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Africa and the World Bank: Why it’s Not Too Late

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African countries are in a developmental conundrum; they have seen economic reversals in the wake (and arguably because) of the World Bank and yet African countries, at least for the foreseeable future, need the World Bank – owing to a paucity of alternative lenders in the present. In its assessment of the outcomes of World Bank involvement in Africa’s development, this paper emerges with a mixed picture.

While the institution’s policy prescriptions saw large-scale failure in the form of cumulative debt, GDP declines and impoverishment in many African countries (for example Liberia, Nigeria, the DRC/Zaire and many others), it also succeeded in some (the two success stories often touted are Ghana and Uganda). But it would also be illegitimate to pin the failures purely on the World Bank. Ultimately, there are states – for example the DRC/Zaire, the Central African Republic/Empire of the 1980s, among others – wherein substituting the funder, and even removing the structural adjustments (which were not even wholly applied in some countries) would not have resulted in a less bleak picture. Indeed that they needed to go to the World Bank in the first place is proof enough that the countries in the region were mired in economic problems that preceded involvement with the institution.

Thus this article concludes that the World Bank has hitherto hampered development in Africa; but with the help, in many instances, of African leaders, who fostered unreceptive neopatrimonial environments and mismanaged the loans, at the expense of African citizens. Ultimately, however, it is not too late as there is nothing in this setting which does not lend itself to reversal.

‘Accelerated Growth’, Structural Adjustments, and Lost Decades: The World Bank and African Underdevelopment, 1979-Present

Despite remarkable performance in the 1960s, African economic development slowed down in the 1970s and stagnated in the 1980s, Africa’s so-called lost decade. In turn, the African states’ attempts to reinvigorate economic growth through state-led investments and import substitution industrialisation strategies were unsuccessful. And then, unable to raise funds locally, shunned by commercial banks abroad, African states opted for rescue by the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. In effect, Western donor institutions took over as Africa’s bankers. Thus Senegal in 1979 became the first African state to obtain a loan from the World Bank predicated on structural adjustment programmes (SAPs). Soon, others followed suit. Despite their desires, and domestic pressures (interestingly, this was not always the case; as in Dar es Salaam there was virtually no opposition to austerity measures because some 90% of the population had been living off the private, informal market), to do otherwise, by 1980 some thirty-six African governments signed up; many were either on the verge of, or beyond, bankruptcy.

These structural adjustments, today so synonymous with the World Bank, included currency devaluation, elimination of subsidies, market liberalisation through removal of tariffs and quotas, decreased government spending, privatisation, low regulation of foreign enterprises and raising of agricultural prices that had been artificially kept down by governments. The idea had been to enact a series of radical economic reforms to shift African states from the state-centred approach (which had once been lauded even by the west) of the 1960s, and to give the markets a bigger role. Echoing the language of Ronald Reagan, then recently elected President of the United States, the appointer of the successive World Bank presidents, government was no longer to be looked to as the solution to economic problems, government was deemed to be the very cause of these problems.

Because of their emphasis on expenditure cuts, public support for infrastructure, education, social services, as well as for research and extension, while not attaining reciprocal agreements from the corresponding western states, these sectors suffered and rural areas, with their high proportion of poor people, were particularly hard hit. Stein argues that SAPs, as promoted by the bank as a result of their neoclassical roots, were basically a-institutional and therefore ill-equipped to promote market and institutional development in Africa. The outcomes of this were immediate and prolonged. For many scholars, the spread of the Ebola virus in West Africa in 2014 was as a result of the neoliberal orthodoxy imposed on Liberia in the 1980s which championed rolling back expenditure on, and privatisation of, health services under direction from the Berg Report, Accelerated Growth, prepared under the auspices of the World Bank. The outcome, in a situation where there was a lack of state capacity with regards to health services (precisely due to the World Bank’s directives) and no will on the part of the private interests to invest in a “clientele” which could not afford the treatment, was the transnational proliferation of what could have been a containable outbreak. Less severely, Tanzania’s medical and educational systems had ceased to function in all but name with school enrolment down from 98% (in 1981) to 76% in 1988.

