Author Archives: Raza Rumi

About Raza Rumi

Pak Tea House is a little corner in the blogosphere that will endeavour to revive the culture of debate, pluralism and tolerance. It represents the motivation of a few people who want to see Pakistan a better place - where ideas need to counter the forces of commercialism, adverse effects of globalisation and extremism. Please join us - through writings, contributions, discussions, and spreading the word…


A new report by ActionAid has revealed that hunger could be costing poor nations $450 billion a year – more than ten times the amount needed to halve hunger by 2015 and meet Millennium Development Goal One. ActionAid’s report Who’s Really Fighting Hunger?, which shows the real dates countries will meet MDG1 and scores nations on their efforts to fight hunger, is released as world leaders prepare to meet at the UN in New York to discuss progress on the Millennium Development Goals.
ActionAid’s CEO Joanna Kerr said:

“Fighting hunger now will be ten times cheaper than ignoring it. Every year reduced worker productivity, poor health and lost education costs poor countries billions.”

“And the cost is not just financial. If governments don’t act now over a million more children could die by 2015 and half of Africa won’t have enough food in ten years.”

“Recent food riots are a sharp reminder that poor countries cannot rely on unstable global food markets. Investing in local farms where the world’s hungry live is the best way to avert another food crisis.”

ActionAid’s report reveals that 20 out of 28 poor nations are off track to halving hunger by 2015 and 12 of these are going backwards, despite UN claims that the world is on track to meeting the Millennium Development Goal. If China, the most successful growing economy is removed from the scoring, the percentage of hungry people in the world is the same as when the goals were set two decades ago.

DR Congo, Burundi, Sierra Leone, Pakistan and Lesotho rank bottom on the score card. But surprisingly not just the poorest, war-torn or disaster-struck countries rank low. Despite a radical and rapid increase in India’s economy, drastic cuts in agriculture and support to small farms, means nearly half of the country’s children are malnourished and one in five of the population is hungry.

ActionAid says the hunger goal is going backwards globally largely because of a lack of aid to agriculture and rural development, few legal rights to food in poor nations and little or no support services to help farming communities when harvests fail.

Brazil, China, Ghana, Malawi and Vietnam, who top ActionAid’s scorecard slashed hunger by dramatically scaling-up investment in small farms and introducing social protection schemes such as public works employment, cash transfers, food rations, and free school meals. Malawi has reduced the number of people living on food hand outs from 1.5 million to 150,000 in just five years. Brazil has halved the number of underweight children in less than 10 years. China will meet its hunger goal five years early.

Rich nations also scored. Luxembourg, France, Spain, Sweden and Canada who pledged agricultural aid to help fight the 2009 food crisis scored top as donor nations. Portugal, Korea, Greece, New Zealand and Austria ranked bottom. G8 nations pledged $22 billion in 2009 to fight hunger, yet ActionAid estimates $14 billion of this is in fact old aid promises repackaged and it is still unclear when or how the money will be spent.

ActionAid’s Africa Hunger Free Coordinator Henry Malumo said:

“Times are hard and budgets are tight, so now more than ever it’s important for governments to invest in the right places. Rich countries must stop pulling statistical tricks and show us how and when the money they have promised will reach the people who need it most.

“Malawi and Ghana are shining examples of how supporting small scale farmers is key to halving hunger. With only five years left and a billion people hungry it’s critical the world follow their example,” he added.

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Filed under Development

Pakistan: Being Untrustworthy and in Humanitarian Crisis

Zubair Faisal Abbasi

International development organizations recently conveyed us a message that government in Pakistan is untrustworthy and therefore humanitarian aid in desirable quantity is hard to arrange. Many of us accepted the argument and starting divulging additional reasons on international donors being right in avoiding a direly needed bout of foreign assistance. We should try to be critical about such claims which primarily blame the victim.

Let us say, you call us untrustworthy and therefore you refuse to pour money into our kitty so that we fight against the unprecedented calamity on our own. You call our state institutions untrustworthy slipping into the coffin of a failed state. You call us untrustworthy because we got a ‘bigger cheque’ from the USA and refused the Communists. Had we accepted the smaller cheque and fought the imposed war against you then what we were supposed to be? Traitors? But we accepted the cheque and remained trustworthy till the time cheap gun fodder was needed. The transaction was simple and persuasive. We, the untrustworthy, joined the most ‘truthful’ arrangements like SEATO/CENTO and remained most aligned nation outside the NATO and fought as frontline state – we remained trustworthy. Now once the war-machine appears to be tired, exhausted, and needs oiling then we become untrustworthy, corrupt, and extortionists. In fact, we were trustworthy for the expansion of military-industrial complex and now when we need humanitarian assistance we are untrustworthy. Continue reading


Filed under Climate Change, Disaster Management

How Does Sewage Treatment Work?

