.At the Pacific Leaders Forum in Vanuatu in 2010, the World Bank was asked to do more to help Pacific countries adapt to the impact of climate change. We have acted. By the end of this year, the World Bank will have committed over $120 million to help Pacific Island Forum member countries adapt to climate change and build resilience to disasters. This includes $80 million in extra resources from global trust funds and from partners, as well as $40m from the International Development Association (IDA), the World Bank’s fund for the poorest.In Samoa, the World Bank is helping to “climate proof” key transport infrastructure, and we are working with the UN to build the resilience of coastal communities. We have also provided support for recovery from Tropical Cyclone Evan, helping to rebuild damaged roads and bridges and providing seeds, tools and livestock to affected farmers.In Vanuatu, we are partnering with the European Union to encourage farmers to introduce climate resilient livestock and crops, and implementing disaster risk management programs in some 35 communities. A tsunami warning system is being installed for Port Vila and Luganville and national hazard response systems are being strengthened.In Kiribati, with Australia and New Zealand, an Adaptation Project is helping the country improve water management, with initial improvements in the capital, South Tarawa, already increasing bulk water supply by 20 percent. It is also working with communities to build seawalls and has planted over 37,000 mangroves to protect coastlines.We are also working with countries to put in place regional insurance schemes that can help strengthen immediate responses to natural disasters.The leaders of the Pacific Island Forum will this week propose the Majuro Declaration for Climate Leadership, to galvanize a new wave of climate action. At this critical time in the history of the Pacific, it is essential the discussion goes beyond words and pledges and results in concrete actions and commitments, from all actors, to combat climate change. The World Bank Group stands ready to work with Pacific Island nations to meet this challenge.The children of the Pacific deserve our best efforts so they can grow up to live on the same soil as their parents and grandparents. Show Less -
Today is International Women’s Day, and a perfect time to reflect on why it is so important to promote gender equality in the Pacific. In the last decade: women’s voices are increasingly being heard a... Show More +nd more women are entering the formal workforce. And in the Pacific, political leadership has endorsed the Pacific Leaders Gender Equality Declaration, signaling all-important support for change. Nonetheless more needs to be done. Promoting gender equality is not simply an ethical move – it is an economic imperative. Holding back women hurts the economy. Excluding the agricultural sector, approximately twice as many men as women are in paid employment across the Pacific region. The World Bank's flagship World Development Report on Gender found that improving job opportunities for women could increase labor productivity by as much as 18 percent. Many Pacific women work as farmers, helping to grow, cultivate and sell crops that sustain local economies. Yet, a lack of training and access to finance prevents many of these business women from fulfilling their potential. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization, giving female farmers equal access to such resources could increase agricultural output by up to 2.5 to 4 percent, providing a huge boost to the rural economy. And it is not only the economy that wins when women earn a steady income. We know, from countless studies, that women prioritize school fees, the health of their families and more. As women earn more, we are likely to see better health and education outcomes, combined with increases in productivity. To lock in these gains, we must look at how we can encourage more women to join the workforce, starting from making the marketplace safer for women to sell their wares, all the way to offering them seats in the boardroom. We need to ensure that core industries, such as mining and fisheries in the Pacific, are providing the same job opportunities and working conditions for men and women alike. Importantly, we need to address the issue of rampant violence against Pacific women, who are six times more likely to be physically or sexually abused than women in the rest of the world. Professor Biman Prasad, Dean of the University of the South Pacific, estimates that domestic violence wipes out 6.6 percent of Fiji’s gross domestic product every year; other Pacific Island Countries are likely to face a similar cost. Putting a stop to such violence is key to creating greater prosperity for Pacific women and the economy in general. More support services need to be made available for survivors of violence as well as counseling for men and women. Governments need to enact new legislation that will be enforced by better-trained and equipped police and the judiciary. The Pacific Gender Equality Declaration, which commits leaders to implement specific national policy actions to progress gender equality, highlights the importance of improving women’s status at all levels of society. Governments, partners and women's movements across the region are showing their dedication to the cause, including Australia, which last year announced a record $320 million ten year initiative to help strengthen women’s roles as leaders, entrepeneurs, employees, consumers and stakeholders. We know collective efforts such as these pay off for women and the economy. In the African nation of Rwanda, where politicians agreed to increase female representation in government, women now make up 56 percent of parliament - giving it the highest number of women parliamentarians worldwide. And research from the Australian National University found that a six percent increase in female representation increases GDP by one percent, further illustrating that we need to celebrate and replicate strides like these.The World Bank and IFC are committed to working with our Pacific partners to build on this momentum so that we can achieve genuine change, help transform local and global markets, and create the opportunities for women to live more productive, and safer lives. Gavin Murray is Regional Manager for the Pacific region at the International Finance Corporation (IFC), the member of the World Bank Group focused exclusively on private sector development, and Franz Drees-Gross is Country Director for Papua New Guinea, Timor-Leste and the Pacific Islands at the World Bank. Working with governments to achieve gender equality is a priority for the World Bank Group as an integral part of its mission to alleviate poverty. Show Less -
