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The Ripple Effects of the Syrian Conflict in the Mashreq Region

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A decade of conflict in Syria led to region-wide economic and social fallout across Iraq, Jordan, and Lebanon, adding urgency to the call for a region-wide response strategy, according to a new World Bank Report. The ripple effects of the Syrian conflict include increased poverty rates, higher debt burdens, deteriorating labor markets, especially for youth and women, and more restricted access to public services such as health care and electricity.

The Fallout of the War: The Regional Consequences of the Conflict in Syria estimates that the conflict in Syria has been solely responsible for annual reductions in economic growth of 1.2 percentage points (pp) in Iraq, 1.6 pp in Jordan, and 1.7 pp in Lebanon in the last decade. The conflict also drove up poverty rates by 6.0 pp in Iraq, 3.9 pp in Jordan, and 7.1 pp in Lebanon, while simultaneously precipitating the largest refugee crisis since World War II. At the peak, refugees exceeded a quarter of the local populations in Jordan, Lebanon, and the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, the highest refugee concentration in the world.

The fallout of the conflict was transmitted through multiple channels. With decreasing transit trade through Syria and stalling service exports like tourism, the marginal effect of the trade shock on GDP reached –3.1 pp in Jordan and –2.9 pp in Lebanon. In comparison, the demographic shock (refugee arrivals) boosted GDP by 0.9 pp in both countries by increasing aggregate demand and labor supply. However, these GDP effects are only a relatively small share of the overall impact.

Despite governments’ best efforts and support from the international community and humanitarian organizations, conditions on the ground remain difficult in the Mashreq. With weak social safety nets, Iraqi, Jordanian, and Lebanese citizens are largely unprotected against economic shocks. Host communities and refugees alike suffer from inadequate services, often leading to short-term alternatives like diesel generators and water transported by truck, which can be both unhealthy and up to three times costlier than grid options. Refugee children receive 5.4 fewer years of education than their host country peers in Lebanon, and 3.7 fewer years in Jordan, which is largely driven by low enrollment in secondary and tertiary levels. According to the report’s estimates, the human capital gain from closing these gaps could add to GDP growth by 1.1 % in Lebanon and 0.4% in Jordan.

The overall economic impact of the Syrian conflict on Iraq, Jordan, and Lebanon has been disproportionately high compared to similar situations elsewhere in the world in the last few decades” said Saroj Kumar Jha, World Bank Regional Director for the Mashreq. “Looking forward, the international community can support the stability and prosperity of the Mashreq much more effectively through a strategy that combines a medium-term perspective, instead of quick fixes, and a regional focus that builds on cross-border linkages and coordinates a response across borders.”

According to the report, the complex political economy dynamics in the region have, so far, limited building better institutional resilience, which could help mitigate the fallout from the Syrian crisis more effectively. A persistent short-termism has led to costly and ineffective service provision, lost economic opportunities, and underfunded programs.

“This report harnesses numerous data sources, statistical techniques, and a suite of economic models to produce the most systematic analysis to date of the regional ramifications from the conflict in Syria,” said Harun Onder, the lead author of the report. “This approach helped us to isolate the specific role played by the Syrian war in a region where overlapping shocks, more recently the oil price collapse and the COVID-19 pandemic, have been the norm, rather than exceptions.”

Going forward, the report argues that a medium-term strategy is needed to address structural problems and mitigate the adverse effects of the conflict through enhancing social safety nets; improving service access for all, and investing in state capacity. The report also argues that adopting a regional focus, one that focuses on building on cross-border connectivity, can deliver better outcomes, as both problems and opportunities cross borders in the Mashreq. However, this approach requires a concerted effort and supra-national commitment to stability and prosperity at the regional level.

The Fallout of War is the third report in the World Bank’s innovative series examining the human, physical, social, and economic destruction from the conflict in Syria. It builds on The Toll of War, issued in 2017, which documented the economic and social impact of the conflict inside Syria, and The Mobility of Displaced Syrians, issued in 2019, which analyzed the spontaneous returns of Syrian refugees to determine the key factors that influenced their decisions.

The Fallout of War will be officially launched on June 24, 2020 as part of the upcoming “Fourth Brussels Conference on Supporting the Future of Syria and the Region.”

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Small Business, Big Problem: New Report Says 67% of SMEs Worldwide Are Fighting for Survival

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Small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and mid-sized companies are the backbone of the global economy. They create close to 70% of jobs and GDP worldwide. But, amid warnings of a global recession, research from the World Economic Forum and the National University of Singapore Business School indicates that 67% of executives from SMEs cite survival and expansion as their main challenge.