Further, between 1991 and 1995, Africa’s annual real per capita GDP growth averaged at 0% for all Enhanced Structural Adjustment Facility (the below market price lending facility that funds poor states in exchange for the adoption of World Bank-directed structural adjustments) countries, whereas non-ESAF developing countries experienced, on average, 1.0% annual real per capita GDP growth. Far worse was the fact that between 1991 and 1995, sub-Saharan African countries which had adopted ESAF programs experienced an average annual 0.3% decline in terms of per capita incomes over the period of adjustment. The shrinkage is also attributable to the decline in purchasing due to World Bank-mandated structural adjustments which necessitated austerity and currency devaluation.

And in 1996, the World Bank, in response to demands for action to address the external debt crisis of poor countries, ushered in the Highly Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) initiative. More than 80% of the countries identified by HIPC as needing debt relief were African. But the debt relief would come, in a familiar way, with conditions attached; in order to qualify for debt relief under HIPC, countries had to participate in structural adjustment programs. The HIPC program has been criticised for providing too little actual debt relief and providing it too slowly while at the same time opening up African markets to Western corporations with whom they could not yet compete due to the infancy of their own markets.

To the extent that SAPs failed to promote growth, no improvement in poverty can be expected from growth effects. The impact on poverty and food security arising from the shifting of relative agricultural prices has been mixed, but in general in Nigeria, South Africa, Kenya and Egypt, for example, the winners have been net surplus producers of agricultural products among rural households, particularly those with export crops, while the losers have been net consuming poor households and the urban poor.

What of Africa’s Leaders?

It is not only the conditionality which determine the success of World Bank involvement in Africa, but also the conditions under which these are introduced; national leadership being the key one since the loans are granted to states and not private entities.

One of the few leaders to actually implement structural adjustment was Jerry Rawlings of Ghana in the 1980s and 1990s. Coming into power through a coup in 1982, he embarked on a wholesale reform, accepting market disciplines and a reduced role of the state. He increased cocoa prices, he devalued the Ghanaian cedi, import-licensing systems were abolished, and about 60,000 public sector employees were retrenched, and Ghana’s prized Ashanti Goldfields was privatised. Despite doubling of debt between 1983 to 1988, in that period, cocoa exports increased in just three years from 155,00 to 220,000 by 1986. Equally significant, food per capita rose, and inflation fell from 123% to 40% between 1983 and 1990; increasing the Ghanaians’ buying power. Similarly, Uganda through PRSP policies reduced its GDP-debt ratio from 58.3% in 1999 to 2.1% in 2009.

Even these so-called miracles, in any case 2 out of 54 African states, have been lacklustre and are disappointing on the whole – Ghana’s GDP in 1998 was still 17% less than its 1970 levels, and Uganda’s low debt has been due to donations. And some question whether these results have clearly been linked to SAP-related macroeconomic policies. Yet, it is probable that Ghana’s GDP would be even worse without the role of the World Bank, and in a more corrupt country – such as in post-Nyerere Tanzania cited above where bribery and corruption were rife – the donations and loans received by Uganda to reduce its debt-to-GDP ratio could have been imprudently managed and not made a difference.

The issue of whether the overall disappointing performance of SAPs in Africa is due to incomplete and “half-hearted implementation”, inappropriate policy components of the SAPs, or adverse external factors lies at the heart of the debate. A review of the available studies suggests that in most cases a combination of these three factors was at work – Africa has over 50 states after all. It is certainly true that there was incomplete, half-hearted, and “stop-and-go” implementation, that there were deficiencies in the sequencing of measures, lack of coordination of policies and inappropriate policy design, and that the markets for primary products, Africa’s main export, deteriorated in the 1980s and 1990s but it is clear that the failures were in large part due to World Bank failure in vetting the countries to be granted loans, and inabilities to affect penalties for mismanagement of funds. Qualification for loans, in other words, should have been predicated on more than just a state being a Western ally during the Cold War, or the anti-terror ally today. And here lies the problem, neopatrimonialism, in such places as the former Zaire, CAR, Nigeria, Malawi and numerous others, ensured that the funds were misused, and yet the World Bank failed to recognise this, or when it did, it did not hinder it from continuing to give the loans – which in turn went into “white elephant” projects. Indeed, a shadow review by ActionAid concluded that the Bank does not have an effective plan for ensuring accountability even in the wake of the Operation Policy and Country Services unit.

