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Afghanistan Facing Strong Headwinds to Growth

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Afghanistan’s economy grew by around two percent in 2018 despite progress in economic policies, likely leading to further increases in poverty and deterioration in living standards, according to the World Bank’s recent Afghanistan Development Update.

Released today, the latest edition of the biannual publication highlights the negative combined impacts of conflict, drought and political uncertainty on the Afghan economy, resulting in the lowest growth rates among South Asian economies in 2018.

“Afghanistan faces challenges of insecurity, election-related political uncertainty, potential declines in international security support, in addition to the drought in 2018” said World Bank Afghanistan Country Director Henry Kerali. “Any one of these shocks would normally generate strong headwinds to growth. Afghanistan has faced all of these concurrently”.

The Development Update publication notes that economic management remains strong in Afghanistan and prospects are improving for 2019, with growth expected to accelerate to 2.5 percent with the easing of drought conditions. Government policies have continued to support low inflation, improved revenue collection, and a limited fiscal deficit.

According to the report, slow growth generally reflects the impact of negative shocks rather than deterioration in government policy. In fact, government has, by many measures, maintained progress with policy reform even during these difficult times. Government revenues reached a new high of nearly 190 billion afghanis in 2018, up seven percent from 2017, the Update notes, while budget execution rates also reached record levels. The government spent 92 percent of the available national budget in 2018 and is on track to repeat this strong performance in 2019.

Predicated on continued strong economic management, the World Bank projects improvements in economic growth over coming years. Growth is expected with improving weather conditions to accelerate to 3.2 percent in 2020 and to 3.5 percent in 2021, with the resolution of election-related political uncertainties.

Over the longer-term, much faster rates of growth are required to significantly reduce poverty from high current levels. According to the report, the potential for much-faster growth exists, but will only be realized under certain conditions.

“For government, more work is needed to improve the business environment, ensure a smooth election process, and prevent corruption and mismanagement of scarce fiscal resources over the difficult months to come. The international community can also play a vital role in supporting private confidence and growth by committing to security and aid support and ensuring that this support is closely coordinated and aligned with government plans” said Henry Kerali.

The Development Update notes that any political settlement with the Taliban could bring major economic benefits through improving confidence and encouraging the return of Afghan capital and skilled workers from overseas. Realizing such benefits, however, will depend on achieving a sustained and substantial improvement in the security situation.

“Whatever happens, rapid growth will only be possible with improved security under a government that remains committed to private sector development, respects the rights of investors, and maintains the gains Afghanistan has achieved over the past two decades towards establishing strong and impartial government institutions” added Henry Kerali.

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Live Simulation Exercise to Prepare Public and Private Leaders for Pandemic Response

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The Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security in partnership with the World Economic Forum and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation will host Event 201: a high-level simulation exercise for pandemic preparedness and response, in New York, USA, on Friday 18 October, 08.45 – 12.30 EDT.

The exercise will bring together business, government, security and public health leaders to address a hypothetical global pandemic scenario. It will also feature a live virtual experience from 08.50 – 12.30 EDT to engage stakeholders worldwide and members of the public in a meaningful conversation of difficult high-level policy choices that could arise in the midst of a severe pandemic.

The world has seen a growing number of epidemics in recent years, with about 200 events annually including Ebola, Zika, MERS and SARS. At the same time, collective vulnerability to the social and economic impacts of infectious disease crises appears to be increasing. Experts suggest there is a growing likelihood of one of these events becoming a global threat – or an “event 201” pandemic – that would pose disruptions to health and society and cause average annual economic losses of 0.7% global GDP, similar in scale to climate change.

“We are in a new era of epidemic risk, where essential public-private cooperation remains challenged, despite being necessary to mitigate risk and impact” said Arnaud Bernaert, Head of Shaping the Future of Health and Health Care, World Economic Forum. “Now is the time to scale up cooperation between national governments, key international institutions and critical industries, to enhance global capacity for preparedness and response.”

The International Health Regulations (IHR) that unite 196 countries across the globe in a legal commitment to prevent and respond to acute public health risks, prioritize both minimizing public health risks and avoiding unnecessary interference with international traffic and trade. Minimizing the economic impact of epidemics also represents an opportunity to build core capacities to prevent, detect, and respond to outbreaks generally.

“We live in an increasingly interconnected world, and we must help all UN member states align with the International Health Regulations and be prepared to prevent, detect, and respond to acute outbreaks,” said Chris Elias, President of Global Development at the Gates Foundation. “If we fail to do so, the world will be unprepared for the next pandemic.”

“In this new era of extreme pandemic threat, public-private cooperation is essential for an effective response,” said Tom Inglesby, Director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. “While governments and public health systems are already strained due to the increase in dangerous outbreaks, experts agree that a severe, fast-spreading human-to-human pandemic incident could happen at any time. We believe this well-crafted and thorough realistic tabletop exercise will provide leaders with a deeper understanding of the impact of epidemics on their communities and inspire them to take important steps to advance prevention and response.”