Sewage treatment turns out to be a somewhat less nasty business than you probably thought

By Scott Huler

The guy running the snake down our sewer looks matter-of-fact. Our sewage has been backing up. Right next to the pipe connecting our house to the sewer line running down our street stands a 70-year-old willow oak, and I worry the tree’s roots have found their way, during the droughty past year, into our line. He shrugs: Maybe it’s tree roots, maybe it’s a collapsed pipe, maybe it’s a yo-yo. The snake went in only a dozen feet or so and found a clog, and now the little claw at the end is spinning. Once he pulls it out we’ll know better what’s going on. I leave him to his business, though I cast an annoyed glance at the oak. Sewer pipes fit together simply, with a bell joint, and tiny root hairs find their way to the nutrient-rich flow, then grow larger, eventually growing large enough to shatter the vitreous clay pipe that forms so many service lines or dislodge a joint if the pipes are cast iron. Nobody knows what our pipes, 70 years old, are made of, but I fear we’re about to find out.

Fifteen minutes later he’s winding the snake back up, writing a bill, and exonerating the oak.

"Do you have a baby?" he asks. We do.

"Do you use those flushable wipes?" We do.

"Don’t," he says. The entire paper industry in recent years has worked to develop more and more flushable items: baby wipes, moist adult wipes, antibacterial bathroom scrubbers, diaper liners, diapers. He shakes his head: If it doesn’t come apart in your hands, don’t flush it. All it has to do is hold its form for an hour or so and it can find a place to catch: a joint, a root, a pimple on the inside of the pipe, one of the little mounds of rust buildup called tubercules. Then, like a snag in a river, it starts catching other stuff and you’ve got yourself a situation, either for you or for your whole neighborhood. We’re like a nation of 1-year-olds, throwing everything in the toilet. "Toilet paper and what comes out of you," he says. "That’s what should go in the toilet." Take the goldfish outside and bury it; otherwise the best case is it’s just going to get caught in a screen at the treatment plant. It won’t biodegrade on the way down, and it might cause trouble. And let’s not even bring up those garbage disposals–we had had another guy out 6 months before and he excavated enough of a neatly processed carrot that with sufficient patience we could have reconstructed it. The sewer, person after person tells me, is for sewage.

Your favorite pop culture reference to sewage may involve Art Carney, in character as Ed Norton, singing, "Together we stand, with shovel in hand, to keep things rolling along." Or maybe it’s one of those scenes from Phantom of the Opera or Les Mis, with all kinds of French high drama occurring amid the atmospheric flow. I prefer Carl Spackler in Caddyshack, cackling while creating plastic explosive animals against a backdrop of sacks of the common golf-course fertilizer Milorganite. You scarcely notice it, but I’ll decode that: Milorganite is short for MILwaukee ORGAnic NITrogEn, a soil treatment produced by the city of Milwaukee’s wastewater treatment plant since 1925 and now used on lawns all over the country. It’s the end result of their sewage treatment, and they ship thousands of tons of it each year.

The point isn’t so much that what happens to our sewage reaches into every crevice of our culture. The point is that once you’re managing it instead of wishing it away, sewage turns out to be a pretty good thing.

In the North Carolina State Archives in Raleigh, just hanging around atop some cabinets lies an extra set of 4-foot-square planning maps made in 1922–the first planning documents in Raleigh’s history. They make great idle-time study: "Locations of Fires in Buildings: One of a Series of Preliminary Zoning Studies," says one. Another shows the water distribution system, a 16-inch and a 14-inch line coming from the pumping station down by Walnut Creek to the city water tower; another shows hard-surface paving; a fourth demonstrates "Barriers to Street Extensions and Residential and Commercial Growth."

By far my favorite is "Sewer Mains and Laterals," with thick, colored-pencil stripes in brown, blue, and yellow showing the locations of different sizes of underground sewer pipes–starting from 6-inch diameters in neighborhoods like mine to the largest mains back then, 24 inches. What I love about the map is the outfalls–at Crabtree Creek north of town and Walnut Creek to the south (safely downstream from the pump that brings drinking water to the city), the colored-pencil stripes simply stop. That’s where the sewage goes: into the river.

Those days seem almost absurdly quaint now, but they’re not so bygone after all. In 1940, in some of the largest cities in the United States–Boston, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, St. Louis, Kansas City–every drop of whatever you flushed down the toilet was dumped untreated into a nearby harbor, river, or lake. New York City in 1940 treated approximately one quarter of its sewage, and it reached 100 percent only in 1986. Until then, had you visited your Aunt Louise on the Upper West Side, all your business would have flowed directly into the Hudson.