Where to From Here?

In at least two African countries, the World Bank has been a facilitator of development; and in those countries where there has been debt and negative growth in spite of World Bank presence, it is still possible that matters would be even worse in its absence, as it has been one of few institutions willing and able to make concessional loans. Furthermore, World Bank granting of loans has been found to positively increase attractiveness of receptor states in the short run and causes other funders to be more willing to make investments. SAPs during periods of falling growth or no growth appear to reinforce underlying expectations for the future; they are associated with positive expectations.

And to conclude, it has to be noted that essentially, the failures of the World Bank in the continent have also come about as a result of the World Bank’s own internal structural inconsistencies as well as an unreceptive climate within countries. For example, some scholars have argued that the content of PRSP, its ideological underpinnings, and the global context in which it is situated seem to involve contradictory impulses for national ownership, governance and poverty reduction in Africa.  We may go so far as to say that the institution is essentially a paradox; it is a neoliberal institution, and yet is itself state-owned – and therefore prone to serving national interests – and, moreover, despite its profession of market-orientation, it is a lender to governments as opposed to private entities; and thereby buys out of key classical liberal truisms such as competition and room for incentives. Equally pertinent, African countries themselves need to own up the other end of the equation because they are the recipients of the funds. In the wake of the 1990s Asian crisis and recovery through World Bank assistance (especially in the case of South Korea which managed to pay back its loan ahead of schedule), it is clear that the bank can be a partner for recovery and growth provided there is prudent assimilation of these funds. But before these funds can be granted, there ought to be a revisiting of the process so as to ensure the loans do not end up in imprudent hands in the first place. Perhaps then, and only then, the World Bank can continue to facilitate development on the continent. Wedded into this is the responsibility of not only African but World Bank leaders to make the bank more responsive – something which previous presidents such as James Wolfensohn and incumbent Jim Yong Kim began to grasp in their various “listening tours” around prospective recipient states.

Bhaso Ndzendze is the Research Director at the University of Johannesburg-Nanjing Tech University Centre for Africa-China Studies (CACS). His research interests include international economics, security studies, and International Relations methodology and he has taught and written on Africa-China relations, the politics of the Middle East, soft power, and the war on terror among other topics at the University of the Witwatersrand. His work has appeared in numerous journals and in the popular press including Business Day, Mail and Guardian, The Sunday Independent and The Mercury among others. His most recent publication is the Beginner’s Dictionary of Contemporary International Relations.

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Sudan Normalize Ties with Israel: A “New Stab in the Back” For the Palestinians?

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President Donald J. Trump participates in a phone call with Sudanese Chairman of the Sovereignty Council Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, to discuss Sudan’s historic progress towards democracy with its recognition of Israel and opportunities to advance peace in the region Friday, Oct. 23, 2020, in the Oval Office of the White House. (Official White House Photo Tia Dufour)

Less than three months President Donald J. Trump has brokered a peace agreement between Arab-Muslim nation and Israel. Sudan have confirmed will normalize relations with Israel, ending decades of fierce hostility, through mediation by the United States (US). The normalization plan was announced after talks between the Prime Minister (PM) of Sudan, Abdalla Hamdok, with US President Donald Trump and Prime Minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu on October 23, 2020.

Sudan become the fifth Arab country to normalize relations with Israel. It is known that Egypt, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and Bahrain have previously reached a peace agreement with Israel. The expansion of the Abraham Accords to include Sudan relations with Israel is a significant step that will further enhance Israel’s security and create opportunities for the Arab nation and Israel to deepen their economic ties and improve the lives of their people.

Since 1948, when the Arab nation start the war that birthed Israel, Israel’s relationship with Sudan has been difficult. Moreover, when Omar al-Bashir’s regime was hosting Osama bin Laden in Khartoum, The US put Sudan as one of the lists of state sponsors in 1993. In 2009, Sudan’s ties with Iran were seen by Israel as a means for Hamas, in the Gaza Strip, to receive arms from Iranian militias. As recently as 2012, Israel was blamed by Sudan for bombing a weapons factory in Yarmouk.