They mention low margins, the challenge of scaling the business and expanding to new markets, and clients/consumers as the main pressure points.

The report, Future Readiness of SMEs and Mid-Sized Companies: A Year On, looks at companies emerging from the pandemic. It builds on analysis of over 200 peer-reviewed articles and the quantitative and qualitative surveying of about 800 leaders and executives from SMEs and mid-sized companies. Business leaders also cite talent acquisition and retention (48%), culture and values (34%), funding and access to capital (24%), as well as non-favourable business policy environments (22%) as their biggest challenge.

The report also identifies pragmatic ways for smaller companies to embed future readiness into corporate strategies and highlights sustainability and digital transformation as two overlooked challenges. It focuses on how smaller companies can boost their resilience through stronger business frameworks. It also highlights how their high level of agility can benefit the development and implementation of:

– A strategic approach to talent management

– A staged approach to digital transformation

– Specific sustainability measures depending on the company’s level of maturity in this space

While smaller companies can increase their future readiness, the wider policy environment – such as the infrastructure for digital trade and finance – has a direct and important impact on their ability to thrive. It is, therefore, key for policy-makers, investors and other stakeholders to do what is in their capabilities to contribute to building the future readiness of this segment of the economy.

“The business community is stepping up to tackle the biggest issues facing the world. SMEs and mid-sized companies are key enablers in this pursuit. This report sheds light on some key opportunity spaces for SMEs and mid-sized to do exactly that,” said Børge Brende, President, World Economic Forum.

Rashimah Rajah, Professor at the National University of Singapore and co-lead author of the report, added: “SMEs and mid-sized companies have unique strengths in their ability to pivot their business models to be more future ready and, by hiring and developing the right talent, they can mobilize positive internal and external change faster than larger companies. However, to fully realize their potential, they also need the support of policy-makers in recognizing their credentials as well as in rewarding sustainability initiatives.”

The report was developed in collaboration with the National University of Singapore Business School, as well as with expert contributions from UnternehmerTUM, Aston Business School, TBS Education, the Aspen Institute, Asia Global Institute and the International Chamber of Commerce.

The World Economic Forum will be leveraging the insights generated in this report to further support SMEs and mid-sized companies in their future-readiness journey. This will be done through the creation of additional resources including the continuous development of the Forum’s self-assessment and benchmarking tool on future readiness, as well as the creation of a space for informal peer-to-peer learning between companies as well as meet-ups with key experts.

With some of the key insights of the report coming from the New Champions Community, the Forum aims to amplify the voices of purpose-driven mid-sized businesses. This community and its more than 100 members share and learn from best practices, proven innovations and support new partnerships for the common good in the mid-sized landscape.

The Forum is now accepting applications from forward-looking mid-sized companies that are pioneering new business models, emerging technologies and sustainable growth strategies.

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A Greener Cooling Pathway Can Create a $1.6 Trillion Investment Opportunity in India

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A new World Bank report finds that as temperatures steadily rise in India due to climate change, keeping spaces cool using alternative and innovative energy efficient technologies can open an investment opportunity of $1.6 trillion by 2040.  This also has the potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions significantly and create nearly 3.7 million jobs.

India is experiencing higher temperatures every year. By 2030, over 160-200 million people across the country could be exposed to lethal heat waves annually. Around 34 million people in India will face job losses due to heat stress related productivity decline.  The current food loss due to heat during transportation is close to $13 billion annually.  By 2037, the demand for cooling is likely to be eight times more than current levels. This means there will be a demand for a new air-conditioner every 15 seconds, leading to an expected rise of 435 percent in annual greenhouse gas emissions over the next two decades.

The report, “Climate Investment Opportunities in India’s Cooling Sector” finds that shifting to a more energy efficient pathway could lead to a substantial reduction in expected CO2 levels over the next two decades.

“India’s cooling strategy can help save lives and livelihoods, reduce carbon emissions and simultaneously position India as a global hub for green cooling manufacturing,” said Auguste Tano Kouamé, the World Bank’s Country Director in India. “The report suggests a sustainable roadmap for cooling that has the potential to reduce 300 million tons of carbon dioxide annually by 2040.

Recognizing this challenge, India is already deploying new strategies to help people adapt to rising temperatures. In 2019, it launched the India Cooling Action Plan (ICAP) to provide sustainable cooling measures across various sectors, including indoor cooling in buildings and cold chain and refrigeration in the agriculture and pharmaceuticals sector and air-conditioning in passenger transport.  Its aim is to reduce the demand for cooling by up to 25 percent by 2037-38.

