Archive for the ‘Emerging Economies’ Category

Tropical Storm Erika Strikes Dominica

Monday, August 31st, 2015
Dominica in the Caribbean

Dominica in the Caribbean

Tropical Storm Erika inflicted substantial damage on the Caribbean island of Dominica, killing at least twenty people, washing away homes and eroding roads. Dominica is an island of pristine natural beauty, for which it was given the moniker of “The Nature Island”. Tropical rain forests cover over two-thirds of the island which, despite its small size, offers extraordinary ecological diversity, as the home to over 1,200 plant species.  The lush vegetation is supported by rivers, lakes and waterfalls. Dominica’s Morne Trois Pitons National Park was the first UNESCO World Heritage Site in the eastern Caribbean. I first came to know Dominica and its beautiful people in connection with a project which becomes especially relevant in the context of a severe hazard, such as Tropical Storm Erika.

Last summer one of my graduate student interns, Alejandro Witschi, worked with me on a project on disaster risk reduction communications in the Caribbean region on behalf of the United Nations Development Program and the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction. Our work plan entailed consulting with the key stakeholders in the region: the national emergency management offices of sixteen Caribbean countries (including Dominica), regional partners and NGO’s, such as the the French Red Cross, Oxfam, Plan International, Save the Children, the Spanish Red Cross, UNICEF and World Vision International. The results of our work included a report we co-authored and I will quote here from page 2:

“The Caribbean region experiences multiple hazards: the region is prone to hurricanes, floods, flash floods, tsunamis, landslides and mudslides. Some islands experience earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. The physical risk is combined with socioeconomic factors, such as high population density, fast demographic growth, inequality and great poverty. The combination of these factors results in highly vulnerable communities, with few coping capacities in the event of disaster. Moreover, climate change is likely to negatively affect disaster trends in the region. In addition, the Caribbean region is at elevated risk owing to the highly concentrated impact of hazards on small and undiversified economies. So-called “SIDS” (or Small Island Developing States) are highly exposed to a range of hazards, but precisely because of their small size, a very large proportion of their total produced capital is at risk. The 2013 Global Assessment Report global risk model found, for example, that certain Caribbean countries could expect to lose more than 30 per cent of their value of their urban produced capital to the wind damage caused by a catastrophic, one-in-250 year cyclone. SIDS are among the countries that contribute the least to carbon emissions but are at risk for the greatest losses due to climate change, including disaster losses, that are projected to increase.”

In addition to contributing to disaster relief organizations, we can support Dominica’s recovery by paying a visit as the economy is largely dependent on tourism. The tourism ministries of Dominica’s Caribbean neighbors have donated vacation packages to online charity auctions to raise needed funds for disaster relief. You can find them using the various Internet search engines. UPDATE (October 1): Dominica is supporting a social media campaign which aims to show how areas previously devastated by Erika have been restored, showing the progress of the reconstruction. The government is offering prizes to the winning photographers.

Entrepreneurs, Unite!

Friday, June 26th, 2015

Today Dell launched a campaign to promote sustainable entrepreneurship. Dell founder and CEO Michael Dell, who also serves as the United Nations Foundation’s first global advocate for entrepreneurship, seeks to include entrepreneurship in the UN’s development agenda, in order to create jobs and economic opportunity for the world’s growing population, known as “Goal 8”. To date, the campaign, #entrepreneurs UNite, has attracted 20,000 signatures from entrepreneurs worldwide and hopes to have 100,000 signatures by September 25, when the General Assembly will vote on the final development goals and priorities for the UN. The infographic below was developed by Dell to make the case for entrepreneurship as critical to economic and social development.

Vote at

Vote at


Music for Relief

Sunday, April 26th, 2015
Linkin Park Supports Disaster Relief

Linkin Park Supports Disaster Relief

Music for Relief was founded by the band Linkin Park in response to the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. Since it began work in 2005, Music for Relief has raised over $7 million for survivors of  disasters including Hurricane Katrina, China’s Wenchuan earthquake, a cholera outbreak in Zimbabwe, earthquakes in Haiti and Japan in 2010, and Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines. MFR has organized benefit concerts, online auctions, and events with multi-platinum musicians and celebrities to help rebuild and donate supplies to people in need. What is particularly impressive about their efforts are that (1) they are raising awareness and funds for the long-term rather than responding on an ad hoc basis to individual disasters; (2) they are supporting organizations such as Oxfam that have shown to be operationally effective, rather than diverting funds to the costs of building new means of delivering aid; and (3) they are working for proactive measures to reduce disaster risk, as Music for Relief has planted over one million trees to help reduce climate change (and the disaster impacts associated with rising temperatures).

United Nations Secretary-General Ban-Ki Moon welcomed Linkin Park to the UN headquarters in New York and expressed appreciation for the band’s work in raising awareness and funds for disaster relief in Haiti after that country was struck by a powerful earthquake. I have a guitar in my office signed by Linkin Park from their Carnivores tour as I find it inspiring. As the UN Secretary-General pointed out, the Linkin Park video that was seen by more than nine million people made a powerful contribution to the relief efforts in Haiti. So if you are not familiar with Music for Relief, check it out.