Normalization with Israel as One of the Efforts for Sudan Economic Recovery After Planned US Terror Delisting

A ties normalization deal with Israel could be an opportunity for Sudan’s economic recovery post-US terror delisting. Sudanese officials were expected to meet with U.S. representatives and discuss two major concerns – a peace deal with Israel and Sudan’s removal from a US list of state sponsors of terrorism.

Trump has informed Congress of his intent to formally rescind Sudan’s designation as a State Sponsor of Terrorism, in fulfillment of this agreement, Sudan have to transfer $335 million into an escrow account for these victims and their families. The governor of the Sudan Central Bank, Mohammed al-Fatih Zainelabidine, told a press conference that the authorities agreed to pay compensation of US $ 335 million for victims of the 1998 bombings of the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. The bomb attacks were carried out by the Al-Qaeda network while the late Osama bin Laden was living in Sudan.

Sudan’s entry into the list has presented obstacles to seek debt relief and foreign loans from International Monetary such as World Bank and IMF. The impact of the US list of state sponsors of terrorism, given a near isolation from the international community, thus all Sudan needs to remove from the list. Since listed by the US, Sudan has been dealing with a deteriorating economic crisis for years. In September 2020, Sudan’s inflation hit almost 170 percent, which coincided with the pandemic. The US naming of Sudan as one of the sponsors for terrorism has been a nightmare for the country’s longtime economic woes, as foreign investment in Sudan and its trade with other countries have been largely restricted. Thus, removing Sudan from the list of countries sponsoring terrorism will pave the way for the country’s reintegration into the global economy after being isolated for nearly three decades.

Removing from the US list of state sponsors of terrorism will not be enough unless Sudan implements very serious socio-economic reforms. Even if Sudan gets what it wants such as financial assistance, Sudan cannot solely rely on external relief to get out of its economic quagmire. Thus, Sudan’s decision to normalize with Israel was a big step to get out of its economic crisis. Different cases from the UAE and Bahrain’s rapprochement with Israel is a mutual hostility towards Iran, Sudan, which does not share their regional concerns, is to make the normalization deal as one of the efforts for Sudan economic recovery post-Sudan’s removal from a US list of state sponsors of terrorism.

According to the World Bank Report, that emphasizes the need for a sectoral focus, as agriculture is expected to pay a bigger role in Sudan’s economy in the foreseeable future in the absence of dominant resource-based exports. By Increasing agriculture productivity through a set of policy changes in the areas of centralized markets, subsidies, and the promotion of fertilizer usage. In addition, the both of Sudan and Israel agreed to begin economic and trade relations, with an initial focus on agriculture as well as in agriculture technology, aviation, migration issues, and other areas for the benefit of the two countries. Agriculture plays a crucial role in the economy of developing countries and provides the main source of food, income, and employment to their rural populations. Thus, it will help for Sudan’s economic recovery post Sudan’s removal from a US list of state sponsors of terrorism.

Iran and Palestine’s Response to Normalization of Relations between Sudan and Israel

Palestine rejects and strongly condemns the plan to normalize relations between Sudan and Israel which is mediated by the US. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas stated that Palestine rejects the agreement to normalize relations with the Israeli occupation state that seizes Palestinian land. Meanwhile, Hamas also stated that Sudan’s actions to normalize relations with Israel could harm the Palestinian people and their struggle, and even endanger Sudan’s national interests. Previously, Palestinians also conveyed their rejection and criticism of the agreement to normalize relations between the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Bahrain with Israel. The peace agreement between the UAE, Bahrain and Israel signed in Washington DC, last month was described by the Palestinians as “treason“.

Iran Foreign Ministry describes the US proposal to Sudan as “shameful” and described a U.S.-brokered Sudan-Israel deal to normalize ties as “phoney” Sudan relations with Iran is actually complicated, after the storming of the Saudi Arabian Embassy in Tehran and its consulate in Mashhad in 2016, Sudan was cutting diplomatic ties with Iran.