Historians estimate that before indoor plumbing became widespread, the average person used less than 5 gallons of water per day; nowadays a good round (and low) estimate of American at-home water consumption is 100 gallons per day, per person. Some of that gets sprinkled on lawns and a bit washes cars and pets, but overall we use that water either for cleaning ourselves and our dishes and clothes, in which cases it ends up going down the drain, or for drinking, in which cases it ends up going down the toilet. Every day each one of us turns 100 gallons or so of water into sewage. That’s a lot of sewage, requiring a lot of treatment–and very little of it is poop.

At least now we do treat it. Though people have been piping sewage for thousands of years, actual sewage treatment is barely a century old. People had to figure out first that human waste was not just noisome but actually unhealthy and then how it was unhealthy before they could begin figuring out what to do with it. Once they did, they got busy in a hurry; you can all but drink most of the water that comes out of Western treatment plants, and most of the biosolids removed during the process are used to fertilize crops and treat soil. The system is not flawless–biosolids sometimes contaminate water; grease clogs cause sewage spills or system failures; heavy metals, pharmaceuticals, and personal care products build up in biosolids–but overall it works splendidly.

Perhaps the first written sanitation instructions come from the Bible, which, written by and for a nomadic people, takes a small-is-beautiful approach: Deuteronomy urges you to dig a hole and "cover that which cometh from thee." By about 3000 BC, inhabitants of the Orkney Islands had invented toilets: Existing stone hut walls from that period have little niches with holes that drained to underground channels. The sewer historian Jon Schladweiler says that by a thousand years later, civilizations throughout the ancient Mediterranean and Middle East were using pipes to transmit both stormwater and human wastewater away from homes and cities and, usually, into waterways. By about 1500 BC the Cretan palace of Knossos had an actual flush toilet–a seat, a pan, and a slave to pour water to sluice what disposable-diaper companies call "the insult" to a drain in the floor. Cretan techniques for channeling water and wastewater spread throughout Greece, and by the 5th century BC, Athenians were piping wastewater and stormwater to a reservoir outside of town and using it to irrigate crops.

The Romans improved on even that: After considering Rome’s many accomplishments, Pliny the Elder called the sewers "the greatest accomplishment of all." (The word "sewer" comes from the Latin exaquare, "to carry away water.") The constant flow of water coming into the city from the aqueducts supplied public fountains and baths, and Romans figured out that public bathwater ought to be changed a couple of times a day. "They built public latrine buildings immediately adjacent to the baths," Schladweiler says, and flushed the latrines by routing the used bathwater under them. The majority of human waste, though, was simply thrown into the streets; aqueduct water was used to wash the streets and sweep that waste into the drains. Because Roman sewers lacked ventilation, the only egress for sewer gas was those same drains and latrines. On the plus side, Romans also invented portable toilets, setting urns by the side of the road near the entrances to the city (vendors would rent you what Schladweiler calls "a modesty cape"). Further, the 1st-century emperor Vespasian had workers collect the contents of urinals, which he then taxed and sold to fullers, tradesmen who cleaned and dyed the Romans’ clothing–they had figured out that the ammonia in urine had cleaning powers.

After the fall of the empire, Romans kept throwing filth in the streets, but nobody was washing them. In Rome many sewer pipes fell into disrepair. Everywhere else people got along without them as they always had: at best using latrines (unlined pits) or cesspits (pits lined with perforated masonry that let liquids drain away into the soil while solids piled up for eventual removal) and at worst throwing their waste into the streets and leaving it there. In the 13th century the French king Philip II paved the streets of Paris to reduce the stench, with the result that afterward the waste sat on the stones instead of percolating into the soil. In the 14th century, one of his successors, Philip VI, ordered Parisians to sweep in front of their houses and take the refuse to a dump; crews of sanitation workers were organized to clean up whatever was left. In a return to the technology of the Roman Empire, in 1370 Paris opened a series of drainage canals that also carried waste–the biggest was lined with masonry and called the Grand Egout, or Great Drain. By the 16th century one British royal castle had to post signs reminding people not to "foul the staircases, corridors, or closets with urine or other filth." When the palace of Versailles opened in the 17th century, it had lovely splashing fountains but no bathrooms or sewers.

The world changed in 1842, when the city of Hamburg, after suffering a terrible fire, decided to lay sewer pipes while rebuilding. The new pipes vented through house drains and had a mechanism for flushing using tidewater. The system was efficient, didn’t stink, and became a worldwide model. (Before the introduction of these sewers, typhoid, transmitted through water tainted by sewage, caused 48.5 of every 1,000 deaths in Hamburg; after the sewers came into use the number dropped by half.) Immediately thereafter the Parisians began turning their 14th-century sewer system into a wonder of the world, building hundreds of miles of huge brick tunnels to carry away stormwater and everything else Parisians cared to sluice inside.