The participants in the live simulation represent a range of backgrounds and industries and include:

Latoya Abbott, Risk Management/Global Senior Director Occupational Health Services, Marriott International

Stan Bergman, Chairman and CEO, Henry Schein

Sofia Borges, Senior Vice President, UN Foundation

Chris Elias, President, Global Development division, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Tim Evans, Former Senior Director of Health, World Bank Group

George Gao, Director-General, Chinese Center for Disease Control

Avril Haines, Former Deputy Director, Central Intelligence Agency; Former Deputy National Security Advisor

Jane Halton, Board member, ANZ Bank; Former Secretary of Finance and Former Secretary of Health, Australia

Matthew Harrington, Global President and Chief Operations Officer, Edelman

Chikwe Ihekweazu, Director General, Nigeria Centre for Disease Control

Martin Knuchel, Head of Crisis, Emergency and Business Continuity Management, Lufthansa Group Airlines

Eduardo Martinez, President, The UPS Foundation

Stephen Redd, Deputy Director for Public Health Service and Implementation Science, US CDC

Paul Stoffels, Chief Scientific Officer, Johnson & Johnson

Hasti Taghi, Vice President and Executive Advisor, NBCUniversal Media

Lavan Thiru, Chief Representative, Monetary Authority of Singapore

Similar high-level pandemic exercises designed to address difficult policy issues have included: Dark Winter, examining the challenges of a biological attack on the US; Atlantic Storm, asking NATO leaders to respond collaboratively to a bioterrorist attack: and most recently, Clade X, calling on US government leaders to make difficult national security and public health decisions in the face of a rapidly evolving global crisis.

In addition, Bill Gates co-chaired a simulation at the Forum’s Annual Meeting 2017, resulting in the creation of the Epidemics Readiness Accelerator, a public-private platform to address effective readiness in issues including travel and tourism, supply chain and logistics, legal and regulatory, communications and data innovations.

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EU Politics

European Agenda on Migration four years on

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Ahead of the October European Council, the Commission is today reporting on key progress under the European Agenda on Migration since 2015, with focus on steps taken by the EU since the last progress report in March 2019. The Commission also set out those areas where work must continue to address current and future migration challenges.

High Representative and Vice President Federica Mogherini said: “Over the past years we have built an EU external migration policy when there was none. We have developed new partnerships and strengthened the old ones, starting with the African Union and the United Nations. Together we are saving lives and protecting those in need by enabling legal migration channels, addressing the drivers of migration, and fighting against smuggling of migrants and trafficking in human beings. The past years have confirmed that no country can address this complexity alone. It is only by working together, by joining forces that we can tackle these global challenges in an effective, human and sustainable way.”

Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship Dimitris Avramopoulos said: “These past years have shown that only together as a Union we are capable of responding to extreme circumstances. Collectively, we have laid down the structural and operational foundations for a comprehensive European migration system that not only responds effectively and delivers results, but also promotes solidarity and responsibility. While there is still more work to do and the situation remains fragile, we are much better prepared than we were in 2015.” 

When the migration crisis broke out in 2015, the EU took swift and determined action to face exceptional challenges through common European solutions. Over the past 4 years, the basis for a strong collective EU migration policy and new tools and procedures for efficient coordination and cooperation are now in place. The EU is better equipped than ever before to provide operational and financial support to Member States under pressure, manage the external borders and work in partnership with countries outside the EU. However, more efforts are needed to complete this work and make the EU’s migration policy truly future-proof, effective and resilient.

Important progress made towards a strong and effective EU migration management policy

Over the past 5 years, the Commission has worked tirelessly to build a stronger EU policy on migration. By focusing on priority areas we have managed to move from crisis mode to creating structural solutions to ensure Europe is better prepared for any future migratory challenges – in the medium and long term.

Solidarity and support to Member States: The EU is now working more closely with Member States than ever before through the hotspot approach and EU Agencies with over 2,300 staff deployed on the ground – to better manage migration, strengthen the external borders, save lives, reduce the number of irregular arrivals and ensure effective returns. The coordination processes and operational structures developed and established on the ground are key achievements that will remain in place.

Stronger cooperation with partner countries is achieving results: The EU has stepped up the work with partners outside of Europe to tackle the root causes of irregular migration, protect refugees and migrants and support host communities. Unprecedented funding, worth €9.7 billion, has been mobilised to this effect, notably through the EU Trust Fund for Africa, the Syria Trust Fund or the Facility for Refugees in Turkey, under which 97% of €6 billion has already been allocated. EU support is also focusing on resilience, stability, economic and employment opportunities. Cooperation with partner countries on return has also improved, with return and readmission agreements and arrangements now in place with 23 partner countries.

