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Azerbaijan Makes Progress in Health and Education, but Needs to Invest More

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Young people in Azerbaijan, like elsewhere in the Europe and Central Asia region, are being provided with the opportunities needed to grow into productive adults, thanks to continued investments in health and education during their childhood and teenage years, says the latest update of the World Bank’s  Human Capital Index (HCI), which measures pre-pandemic human capital outcomes around the world.

This year’s report includes a decade-long analysis of human capital development from 2010 to 2020 in 103 countries. Azerbaijan is among the top 10 global improvers in progress made on health and education. 

However, the Covid-19 pandemic and resulting turbulence in the commodity markets are threatening the gains made so far, with numerous challenges to maintaining health and education services in the face of pandemic-related restrictions to protect public health. 

Azerbaijan’s HCI value is 0.58, meaning that a child born today in Azerbaijan can expect to achieve 58 percent of the productivity of a fully educated adult in optimal health. This is slightly higher than average for the Upper-Middle Income Countries. However, Azerbaijan has room for improvement in terms of the productivity of its people. For example, among the region’s emerging economies, a child born in Poland today can expect to achieve 75 percent of productivity when she grows into an adult. 

“Governments in Europe and Central Asia have done well in prioritizing investment in health and education, which are key drivers of growth and development. The challenges unleashed by Covid-19, however, require an even stronger policy response, including greater use of technology to improve service delivery and enhanced social assistance programs, to ensure that people receive quality education and health care,” said Anna Bjerde, World Bank Vice President for the Europe and Central Asia region.

The recently completed study Survive, Learn, Thrive: Strategic Human Capital Investments to Accelerate Azerbaijan’s Growth, carried out by the World Bank and Government of Azerbaijan, has identified progress and challenges in building and activating human capital in Azerbaijan. Over the last 10 years child mortality and child stunting rates in Azerbaijan have dropped considerably. However, despite increased years of schooling, there are widening inequalities in learning outcomes (students from wealthier families scored the equivalent of three years of schooling above students from poorer families on Harmonized Learning Outcomes). Azerbaijan also faces a growing burden of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) for which high out-of-pocket (OOP) payments (accounting for 79 percent of current health spending) are not enough to counter the growing number of NCDs. 

To tackle ongoing human capital development challenges in the education sector, Azerbaijan needs to increase access to early learning programs and improve relevance of the higher education system. In the health system, it needs to improve the system’s response to chronic diseases and increase the efficiency of financial resources to ensure better health care provision. In the area of social protection and labor, the country needs to increase investment in social assistance to support the most vulnerable and expand the scope and coverage of active labor market programs.

“Azerbaijan’s population, its ‘human capital’, is the most precious resource in the country and the World Bank is committed to supporting opportunities to further enhance the well-being and productivity of the population – across ages and genders and regions,” said Sarah Michael, World Bank Country Manager for Azerbaijan.

The World Bank’s HCI looks at a child’s trajectory, from birth to age 18, on such critical metrics as child survival (birth to age 5); expected years of primary and secondary education adjusted for quality; child stunting; and adult survival rates. HCI 2020, based on data up to March of this year, provides a crucial pre-pandemic baseline that can help inform health and education policies and investments for the post-pandemic recovery.

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New ways of thinking and working are necessary to reap blockchain benefits in capital markets

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The World Economic Forum today released Digital Assets, Distributed Ledger Technology, and the Future of Capital Markets. Across the capital markets ecosystem, institutions are facing a combination of intensified competitive dynamics and accelerating technology advancements, presenting opportunities and challenges both to incumbents and new entrants. Although DLT is not a panacea, the report underlines how it can positively impact costs, market liquidity and balance sheet capacity while reducing the complexity, opacity and fragmentation of capital markets.

Written in partnership with the Boston Consulting Group (BCG), the report is based on nearly 200 interviews and eight global workshops with capital market incumbent players, new entrants, regulators and governments. It presents use cases from equity markets, debt markets, securitized products, derivatives, securities financing and asset management.

DLT can address real challenges and inefficiencies in some markets by providing a trusted, shared source of truth between market participants. However, the future is uncertain as there is no agreed path for market-wide adoption. What’s more, as institutions still decide where to invest, varying strategies create tensions.

The report calls for a balance between innovation and market safeguards through standardization, the breaking down of silos and regulatory engagement. According to the authors, fundamentally transforming markets will require new ways of thinking and working across the industry.

“Following several years of intense hype, examples of use cases where inefficiencies and challenges are being solved with blockchain are starting to emerge across capital markets,” said Matthew Blake, Head of the Future of Financial Services, World Economic Forum. “With the future for blockchain in financial services still being defined, a nuanced look at the opportunities this technology offers right now is particularly important for the financial services industry.”

“Distributed ledger technology has come of age as it begins to enhance efficiencies, reduce operating costs and create new business models in capital markets, but the use cases and solutions are respective to each asset class,” said Kaj Burchardi, Managing Director, BCG Platinion. “Whilst this makes sense from a commercial perspective, it has led to a complex patchwork of initiatives. For capital markets to unilaterally adopt DLT, they will require cross-institutional alignment to realize the game-changing market opportunities it can offer.”