The Real Finance Minister of India

Thursday, June 21st, 2012

Tending the Garden

India’s summer monsoon season begins in June and now that it has arrived, the country’s weather forecasters predict a normal season. This is welcome news as more than two thirds of India’s population of 1.2 billion people are employed in the agricultural sector. Their livelihoods are dependent of a “good” monsoon season, when 80% of the annual rainfall occurs. Owing to the state of irrigation, half of India’s crops depend upon adequate rain.  Indians consider the monsoon to be the country’s real finance minister: a good season drives economic development. And while we typically associate monsoons with India, they affect most other countries in Southeast Asia, such as Thailand where the severe 2011 monsoon season resulted in catastrophic flooding. It is extraordinary to think of the extent to which most of the world’s population depends on a critical balance of nature: too little rain and we have drought, too much and we have flooding.  A “good” monsoon season is like Goldilocks’ porridge; it is just right. In the United States, where less than 5% of our population works in the agricultural sector, we may be less sensitive to such considerations. I took this photograph, by the way, near the iconic image of India, the Taj Mahal. I was so struck by the image of someone going about her ordinary business near this spectacular monument in marble that I wanted to remember it.

United Nations Leadership Highlights Disaster Prevention as a Key Priority for 2012

Thursday, May 24th, 2012
UN Leadership

UN Leaders Prioritize Disaster Preparedness

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has identified the prevention of disasters and making the world safer among his “five generational priorities” for 2012 through the remainder of his second term. Mr. Ban stated “We have to connect the dots [between] climate change, [the] food crisis, water scarcity, energy shortages and women’s empowerment as well as global health issues. These are all interconnected issues.” The UN Secretary-General believes that  said solutions lie with harnessing “the strong power of partnerships” to respond to the planet’s biggest challenges, such as tackling climate change, combating poverty and empowering women and girls (who are especially vulnerable to major disasters). “Together, nothing is impossible,” said the Secretary-General, adding that “if we strengthen these partnerships among governments, business communities, civil organizations and philanthropists, then I think all these powerful partnerships can bring us towards the right direction.” The Secretary-General shared the story of his meeting with a boy during a visit last year to the South Pacific island country of Kiribati which, threatened by rising sea waters – as an example of the enormous faith and expectations which the peoples of the world invest in the UN. “He appealed to me to ‘Please help us address this climate change. Our homes and our way of life may be swept away overnight’,” Mr. Ban recalled, saying it is one of the reasons why climate change must remain at the top of the global agenda.

Disaster preparedness was again a key priority among three others identified by Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser, President of the 66th Session of United Nations General Assembly in his end of the year address to usher in 2012. Mr. Al-Nasser said that in 2011, the Great East Japan Earthquake, floods in Southeast Asia, and the crisis in the Horn of Africa, had tasked the international community to intensify efforts to improve disaster preparedness – the third pillar of the Assembly’s 66th session.  “Though much has been done to share lessons and improve systems of alert and quick response around the world, we must do more to implement policies and measures that can mitigate the impact of natural disasters and also address or prevent man-made catastrophes”, he said. The United States is one of the 166 countries that signed the Hyogo Framework for Action, a global commitment to reduce disaster risk. I am beginning work on a related project for the UN and will share more details in the future.

Pakistan Submerged

Sunday, September 5th, 2010
Aerial View of the Damage

Aerial View of the Damage

Since the monsoon rain season began last month, floodwaters have devastated Pakistan. The floods have displaced more than 20 million Pakistanis, a number that exceeds the entire population of New York State. One fifth of Pakistan’s land mass is submerged, as shown in this photograph provided by the United Nations. Many communities are isolated as traditional transport routes are no longer viable. It is truly a humanitarian crisis with urgent needs for water, food, shelter and sanitation. Public health officials fear the spread of water-borne diseases, such as cholera. For more information about Pakistan’s pressing needs, please click unicef-immediate-needs-document-pakistan-flooding-26-august-2010 to download a current report from the U.S. Committee for UNICEF. To make a contribution to UNICEF for Pakistani flood relief, clear here for a direct link where you can donate online.

I also want to introduce you to Kashf Foundation, an organization that provides sustainable financial services to poor women in Pakistan, allowing them to become economically self-sufficient. I had the privilege to meet Roshaneh Zafar, Kashf’s founder, when she served on the UN Advisors Group for Inclusive Financial Sectors. Click here to learn more about Kashf and how you can support their important work.