Groundwork laid for future strong and fair asylum rules:The need for a reformed Common European Asylum System was one of the clearest lessons of the 2015 crisis. The Commission put all the necessary proposals on the table for a complete and sustainable EU framework for migration and asylum. Whilst progress was made on five out of seven proposals, the reform is still pending and a common approach to securing a fair, more efficient and sustainable asylum system is still needed.

Important progress on safe and legal pathways: Over the past 5 years, Member States have made the largest collective efforts ever on resettlement, with almost 63,000 persons resettled. Confirming their commitment and determination to ensure the continuity of EU resettlement efforts in the future, Member States have responded to the Commission’s call to continue resettling in 2020 by already pledging around 30,000 resettlement places.

More work and immediate steps required in key areas

Whilst the overall migratory situation across all routes has returned to pre-crisis levels with arrivals in September 2019 being around 90% lower than in September 2015, the situation remains volatile and geopolitical developments have created new challenges for the EU. Further work is needed to address immediate key challenges and to progress on on-going work, in particular:

Urgent action to improve the conditions in the Eastern Mediterranean: Whilst the Greek authorities have undertaken steps over the past months to alleviate the pressure on the islands, including notably a new reception strategy and new asylum measures, the increase in arrivals has put strain on an already fraught system. While the EU-Turkey Statement continues to deliver concrete results, renewed migratory pressure in Turkey and instability in the wider region continues to cause concern. In view of this, urgent action must be taken to improve reception conditions, increase transfers to mainland Greece from the islands and increase returns under the Statement. The Commission is also stepping up its support to Cyprus, which is currently facing an increase in arrivals.

More solidarity on search and rescue: Despite search and rescue efforts, lives continue to be lost at sea and the ad hoc relocation solutions coordinated by the Commission are clearly not long-term remedies. The Commission remains committed to working with and supporting Member States in agreeing temporary arrangements to facilitate disembarkation following search and rescue in the Mediterranean, and encourages more Member States to participate in solidarity efforts. Such arrangements could serve as inspiration for addressing flows in other parts of the Mediterranean. 

Accelerate evacuations from Libya: The situation in Libya remains a major concern. After violent conflict erupted in and around Tripoli in April 2019, intensified efforts through the trilateral AU-EU-UN taskforce must continue to help free migrants from detention, facilitate voluntary return (49,000 returns so far) and evacuate the most vulnerable persons (over 4,000 evacuated). Member States urgently need to increase and accelerate the pace of resettlements under the Emergency Transit Mechanism (ETM) in Niger run with the UNHCR and support the newly established ETM in Rwanda.

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Environment

Forum Highlights Low-Carbon Technologies and Policies as Key to Asia- Pacific’s Sustainable Future

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Countries in Asia and the Pacific must adopt more effective and innovative low-carbon policies and technologies to secure greener and more sustainable growth, delegates heard at a forum today hosted by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the Hunan Department of Ecology and Environment.

The Asia-Pacific Forum on Low-Carbon Development, now in its fourth year with the theme “Low Carbon Solutions for Our Green Future”, has brought together more than 600 policymakers and technology developers to showcase success stories in promoting and advancing low-carbon solutions to development challenges across the Asia and Pacific region. The forum is being hosted in Hunan Province’s capital, Changsha, in the People’s Republic of China (PRC) from 16 to 18 October.

“A low-carbon future is vital for combating climate change,” said ADB Vice-President for Administration and Corporate Management Ms. Deborah Stokes. “This year’s forum is about getting people together, exchanging ideas, and getting down to work, particularly in promoting cooperation, innovation, and commercially scalable low-carbon solutions for green development in both urban and rural areas in the PRC as well as the rest of the Asia and Pacific region.”

With keynote speeches from former United Nations Secretary-General Mr. Ban Ki Moon and the Special Representative for Climate Change Affairs of the National Development and Reform Commission Mr. Xie Zhenhua, the forum will look into the industrial transformation needed for low-carbon economies including future energy services, pollution control, revolutions in building design, zero-waste cities, and other technological advances.

Ensuring a low-carbon growth path and development future for Asia and the Pacific is critical for the entire world population. Carbon emissions from the region have risen rapidly from 25% of the global total in the 1990s to 40% in 2012 and are expected to reach 50% by 2030. Unabated climate change could also lead to significant economic losses for countries in Asia and the Pacific.

ADB has been working to address the effects of climate change and promote low-carbon growth in Asia and the Pacific, particularly through the introduction of new technologies and policy support. For instance, the ADB-supported Climate Technology Finance Center in Hunan Province has been demonstrating successful low-carbon initiatives that can be replicated elsewhere in the PRC and in the Asia and Pacific region. This includes the establishment of a low carbon technology venture fund; launch of an accelerator program to mentor early stage clean technology startups; and the creation of a low carbon technology network and market platform.

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