When early American cities such as Boston and Philadelphia began paving their streets with cobblestones in the 17th century, gutters–and even some underground sewers–were included among the improvements. Private citizens built Boston’s first systems, designed, like the Cloaca Maxima and the Grand Egout, to drain cellars and swamps. Bostonians soon grew weary of the constant repairs those wooden sewer lines required and undertook a sort of public-private partnership by issuing construction permits for sewers; everyone who wished to connect a drain had to share in the cost, and the contracts stipulated requirements about pavement reconstruction. Philadelphia had a system of culverts and some underground sewers by 1750, and New York City started putting a few sewers underground later in the century. Human waste, though, remained mostly a personal matter of cesspits and privies.

Sewers really took off in 1854, with John Snow’s discovery that the London cholera epidemic was caused by sewage-tainted drinking water. With advances in microbiology, people began to understand that human waste carried disease in the form of microbes, and increasingly they wanted to protect themselves from their sewage. What’s more, the introduction of reliable water service in the 19th century and the spread of the modern flush toilet (the British Public Health Act of 1848, which required every home to have some kind of sanitary arrangement, listed "water closet" as one of the alternatives to an ash pit or privy) vastly increased the amount of wastewater households generated. Cesspits and privies that had already created offensive nuisances now produced vast, vile-smelling seepages, overwhelmed by the new volume of water. And it wasn’t just toilets, either–connections draining sinks and tubs began overwhelming sewer pipes, too; in 1844 Boston tried to slow the tide, literally, by passing a law requiring a doctor’s order for every bath.

As cities grew in size and density during the Industrial Revolution, they all had to build more, and better, sewers. The cholera epidemic wasn’t motivation enough for London, but the "Great Stink" of 1858, when the Thames smelled so bad that Parliament considered relocating, got the city government’s attention; it built new sewers in the 1850s and ’60s to carry waste downstream from central London. Brooklyn introduced sewers in 1857, and Chicago not long after. Boston, still largely building sewers privately, had about 100 miles of sewers in 1869; by 1885 that had expanded to 226 miles, and new houses were expected to connect to the system both for pump and washbasin waste and for the human waste now going into flush toilets instead of privies.

Every city had its own problems and its own characteristics. Some of Boston’s sewers had outfalls dammed by the tide 12 hours of every 24; others, built by unscrupulous contractors in land reclamation projects like the Back Bay, sagged and lost their downhill slope, causing settling, clogs, and backups. Sylvan Seattle had pipes made of wooden staves–and faced a tide problem so severe that at certain times of day toilets became foul geysers; eventually the city simply rebuilt itself higher than its sewer pipes. In Chicago, the outfalls of the sewers made such a mess of Lake Michigan that during large rainstorms the plume of tainted water flowed all the way out to the intake for the water system. In response, engineers built a series of canals and reversed the flow of the Chicago River, turning it from a drainage into Lake Michigan into a flow from Lake Michigan toward the Mississippi. They also moved the intake farther out into the lake.

All these "solutions" merely moved the problem. As one historian said in describing Boston’s covering a brook filled with sewage and routing it to the Charles River rather than directly into Boston Harbor, this "somewhat lessened the nuisance caused by it, or at least transferred it to another locality." Older cities on the coasts built combined systems channeling both sewage and stormwater, whereas newer and smaller cities built separate systems–both storm drains and systems of much smaller pipes that handled only sewage–thus preventing sewage overflows in storms. Lennox, Massachusetts, built the first such system in 1875, and Memphis built one in 1880. Since then, that’s what everybody has built.

Raleigh laid its first sewer pipes in 1890. Fayetteville Street, Raleigh’s main road, wasn’t paved until 1886, at exactly the same time the first water pipes were being laid; where water pipes go, sewer pipes soon follow. The privies of Raleigh’s population of barely 10,000 almost certainly had not yet polluted the soil enough to foul its wells, and the new sewer pipes, running north to Crabtree Creek and south to Walnut Creek, would not have discharged more than the streams could absorb. (A stream running at about 6 cubic feet per second can absorb the waste of about 1,000 people, so to support 10,000 people the two creeks together would have had to flow at around 60 cfs. Currently, on a dry day in a dry month, they flow at about 75 cfs.) Now, with 2,300 miles of pipes all heading roughly southeast to Raleigh’s wastewater treatment plant, the sewer collection system turns out to be the only infrastructure stream that follows that natural tree pattern that I’d expected to find everywhere. The leaves are houses, connected by 4-inch service lines to 6- or 8-inch mains that run mostly beneath streets, and then to 18-, 24-, or 30-inch collectors that start out along streets but head downhill to creek basins, leading to larger and larger pipes and finally to the plant. I sat down with a friendly GIS expert to check it out.