The new World Bank report proposes a roadmap to support the ICAP’s new investments in three major sectors: building construction, cold chains, and refrigerants.

Adopting climate-responsive cooling techniques as a norm in both private and government-funded constructions can ensure that those at the bottom of the economic ladder are not disproportionately affected by rising temperatures. The report suggests that India’s affordable housing program for the poor, the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (PMAY), can adopt such changes on scale. This could benefit over 11 million urban homes and over 29 million rural houses that the government aims to construct.

The report also recommends private investments in district cooling technologies. These generate chilled water in a central plant which is then distributed to multiple buildings via underground insulated pipes. This brings down the cost for providing cooling to individual buildings and can reduce energy bills by 20-30 percent compared to the most efficient conventional cooling solution.

To minimize rising food and pharmaceutical wastage during transport due to higher temperatures, the report recommends fixing gaps in cold chain distribution networks. Investing in pre-cooling and refrigerated transport can help decrease food loss by about 76 percent and reduce carbon emissions by 16 percent.

India aims to phase out the production and use of ozone-depleting hydrochlorofluorocarbons, used as coolants in air conditioners and refrigerators by 2047. The report recommends improvements in servicing, maintenance and disposal of equipment that use hydrochlorofluorocarbons, alongside a shift to alternative options with a lower global warming footprint. This can create 2 million jobs for trained technicians over the next two decades and reduce the demand for refrigerants by around 31 percent.

“The right set of policy actions and public investments can help leverage large scale private investment in this sector. We recommend that these moves be accelerated by creating a flagship government mission to address the challenges and opportunities from rising temperatures in India,” say the authors of the report, Abhas K. Jha, Practice Manager, Climate and Disaster Risk Management, South Asia and Mehul Jain, Climate Change Specialist, World Bank.

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Pandemic Recovery Efforts Trigger New Energy Access Policies

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Two years of pandemic have highlighted the vulnerability and isolation of populations without electricity and have prompted countries to increase their focus on energy access and affordability, finds a new World Bank report on energy policies and regulations. The 2022 edition of the RISE (Regulatory Indicators for Sustainable Energy) report shows that many countries have embedded new policies to improve their energy independence and minimize energy costs in their COVID-19 recovery plans.

“Confronted with multiple crises, now more than ever countries are recognizing the urgency of connecting their populations to sustainable, affordable and resilient energy sources,” said Riccardo Puliti, World Bank Vice President for Infrastructure. “Clear policy frameworks and planning enable governments to map out their energy strategies and to provide the predictability and transparency needed to attract investments.” 

According to the bi-annual report that evaluates energy policies and regulatory frameworks across a set of indicators, the pandemic  was a strong trigger: nearly half of the 140 surveyed countries in each region included new policies to minimize disruptions to electricity access, quality, and affordability in their COVID-19 recovery packages.

Many governments improved their electricity access policies, with Sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America and the Caribbean scoring the highest on this indicator. This included the two largest energy access-deficit countries—Nigeria and Ethiopia— which showed noteworthy progress thanks to policy and regulatory measures on electrification planning, frameworks for mini grids and off-grid systems, and consumer affordability of electricity.

And the number of countries with advanced mini-grids policy frameworks more than doubled between 2019-2021, reflecting how mini grids and solar home systems are now widely viewed as sufficient substitutes for grid extension. Over 40% of countries surveyed offered publicly funded financing options to secure funding for mini-grid operators. This had a positive effect on the cost of off-grid electricity, as the unsubsidized levelized cost of mini-grids fell by a third, from US$0.55 per kilowatt-hour (kWh) in 2018 to US$0.38 per kWh in 2021.

Meanwhile, with renewable technologies becoming cost-competitive with traditional baseload energy sources over the last decade, many countries phased out incentives to compensate for renewable energy production. Tax reduction is now the most prevalent renewable energy fiscal incentive in place to attract large-scale corporate investments, with half of the countries surveyed offering tax reduction incentives for renewable energy projects.

Finally, the report found that energy efficiency policies were not receiving adequate attention despite unprecedented energy price hikes, with 49 countries showing little to no advances on energy efficiency policy frameworks.

Every two years, the Regulatory Indicators for Sustainable Energy or RISE report measures policy progress in 140 countries, representing over 98 percent of the world population, on renewable energy, energy efficiency, electricity access, and access to clean cooking – the four target areas of Sustainable Development Goal 7 (SDG7) on access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all by 2030. RISE 2022: Building Resilience is the fourth edition of the report. The report is published by the World Bank with funding from the Energy Sector Management Assistance Program (ESMAP). The full report, along with detailed country profiles and previous editions of the report, is available at https://rise.esmap.org/

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