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FEATURE STORY December 18, 2017

Year in Review: 2017 in 12 Charts

© World Bank

© World Bank

By: Donna Barne and Tariq Khokhar

How to sum up 2017? The global economy improved but there were plenty of unsettling and upsetting events and trends. Catastrophic storms and flooding wrecked homes and livelihoods from South Asia to the Caribbean. Education quality in many countries fell short even as much of the world raced into the digital age. Yet extreme poverty continues to decline. Innovation and technology are enhancing the quality of life. And human capital is now the biggest driver of wealth in the world today. 

1. Millions faced famine and required emergency aid

— over 70% more than in 2015. Yemen is home to the largest food-insecure population — 17 million Yemenis don’t reliably have enough to eat, and over 3 million children, and pregnant and nursing women, are acutely malnourished. A complex mix of ongoing fragility and conflict, large-scale displacement, climate-change and natural resource degradation continues to intensify food insecurity for millions of people around the world. Food demand is projected to rise by at least 20 percent globally over the next 15 years.

2. The world emitted historic amounts of carbon

Heads of state and other leaders affirmed their commitments to fight climate change at the One Planet Summit in Paris on December 12, on the two-year anniversary of the Paris Agreement. Their calls for concrete action came as concentrations of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide reached their highest level in 800,000 years.  In the last three years, global emissions had leveled off, but they recently began to rise again.

3. Natural disasters dominated the news 

Record-breaking hurricanes, torrential monsoon rains, and historic flooding claimed lives and destroyed property in the Caribbean, South Asia, and the United States. In Sierra Leone and Colombia, hundreds died in mudslides after heavy rains. There are around 4-times as many natural disasters (when 10+ people are killed or 100+ affected) today than there were in the 1960s. 

But disasters affect people differently — poorer people suffer only a fraction of economic losses caused by disasters, but they bear the brunt of their consequences. The “Unbreakable” report argues that investing in people’s socioeconomic resilience is critical to breaking the cycle of disaster-induced poverty.

4. Two-thirds of global wealth is human capital

Wealth is the assets base that enables countries to generate income (GDP) and grow. Investing in people leads to greater wealth and faster economic growth.  It accounts for about 65% of global wealth. However, in low-income countries, only 41% of wealth is human capital. As countries grow, the share of human capital becomes more important. Among other challenges,  The forthcoming book "The Changing Wealth of Nations 2018: Building a Sustainable Future”, released in January 2018, explores these issues.

5. There’s a crisis in learning

Education is one of the greatest investments a society can make in its children — and in its human capital. But there’s a crisis in learning. The 2018 World Development Report finds that the quality and quantity of education vary widely within and across countries.  Hundreds of millions of children around the world are growing up without even the most basic life skills. A forthcoming study will look at the effects of education on economic mobility between generations. For example, about 12% of adults born in the 1980s in some low-income or fragile economies of Sub-Saharan Africa have more education than their parents, compared to more than 80% of the same generation in parts of East Asia.

6. Nutrition affects learning, and millions of children remain stunted

Before a child’s 6th birthday, the brain matures more rapidly than at any other time in life. Poor nutrition can have a profound, lifelong impact on a child’s learning, health and adult earnings. The number of children who are stunted has generally declined since 1990, but  Unless the trend is reversed, the region will not meet the global target of reducing stunting by 40% by 2025. And with the jobs of the future expected to demand new and more sophisticated skills, it's becoming more critical to invest early in people.

7. Child marriage carried high personal and economic costs

 A new report finds that marriage deeply affects child brides, their children, their family and even their countries. Girls married young are in turn: less likely to complete secondary school, more likely to give birth before they’re 18, have reduced future earnings, and are at greater risk of domestic violence. If child marriage were ended by 2030, the report finds that the gains in well-being for populations could reach more than $500 billion annually.

8. The world’s population is young. And jobless.

 In South Asia and Sub-­Saharan Africa the number of people ages 15–24 has been steadily rising, to 525 million in 2015 ­— ­almost half the global youth population. Jobs for young people are important for the social, economic, and political inclusion of individuals and new research finds that people are aspiring to earn higher incomes than before, as access to the internet increases. In Africa alone, home to 1.2 billion people, 226 million smartphones were connected to the internet at the end of 2015.

9. Natural capital and biodiversity are undervalued

Globally, over a billion people rely on forests for their livelihoods, and forests are valued at over $600 billion per year. Animal, plant and marine biodiversity comprise the "natural capital" that keeps our ecosystems functional and economies productive. But the world is experiencing a dramatic loss of biodiversity. Climate change, poaching, overfishing, and pollution come together with the degradation of forests, landscapes, and ecosystems to make habitats much more vulnerable. While 2017 did see the discovery of new species such as the Tapanuli Orangutan in Indonesia, according to the IUCN

10. Globally, about half of elections are considered free and fair

The majority of the world’s countries are governed by democratic regimes. Elections are one of the most well-established mechanisms available to citizens to strengthen accountability and responsiveness to their demands. The 2017 World Development Report on Governance finds that although they have become the most common mechanism to elect authorities around the world, elections are increasingly perceived as unfair.  According to the report, ordinary citizens and marginalized groups sometimes find political parties unwilling to represent and articulate their demands.

11. Starting a business is getting easier

A vibrant private sector leads to job creation which can transform countries and communities. The Doing Business project has recorded nearly 3,200 reforms in the business environment of 186 economies around the world. The area that's seen the greatest number of reforms is starting a business. Today, the time taken to start a new small or medium business averages 20 days worldwide, compared with 52 in 2003.

12. The power of renewables

Renewable power is transforming the global electricity system, with new capacity and investment values consistently outstripping performance in the fossil-fuel sector. In 2016, more than 160 gigawatts of solar, wind, hydropower, geothermal, and biomass capacity was built around the world — an investment of almost $297 billion.

A Tribute to Hans Rosling

© Brangelina Claswon/World Bank
© Brangelina Claswon/World Bank

Finally, we’d like to pay tribute to Professor Hans Rosling, who passed away in February this year. He was best known for his theatrical presentations that brought data to life with stories and visualizations, and which he hoped would change people’s mindsets and improve their understanding of the world.