The GIS map easily showed me the path of my own wastewater: the 4-inch lateral in my yard–the same pipe that "flushable" wipe clogged–runs into an 8-inch main, which heads downhill along my street until it crosses the Pigeon House Branch, down by the pool I like to sit by. It runs along the Pigeon House until it joins a 24-inch PVC east of town (the path is following rivers by then, not roads), and thereafter joins larger and larger pipes–some made of PVC, some of reinforced concrete, some of ductile iron. Eventually this stream hits the dual 72-inch reinforced concrete pipes that head directly to the sewer plant, though those sometimes separate into three or four pipes, for ease of maintenance. It’s simple and, especially after the spaghetti tangle of the water lines, rather satisfying. It’s much like the stormwater system, if every ravine in every drainage basin remained piped and they all came together in one place before entering the Neuse.

To find out what happens in these pipes, I talked to Raleigh’s dean of pipage, sewer collection superintendent Hunter "Gene" Stanley. "We’re not like New York City," Stanley says right off. "Some of those you can drive a truck through." New York has a combined sewer system that has to be prepared to move the billions of gallons of water that a major storm could dump on the city, not just the comparative trickle of sewage the city generates daily. Combined systems manage overflows with relatively simple mechanical junctions called regulators: basically weir dams in pipes or junction boxes. A weir is nothing more than a low barrier for steering water. When flow is routine, the dam routes it through pipes to the treatment plant; during large rain events, the flow of mixed stormwater and wastewater rises high, overtops the weirs, and flows directly through outfalls to rivers or lakes. Such an event is called a CSO, or combined sewage overflow. New York dumps about 40 billion gallons of CSOs into its rivers and harbors every year.

But before you draw too much comfort from Raleigh’s system having to convey only sewage (the plant treats about 45 million gallons per day that are generated by the 400,000 or so customers connected to the system; it’s rated for 60 million gallons, and it’s being expanded to 75), consider this: The increase in flow caused by nothing more than rainfall and street flow coming in through manhole vents in low-lying areas can nearly double the flow to the treatment plant. Really? "Oh yeah, oh yeah," Stanley says. "A thousand gallons a day [per manhole] if it rains all day." Add in leaky joints, cracks, and holes made by thirsty tree roots, and you can have significant water infiltration during rainstorms. Though catching and correcting the breaks and overflows are an unavoidable part of his job, Stanley stays focused on preventive maintenance.

Stanley grew up in rural North Carolina and has called his preventive maintenance management "an ol’ country boy work system"–he copies pages from the map book of his system and gives them to his crews. When the crew has flushed and inspected every line on the map, it comes back. The department logs its maintenance in feet per day, and it likes to reach 300,000 feet per month if it can, meaning that every pipe in the system gets a look-see once every few years. GIS keeps the maps updated, of course, but Stanley’s system has been working since they were using nothing more than blueprints and as-built surveys; finding that what’s an 8-inch pipe on the map is really a 6-inch is just part of keeping on top of things. That’s why you carry different-size saw blades in your truck.

Stanley says a sewer is a simple thing: The pipe needs to drop about half a foot per 100 feet of length, a slope of 0.5 percent, which is fast enough to keep everything moving, but not so fast that the liquid races away from the solids. Bigger pipes–30 inches or larger–can slope even less. But they all must flow downhill, powered by gravity, which is why sewer pipes so commonly crisscross the stormwater drainages: Raleigh Public Utilities Department director Dale Crisp calls all the sewers that run in a particular drainage a "sewershed," which for a while became my favorite new word.

Of course, if wastewater pipes followed only natural gullies, the mains would eventually have to parallel the river, and for many reasons, from aesthetics to the catastrophic results of a spill, nobody wants that. The system generally moves downhill, but pipes sometimes need to cross rises. So the city has more than 100 lift stations, where the contents of pipes are pumped to join other flows or where wastewater from lowlying areas collects in sumps. When the water gets high enough, it trips a float valve and a pump clicks on and lifts it up a hill–kind of like your toilet, only this float valve starts the flush instead of stopping it. I visited one lift station, a 10- by 20-foot rectangle of electrical boxes that look like a central air-conditioning system behind chain-link fences between two houses, controlling an underground sump; even when it’s pumping, if you were more than 10 feet away you wouldn’t hear it. The station has a backup pump and a generator to power it, plus a little antenna to send information back and forth to the supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) system at the treatment plant; that’s plenty of equipment, but just the same, if you weren’t looking for it you wouldn’t know it was there. A much larger station sits on the trunk line, giving a lift to pretty much all of Raleigh’s waste on its way to the plant. It’s underneath a highway on-ramp, and though some people suggested I could find it by following my nose, it didn’t smell when I went out to visit it.