Compelling Images

Friday, August 6th, 2010

I was very impressed by ABC’s late night news program “Nightline” in presenting the day’s testimony at The Hague in the war crimes trial of former Liberian President Charles Taylor. Former 1980’s super-model Naomi Campbell testified about the night that Taylor’s staff gave her blood diamonds. ABC News ran her testimony without interruption for the usual talking head commentary giving the viewers the opportunity to form their own opinions. Campbell’s apparent indifference to those who had suffered in Africa was obvious and any attempt to summarize what she had said would detract from the shock value of her actual words. She actually said, “I didn’t really want to be here. I just want to get this over with and get on with my life, this is a big inconvenience for me.” She just exuded her sense of entitlement, dismissing the practice of men giving her gifts all of the time and her thinking nothing of that. The juxtaposition of her physical beauty and her ugly character could not have been more striking. ABC News then showed the video of the next witness to testify against Taylor. After Campbell left the courtroom, dressed in stunning designer clothing, the next witness placed the stubs that remained of his limbs on the table before him and described how he and his family had been mutilated by Taylor’s regime. I have to commend ABC News for letting the viewers see the video footage and keeping the commentary to a minimum. My respect for Mia Farrow, who had reported her conversation with Campbell concerning the diamonds, just jumped. Disaster recovery is a long slow process, but people take longer to heal from acts of man than we do from acts of God. The former are much more traumatic and what could be more painful to the amputee who testified about his suffering than the indifference to his plight exhibited by one of the most privileged women in the world.

Severe Floods in China

Wednesday, July 21st, 2010
China Daily

Source: China Daily

More than 700 people died and 347 more are missing following torrential rains and floods in China, the worst that country has experienced in a decade. The floods affected 110 million people in 27 provinces and municipalities; 8 million residents of those areas were evacuated. The Chinese government estimates direct economic losses from the flood to be $21 billion, which includes damages to more than 7 million agricultural hectares and the destruction of more than 600,000 homes. The government also reported that 287,000 military personnel had aided in the flood rescue operations. This year’s flood season, which begins in China in April, has been unusually severe. In more than 230 rivers across the country, water levels have risen above what is considered safe. Areas adjacent to the Yangtze River have experienced the worst flooding in 30 years but, according to the Chinese government, the Three Gorges Dam prevented even more severe flood damage by blocking more than 40% of the water.

I have not yet formed an opinion on whether global warming has induced permanent climate change. But it is undeniable that we are experiencing the most severe weather patterns in some time and it appears to be a global phenomenon. At a time when the recession has stretched resources thin, we are particularly vulnerable to external shocks, such as natural disasters. And public resources are inadequate to fund relief efforts. Many people will try to ease the pressure on their budgets by foregoing “non-essentials”, such as insurance, when times are tough. But that is when you need it the most. Sadly, for entrepreneurs in China, most small businesses don’t have access to adequate insurance coverage. We do, so there is no excuse for us.

Chile’s Recovery from Earthquake Likely to Take Years

Sunday, March 14th, 2010
Seismically Active Pacific Ring of Fire

Seismically Active Pacific Ring of Fire

The earthquake that struck Chile on February 27 was an 8.8 magnitude event, making it one of the most powerful in history. The earthquake killed hundreds of people and damaged more than one million homes. Preliminary estimates suggest economic losses in excess of $15 billion, with one quarter to one half of those losses covered by insurance. Even without taking into consideration the consequences of the follow-on quakes, this is likely to be one of the most expensive disasters for the global insurance industry. Chile is at particular risk for its location along one of the most active seismic zones in the world, the Pacific Ring of Fire. During my lifetime, Chile has experienced 13 earthquakes of at least a 7.0 magnitude, but most were removed from populated areas. Chile is well prepared to withstand earthquake shocks; it has appropriate building codes and a developed insurance market Indeed, even though the Chilean quake was 500 times more forceful than that of Haiti, it sustained several hundred casualties as compared with 250,000 in Haiti. It will likely take at least four years for the Chile to rebuild, owing to significant losses to its economy. With a recent seismic event in Turkey, this is a sad reminder that natural disasters pose the greatest risks to those with the least to lose.

Adding Insult to Injury in Haiti

Tuesday, February 16th, 2010

The only thing more horrifying than the human tragedy in Haiti is the so-called “disaster aid” that compounds the suffering of those who have already lost what little they have. Unfortunately, bureaucracy is the first order of relief efforts. USA Today reports that the U.S. Agency for International Development (part of the U.S. State Department) ordered U.S. soldiers to stop distributing food packages to desperate Haitians. However, the troops continued to give bottled water because they were not forbidden to do so. Sound crazy? Not really. Did you know that counselors of our Small Business Development Centers were forbidden to help their colleagues in the Gulf Coast assist their small business clients in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina? The U.S. Small Business Administration prevented the counselors from crossing state lines. So many counselors went as unpaid volunteers. Bureaucracies have inflexible rules that get in the way of offering help. But had we acted honorably, the Haitians might not today be in such desperate straits. Tageschau Deutschland is reporting that U.S.-backed governments of developing countries received aid that motivated the relocation of the poor to areas particularly prone to natural hazards. Even worse, a public display of aid assistance may be used to weaken demands to accept more immigrants from Haiti to the U.S. where they would have a credible shot at rebuilding their lives. It is sad, but true, that the poorest are the most vulnerable to disasters, whether in the U.S. or overseas and that relief aid more often than not serves the interests of the donors, not the recipients.