November 25, 2012 - Today is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. Globally, 510 million women will be abused by a partner during their lifetime. This is more than ... Show More +the combined population of the United States, United Kingdom and Japan. Around the world, at least one in every ten women who have had a partner have been physically or sexually assaulted by their partner or someone they know during their lifetime. In Pacific countries, the rates are up to six times higher. This is staggering.Reducing gender-based violence is not only a moral imperative but also an economic necessity. Domestic violence has imposed a large economic cost on Pacific Island countries. Last year, Professor Biman Prasad, Dean from the University of the South Pacific, calculated that the cost of domestic violence to the Fijian economy was around 6.6 percent of GDP. One could imagine the economic costs to be similarly high in Pacific Island countries like Kiribati, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu, which have comparable rates of gender based violence. This human and economic cost is unaffordable.Domestic violence exacts a heavy toll on its victims and society - children, education, health, families, businesses all suffer. Children who have witnessed abuse are more likely to abuse in turn. Their education suffers. The violence also travels outside the home. A study from six countries in 2011 found that perpetrators of physical violence against their spouses are two to five times more likely to participate in violence outside the home. Some see domestic violence as a private matter. A matter to be resolved in the home. I believe this view needs to change. Domestic violence is a major development and policy challenge. It hampers progress. Concerted efforts, by governments, firms, non-government organizations and societies as a whole to reduce gender based violence will bring major benefits for all in the Pacific region. They can help reduce the suffering of millions of women; they can help reduce health care costs and increase women’s human capital and productivity. Recently the Pacific Women’s Network Against Violence Against Women met in Fiji, to discuss actions to address gender violence in region. Amongst other priorities, they called on Pacific governments to make and maintain budgetary commitments over the long term to implement legislation on violence against women and girls. This kind of investment, alongside sustained efforts to promote gender equality and protect Pacific women, will build a stronger and more resilient region. Simply put, this is the right thing to do, and it is also the smart thing to do. Show Less -
The Spring Festival travel season, or chunyun, is back and a total of 3.1 billion trips are expected during the 40-day peak season. It's understandable that for many it is hard to get a train ticket a... Show More +s China's railway system not only carries the largest and fastest growing volume of traffic of any major railway in the world, it also is by far the busiest. It carries nearly three times the volume of traffic on an average kilometer of rails as the US rail network, and about 10 times that of the European Union.Despite substantial investment since 1949, China's railway route length compared to its land area is still one-third that of the US and only one-sixth that of the EU. More strikingly, its route length per citizen is less than one-twelfth that of the US and one-seventh that of the EU. No wonder, China's rail network is used so heavily. Indeed, its capacity is effectively rationed on many routes, something that will be readily attested by many passengers waiting for seats and freight shippers unable to get all the wagons they would like.With such high utilization and growing traffic, China has no choice but to build new lines in its main inter-city corridors. The question is, whether the new lines should be built for traditional-speed or high-speed railways. Building high-speed railway normally costs more than building traditional rail infrastructure. But in China the incremental cost, usually considerable, is not prohibitive partly because most new lines are built on viaduct and through tunnels to minimize the use of land whether for traditional-speed or high-speed railways. Moreover, new lines built for traditional-speed trains only provide capacity, not better services, to meet the increasing competition from road and air transport. That's why nowhere in the world new inter-city rail lines are being built for traditional-speed trains.Internationally, high-speed trains have competed successfully with buses and planes as the mode of transport. The central and coastal regions of China have just about the most favorable demographic and geographic conditions for high-speed rail network to succeed, for it will connect 15 cities with populations of 3 million or more each and 50 cities with populations of more than 1 million.This pattern of inter-city journey is favorable for the railways. Also, rapidly growing personal disposable incomes will create demand for travel. This should augur well for the long-term economic viability of China's high-speed rail network, which just after four years can be compared to that of the French high-speed rail network in volume. With that said, many people doubt the rapid development of high-speed railway in China after the high-speed train accident in Wenzhou on July 23, 2011, which the State Administration of Work Safety in its December report blamed on technological as well as human failures. Much needs to be done and should be done to ensure that such an accident does not recur. Internationally, high-speed rail technology has an excellent safety record, and the fact that it is much safer that road transport is one of its big positives. Hence, the high-speed rail program with strengthened oversight should remain a critical component of China's land transport strategy.High-speed rail traffic will certainly continue to expand as the lines under construction are completed and networks joined. Besides, economic growth and rising incomes will ensure increasing long-term utilization.In the interim, any unused capacity can be filled through market-based pricing, allowing a wider spectrum of Chinese people to reap the benefits of high-speed railways. It will be attractive for trips that would otherwise be undertaken by road or air, and contribute to a safer and less carbon-intensive transport system.Finally, shifting passenger transport to the high-speed network will increase the capacity for rail freight on the traditional-speed rail network and relieve the pressure on the expressway system in the busiest corridors.The development of railways in China faces several challenges. First among them, as the Wenzhou accident showed, is of safety and reliability of the high-speed rail network. Second, it is important to establish a durable funding model which recognizes that infrastructure built to last and serve a century cannot start paying back during its first handful of years. To this end, the high-speed rail program should be consolidated into a "tighter" network covering priority routes with the highest returns, while making more effective use of long-term financing instruments.The author is China transport sector coordinator at World Bank Office, Beijing. Show Less -