After Sudan, which country does Trump expect to have a relationship with Israel?

President of the United States (US), Donald Trump, hopes that Saudi Arabia will soon establish ties with Israel. President Trump has at least five countries that want to normalization the deal with Israel. Although Trump did not mention any other countries, there is some speculation about Oman and Mauritania are among the other countries in the region that have been tipped to normalize ties. The United States will continue to stand with the people of the region as they work to build a brighter, more hopeful future.

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Used vehicles get a second life in Africa – but at what cost?

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John Mwangi’s 22-year-old car is his lifeline. His run-down Toyota saloon not only ferries him around the streets of the traffic-congested Kenyan capital, Nairobi, but is also his main source of revenue.

Resting against its open boot, surrounded by fresh pumpkins, sweet potatoes and other vegetables, a smiling Mwangi, 34, explained how it has transformed his life. Thanks to this unlikely saviour, he is now a trader, shopkeeper and entrepreneur.

“I have changed to a career as a businessman. I use my car to sell foodstuffs. I go to the village, buy food and then I come here and sell it,” he said, gesturing around a market in Nairobi.

Mwangi is not alone. Across Africa, and much of the developing world, used cars, minibuses and vans imported from abroad are changing people’s lives. But they come with a high and growing global price tag.

Entitled Used Vehicles and the Environment: A Global Overview of Used Light-Duty Vehicles – Flow, Scale and Regulation, the report details how the global fleet of light-duty vehicles will double by 2050. Some 90 per cent of this growth will take place in low- and middle-income countries. Of the 146 countries studied in the UNEP report, about two-thirds have “weak” or “very weak” policies regulating the import of used vehicles. Many of the imported vehicles would not be allowed to circulate on the roads of exporting countries.

“Countries have to stop exporting vehicles that are no longer roadworthy, and fail environment and safety inspections while importing countries must adopt up-to-date regulations,” said Rob de Jong, report author and Head of Transport at UNEP.

Vehicle emissions are a prime source of small particulates and nitrogen oxides, which cause urban air pollution. Globally, vehicles are responsible for 25 per cent of energy-related greenhouse gas emissions.

UNEP is calling on both exporting and importing countries to regulate the trade and eliminate a range of abuses. It stresses that a regulated trade can have several positive impacts, improving the lives of many people and boosting prosperity.

Landmark new rules

UNEP’s report comes after 15 African countries announced strict new rules for vehicle emissions and fuel efficiency. The directives, issued by the Economic Community of West African States, with UNEP support, bar the import of light-duty vehicles more than five years old and aim to double the efficiency of cars by 2030. 

The rules are a milestone in slashing greenhouse gas emissions in a region that is home to about 400 million people, where many vehicles are past their prime. The Gambia, for example, imports vehicles on average 18.8 years old, while a quarter of those imported by Nigeria are nearly 20 years old.

Africa is the ultimate destination for some 40 per cent of used light-duty vehicles, like the one owned by Peter Karanja Njuguna. He ferries passengers around Nairobi in an old 14-seat Nissan minibus pumping out exhaust fumes from dawn to dusk. He says he does not know the exact age of his vehicle but reckons it is between 10 and 15 years old. It cost $3,000 and anything newer would have been outside his budget. He says the catalytic converter, which contains platinum, was removed before it was exported.

“They remove those things that are not necessary for the way we use them here. They just leave the basic stuff,” he explained. “It is cheapish to buy but expensive to maintain. But it pays for itself within two years and gives me an income.”

Poor quality used vehicles can lead to more road accidents, which kill an estimated 1.25 million people each year. Africa has the world’s highest road traffic fatality rates with 246,000 deaths occurring annually, a number projected to rise to 514,000 in 2030, according to the World Health Organization.

Improvements down the road

The issue of faulty vehicles is catching the attention of exporting countries. The Netherlands – one of the largest used vehicle exporters to Africa – studied used European vehicles being exported through their ports and found that many vehicles, mainly destined for West Africa, were between 16 and 20 years old, fell below European Union emission standards and did not have a valid roadworthiness certificate at the time of export. The Netherlands is developing policies to improve the quality of used vehicles while addressing the issue with other European countries.