Stanley hands over a laudatory profile of Raleigh’s sewer maintenance department in a recent issue of Municipal Sewer and Water magazine, then hands me off to Robert Smith, a sewer monitoring supervisor and asks him to show me around.

First things first: We walk the yard, checking out trucks. Sewer guys basically do three things: They perform maintenance, they respond to crises, and they "TV" pipes, sending tiny little vehicles with cameras on them up the pipes to check both their condition as part of general maintenance and whether the crews who claim to have recently maintained them have actually done so.

Smith shows off the department’s various trucks. Rodder trucks have a spool of linked rods, a sort of long chain that the workers feed into a manhole and then rotate, just like someone cleaning roots or a clog out of your drain at home. Some rodders have cutting blades or spiral grabbing implements to clear roots or debris. Flushing trucks carry enormous water tanks to feed high-pressure hoses with spinning heads on the end: Workers feed the hose into the system, usually past the next manhole, and then turn on a pump. Water pressure starts the head spinning, spraying water at thousands of pounds of pressure per square inch back toward the truck as the truck pulls back the hose, scouring the pipes along the way. Standard now is the combination truck, which carries tanks of water for flushing and a garbage-truck-size tank for postflush water, which the truck vacuums up with a huge tube that hangs from a derrick over the cab like an elephant’s trunk. The driver eventually empties that tank onto a pad in the parking area, Smith explains; water drains off into the sewer system and the cleaned-out debris–tampons, bricks, gravel, roots, supposedly flushable materials–gets loaded into a dump truck once a week and sent to the landfill. Smith marshals those vacuum trucks when Raleigh has a sewage overflow, too. Another truck he calls a blockbuster has a water hammer–a pipe that uses water to rhythmically pound and break up large blockages. Finally, he shows me a sort of souped-up golf cart that provides access to the many parts of the system that, because they follow ravines rather than roads, are not easily reached by regular trucks.

But we’re standing in a parking lot while people are out in the field, rodding sewers. "Hey," he says. "You wanna shoot the line?" You bet.

Our first stop is a highway off-ramp, where two flush trucks and a pickup are parked behind orange cones. Several men wearing hard hats, green mesh vests, and rubber-palmed gloves manage a hose coming off a spool on the back of one of the trucks and running to a manhole 20 feet down a steep ravine. A hundred yards away, two guys stand at another manhole looking out for the spinning head of the water jet, which Smith says is called a Warthog. Once it’s past, the guys still at the truck turn on the jet and the spool to start reeling it back in. Over the roar of the truck engine Smith explains that on the way out the head sprays as a sort of presoak; "on the way back, it’s like a broom." Water-jet cleaning like this is standard for clearing roots, grit, and, especially, grease: "We run into some lines [where] you think, Where in the world did all this grease come from? It looks like you sprayed foam on that pipe." Because the bell-and-spigot joints in sewer pipes provide places for tiny tree roots to enter, and because trees got very thirsty during the drought, crews commonly run a saw through the line after cleaning just to make sure they’ve got everything. Where the vacuum trucks can’t reach a manhole, the crew flushes debris downstream to one the truck can reach.

That’s sewer flushing, and the sanitation department does it all day long. Ever since the Hamburg sewers first captured tidal water and then released it all at once to flush out debris, the basic idea hasn’t changed much: You use water to flush, you use rods or hooks to attack clogs, and, as Ed Norton sang, you keep things rolling along.

Smith packs us back in his pickup and we drive to a parking lot and a box truck with a picture of a fish on it. The three guys in the truck are going to TV a pipe: Mike is preparing the camera and the screens in the back of the truck while Wayne and someone who introduces himself only as "the Rev" open the manhole, popping the cover off easily with a metal hook. Wayne and the Rev then retrieve the camera from the truck. With six tiny rubber wheels and an inquisitive single eye, it looks a bit like the Mars rover vehicle, only tiny and dangling at the end of a wire. When they come back to the manhole Wayne and the Rev are shocked to find it suddenly filled with sewage. This kind of backup indicates a block in the 6-inch pipe at the bottom of the manhole, though it drains away as fast as it backed up.