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Ukraine to Modernize Higher Education System with World Bank Support

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The World Bank’s Board of Executive Directors approved today a $200 million project to support the Government of Ukraine’s efforts to strengthen efficiency, quality, and transparency of the country’s higher education system. The project – Ukraine Improving Higher Education for Results – will help boost the quality of the higher education sector, as well as its relevance to labor market needs, while also promoting resilience and continuity of learning in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The project will finance investments in the modernization of teaching and research facilities and digital learning infrastructure of higher education institutions (HEIs) to ensure learning continuity through remote learning modalities and to support resilience and change management over the longer term. It will also support the development of modern digital infrastructure for distance learning and creation of advanced teaching and research laboratories and learning support facilities.

Another objective of this project is to improve transparency of Ukraine’s education sector through modernization of the Higher Education Management Information System and establishment of a National Student Survey and unified information system on competitive research funding of HEIs.

“The World Bank is pleased to partner with Ukraine to modernize teaching and learning in universities in line with European standards in order to equip young Ukrainians with the skills they need for the 21st century,” said Arup Banerji, World Bank Regional Country Director for Eastern Europe. “As Ukraine recovers from the pandemic, we also strongly support Ukraine’s higher education system in its efforts to be better technically and digitally equipped for providing learning in the post-COVID-19 world.”

The Ukraine Improving Higher Education for Results Project will be implemented over a five-year period by the Ministry of Education and Science (MOES) of Ukraine. The MOES will have overall responsibility for project coordination and monitoring of the implementation progress. 

The World Bank’s current investment project portfolio in Ukraine amounts to just over $3 billion, in nine ongoing investment projects and one Program for Results operation, and is expected to grow to around $3.6 billion over the next two months. The investments support improvements in basic public services that directly benefit ordinary people in areas such as water supply, sanitation, heating, power, energy efficiency, roads, social protection and healthcare, as well as private sector development.

Since Ukraine joined the World Bank in 1992, the Bank’s commitments to the country have totaled approximately $13 billion in about 70 projects and programs.

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Human Rights

155 million faced acute food insecurity in 2020, conflict the key driver

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The combined effects of the drought, COVID-19 and the insecurity upsurge have undermined the already fragile food security and nutrition situation of the population of southern Madagascar. WFP/Tsiory Andriantsoarana

At least 155 million people faced crisis levels of food insecurity in 2020 because of conflict, extreme weather events and economic shocks linked in part to COVID-19, a UN-partnered flagship report said on Wednesday.  

It’s been five years since hunger levels were this bad across 55 countries under review, according to the Global Network Against Food Crises (GNAFC), which noted that 20 million more people went hungry last year than in 2019. 

Countries in Africa remained “disproportionally affected”, it said, adding that conflict pushed almost 100 million people into acute food insecurity, followed by economic shocks (40 million) and weather extremes (16 million). 

Vicious cycle: Guterres 

“Conflict and hunger are mutually reinforcing. We need to tackle hunger and conflict together to solve either…We must do everything we can to end this vicious cycle. Addressing hunger is a foundation for stability and peace”, said UN Secretary-General António Guterres, writing in the report. 

Basing its assessments on the IPC scale for Acute Food Insecurity, the GNAFC network – which includes the UN World Food Programme (WFP) – revealed that the worst-affected countries were Burkina Faso, South Sudan and Yemen. 

Across these countries, around 133,000 people were at IPC5 – the highest level of need – and they required immediate action “to avert widespread death and a collapse of livelihoods”, the Network’s report said. 

At least another 28 million people were “one step away from starvation” – IPC4 – across 38 countries and territories, where urgent action saved lives and livelihoods, and prevented famine spreading. 

Close to 98 million people facing acute food insecurity in 2020 – or two out of three – were on the African continent.  

Not only Africa 

Other parts of the world were not spared, with countries including Yemen, Afghanistan, Syria and Haiti featuring among the 10 worst food crises last year. 

The authors of the report – the United Nations, the European Union as well as government and non-government agencies – also noted that 39 countries and territories had experienced food crises in the last five years. 

In these countries and territories, the population affected by high levels of acute food insecurity (IPC3 or worse) increased from 94 to 147 million people, between 2016 and 2020, the global network said. 

It added that in the 55 food-crisis countries and territories covered by the report, more than 75 million children under five were stunted and at least 15 million showed signs of wasting in 2020. 

While conflict will remain the major driver of food crises in 2021, COVID-19 and related containment measures and weather extremes will continue to exacerbate acute food insecurity in fragile economies.  

Coronavirus impact 

“The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed the fragility of the global food system and the need for more equitable, sustainable and resilient systems to nutritiously and consistently feed 8.5 billion people by 2030.  

“A radical transformation of our agri-food systems is needed to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals”, said the European Union (EU), the UN Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the UN World Food Programme (WFP) – founding members of the Global Network – together with the US international development agency, USAID, in a statement. 

In March 2021, UN chief Mr. Guterres established a famine-prevention task force, led by UN emergency relief chief Mark Lowcock, along with FAO and WFP and with the support of OCHA and other UN agencies as well as NGO partners.  

The Task Force aims to bring coordinated, high-level attention to famine prevention and mobilise support to the most affected countries. 

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