UNEP’s report also showed that countries, such as Morocco and Mauritius, that had implemented far-sighted policies gained access to high-tech vehicles, like hybrid and electric cars, at affordable prices.

UN Environment

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It is time to end the illegal sanctions on Zimbabwe

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At the UN General Assembly (UNGA), African Leaders signalled to the West that it is high time to end the illegal sanctions that have been crippling Zimbabwe for over two decades.

The current Chairman of the African Union, South African President, Cyril Ramaphosa, led the call which was subsequently echoed and strongly endorsed by the Heads of State of Namibia, Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda and others in their respective addresses to the General Assembly. 

I am immensely grateful for this support. Indeed, it could not be more timely. Our African partners understand that a better Africa equals a better world. But, the continent is facing unprecedented challenges. Coronavirus has significantly exacerbated already existing health, economic and food-security challenges on a scale not seen for more than one hundred years. Sadly, for African nations, coronavirus is just one additional burden to be borne: on top of devastating droughts, locust infestations of biblical magnitude and relentless floods.

The West often expects so much from our nations, and world leaders often analyse us through the lens of their own success. But, in doing so they are only adding to the suffering of millions of Africans.

When President Emmerson Mnangagwa won the election in 2018, he pledged to bring about change, to forge a new relationship with the citizens of Zimbabwe and with the nations of the world.

In the face of endless criticism, we have made and we continue to make significant progress. Most recently, we achieved closure on the long-outstanding issue of compensation to farmers whose land was acquired during the Land Reform Programme of the late 90’s and early 00’s.  The sum of US$ 3,5 billion, for improvements effected to the land prior to its acquisition, was agreed-upon by way of negotiations between government and the farmers. 

Elsewhere, we repealed two antiquated laws (AIPPA and POSA). We passed a new Freedom of Information Act, and draft legislation to address the Constitutional requirement for an Independent Complaints Mechanism will shortly be tabled before Parliament. Other constitutional amendments designed to further modernise and open up government are  already before Parliament.

The reformed Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission has received global plaudits, with some notable and important arrests, including two sitting cabinet ministers. The “audit of the rich”, currently being undertaken, is expected to yield further fruits of transparency and accountability.

We have also initiated the most ambitious set of privatisations in the history of Zimbabwe, with 43 of Zimbabwe’s 107 state-owned enterprises earmarked for reform.

We know these reforms are essential if we are to show the world that we are changing our nation’s trajectory. We want to be more open, to grow our economy, to strengthen our public services, to improve the lives of our citizens and we want to play a positive part in the globalised world.

We acknowledge that we still have a long way to go but we are resolute in our determination to modernise Zimbabwe. Even in the midst of the shattering economic impact of COVID-19, we are committed to the path of reform.

I believe the new Zimbabwe has shown sincerity in its willingness to compromise with the West. However, rather than less criticism and an easing of sanctions, we have in fact faced more pressure from the United States. Those who believe these so-called ‘targeted’ measures only hurt the rich and powerful, are profoundly mistaken. The UN recognises that economic sanctions have worsened existing inequalities. They have crippled our banking sector and have negatively impacted upon the performance of businesses both large and small. Our exclusion from lucrative trade benefits afforded under the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), in particular, is holding back our entrepreneurial potential.

Sanctions, and the enhanced country-risk factor they generate, have also made it close to impossible to attract meaningful foreign investors from the West. And a lack of foreign exchange continues to impinge on the very basics of economic life, from raw materials to life-saving drugs.

Our request to the West is very simple: end these sanctions, allow us to respond more comprehensively to the coronavirus pandemic and support us on our journey towards a new Zimbabwe. The desire to squeeze us into a corner serves only to maintain unjustified isolation from the West, to foster negative sentiment towards those who punish us and, most importantly, to perpetuate the suffering and privation endured by our already hard-pressed people.

A better Zimbabwe results in a better Africa and a better world.

It is time to end the illegal sanctions on Zimbabwe.

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