A few moments of observation shows two things: The backup comes and goes rhythmically, meaning there’s a pump station upstream that sends a pulse of wastewater every couple of minutes, and the blockage is a bunch of pieces of some solid substance that nobody can identify. Out come spoons–hooked, perforated shovels on the end of 12-foot handles. Wayne, Robert Smith, and Eddie, another supervisor who has arrived, take turns scooping, pushing things back and forth between rushes from the pump and pulling them out with an awkward hand-over-hand motion that keeps the gunk barely balanced on the edge of the spoon unless you knock the handle against an overhanging tree branch. It’s like using an iced-tea spoon to fish olive pits out of a bleach jug at the back of a cupboard. "And people think it’s Ty-D-Bol that keeps their bathrooms clean," Wayne says.

The stuff turns out to be congealed grease, and pieces of it are sufficiently solid–and sufficiently far up the 6-inch pipe–that they block the progress of the camera every time the Rev dangles it down there and tries to get it running. The vacuum nozzle can clear the manhole but can’t pull grease out of the pipe and it resists everything else they’ve got, so the crew finally gives up on TV-ing that pipe for the day, until they can clean the pipe–possibly by using a bucket truck (which feeds a cable past the debris and drags a bucket from one manhole to the next, pulling before it the kind of grit and large debris flushing just doesn’t get) or possibly by sending someone down there in the hope that a simple scoop into the pipe will clear the debris. (Sending someone down a manhole, though it’s only about 8 feet deep, requires confined spaces training, extra supervision, and ventilation equipment–sewer gas contains methane and hydrogen sulfide, and it has killed workers as recently as 2008.)

Smith shows me video footage from another TV-ing expedition that shows long traverses down shiny pipes half full of dull gray water. The color makes sense–much more of it comes from your washing machine and shower than from your toilet. "First thing people say is ‘Eew,’" Smith says; "they think I’m walking around in feces." But even the wastewater filling up the manhole that day smelled more like runoff than poop.

Though most blockages are caused by grease or roots, the talk naturally turns to memorable clogs, and I hear about mops, golf clubs, firewood, riprap, and even a refrigerator that have had to be pulled out of manholes. Once a carpet remnant created a block so nasty it took most of a day to clear out. If you’re on call and someone calls in a spill, especially one where the overflow is making its way toward a waterway, then it’s showtime. "You go running after it like it’s a Russian spy," Wayne says. "You chase the spill, pulling hose, four, five, six miles." First the crew finds the end of the spill in the waterway–where the water is still clean–and sets up a block using hay bales, which both dam the flow and filter any water that might trickle through. A pump immediately starts channeling the polluted water into the nearest downstream manhole. And while a crew works on clearing the clog itself, other crews chase the spill, hosing down the sides and bottom of the stream. You can tell when untreated wastewater has hit a stream, Smith says, by the powdery-looking buildup it leaves: "It looks like gray dust in the water," coating the rocks and sticks. The hoses clear the scum off the bottom and stir up the mud. "That muddy water acts like a glue to that stuff–it piggybacks on the mud." Then you pump it out at the end of the spill. "After we go through, that creek looks like nothing ever hit it. It’s pretty neat."

One day I pulled over on a main highway to watch a sewer crew fix a leaky pipe using what’s called cured-in-place pipe: A long liner impregnated with resin is pushed into a pipe by water, then they pump steam through the pipe to harden the resin, and presto–the pipe is, though slightly narrower, all but new. The crew runs an auxiliary pipe while they fix the leaky one. Workers can find leaks by stopping up pipes with sandbags, pumping smoke down a manhole, and then seeing where the smoke starts creeping out of the ground. Clearly, people have thought about this stuff a lot.

"It gets in your blood," said a senior engineer and inspector named Dave, who managed a construction site near my house. I had stopped by a sewer truck to watch a couple of guys hose out a pipe, which they followed to a manhole at the backyard boundary of a few properties. "I don’t like the looks of that," one had said when, spooning out grit from the hole, he unearthed pieces of clay pipe. Rather than dig on several people’s private property, the city decided to abandon the line running between the houses and reroute the flow to the end of the street, where it could join a larger main and head downhill. But since the flow had to go downhill, the engineers had to get wastewater to flow away from the manhole in a different direction. That meant, simply, digging a deeper trench in the direction they wanted it to go. They had to do the same thing on the line that received the new flow, so they were digging on two streets for a few weeks, and I occasionally stopped by.

I watched them carefully lower new green PVC pipes and check the slope. They use a laser to measure, with a sort of bull’s-eye target at the end. The red dot right in the center means the pipe has the right slope. "We used to run string lines, length by length," Dave told me. "This makes it easier. A lot easier." They lay pipe on a bed of gravel, supporting it with rocks and pieces of brick to maintain the slope, unlike water pipe, which, under pressure, can just be laid in a trench and buried. Any pipe below 12 feet has to be ductile iron, to support the weight of the earth on top; same with any pipe that crosses a creekbed, hangs under a bridge, or does anything but lie directly on the earth. Even though sewer pipes start out low and have to keep going lower, in a city with no subway system there’s not much other infrastructure in the way; 12 feet is fairly deep for Raleigh.

The Neuse River Wastewater Treatment Plant, southeast of Raleigh, discharges most of the 40-plus million gallons of water it treats every day in a state bordering on potable. Spread over 300 acres (and surrounded by 1,200 acres of farm fields for application of biosolids), the plant is big enough that to see it you have to tool around in a van; you can’t walk it like you can the water treatment plant miles upstream. Superintendent T. J. Lynch started my tour with a drive to the headworks, where screens and vortex filters remove the floating junk and grit from the outflow of the twin 72-inch trunks flowing in from the sewer system. The floating stuff is more obvious, but Lynch emphasizes the basins that settle out grit: In a process heavy on pumps and pipes, grit is anathema. "Think about sand," he says. "It’s abrasive. It will literally wear out your equipment." They fill three Dumpsters a day with grit and the debris caught by screening, all of which goes to the landfill.

Remarkably, though the air has a certain tang, it doesn’t stink. "Ninety-nine-point-nine percent of it is just water," Lynch says. "We’ve just got to get that 0.1 percent out."

Outside the headworks Lynch points to a concrete basin almost the exact size and shape of a baseball field, sloping downward from the outfield to a low point at home plate: a 32-million-gallon equalization tank. The sewer system does not have water towers or storage tanks to accommodate regular fluctuations in wastewater volume (flow peaks at breakfast time and again just after midnight), so it stores water in the equalization tank during periods of high flow and, especially, storms: Lynch says, "It’s not uncommon for us during a heavy rain to see our flow double." The equalization tank gives Lynch a place to put that excess flow. When the flow slows down again, he uses four enormous screw pumps to push the water to the top of the slope on which the plant is built–the rest of the way through the plant, gravity does the work. He shows off the pumps proudly. They’re called "vertical turbine solids-handling pumps," but he notes that they use technology roughly unchanged since the time of Archimedes: turning screws to lift water.

From the headworks the water flows to primary clarifiers–tanks through which the wastewater flows extremely slowly, not unlike the settlement basins at the water plant, and with the same goal: allowing solids to settle to the bottom, creating a "primary sludge blanket," though here grease and oil also float to the top. Scrapers make a circuit along the surface, scooping grease into a small flume, then cycling to the bottom where they shepherd the sludge to its own pumps. Water cleanliness is measured by biochemical oxygen demand (BOD)–the amount of oxygen the bacteria in the water use to remove its organic impurities. The lower the BOD, the smaller the next basins can be and the lower the plant’s operating costs. This is a crucial point, given how much energy the next step takes. That step is what Lynch calls "the absolute heart and soul" of his plant: the activated sludge process.

So after a few hours in the clarification tank, the water flows into aeration basins, six concrete pools of several million gallons apiece, the bottoms of which are crisscrossed by air nozzles. These enormous tanks of what looks like boiling brown sewage are just what you imagine when you think "sewage treatment." But it’s not boiling: What’s happening is aeration, which provides oxygen, in the presence of which bacteria love to eat poop. "We are bug farmers," Lynch says. Bacteria in the basins multiply rapidly, like the starter for sourdough bread. The wastewater provides the food, the nozzles provide the oxygen, and the bacteria feel like they’re on a cruise: nothing but breathing, eating, and reproducing, with free food all day long.

This process removes all the harmful chemicals from the water–except nitrates, which feed algae in rivers. These algae propagate wildly and then die. "And the decomposition sucks up all the oxygen in the river, killing the fish. So now we’re going into the same tanks and we put walls in there and we have different zones where we stimulate the bacteria to do different things" that remove nitrogen. After about a day of that, the water spends 2 days flowing very slowly through secondary clarification basins: a dozen large circular tanks, each the size of an aboveground swimming pool. "It’s very quiet," Lynch says. "The bacteria settle down and create what we call the sludge blanket," which sinks to the bottom and is pumped out. The water trickles out through V-notch weirs around the top of the tank, by which point it has a barely yellowish tinge and no odor whatsoever.

We’ll get to the next stage of water filtration, but what’s more interesting at this point is what happens to the sludge. Most of it becomes RAS–return activated sludge–and rejoins new wastewater in the aeration basins, providing the starter for a whole new treatment reaction. Bacteria can go around the cycle half a dozen times, Lynch says, but eventually they become WAS–waste activated sludge. In the WAS stream, the bacteria go to four big covered tanks called aerobic sludge digesters, in which instead of wastewater nutrients they eat each other. We climbed up to the top of one of the basins and looked through a porthole inside: You could almost hear the screaming. Okay, not really; it’s just a tank of sludge. "If it’s good sludge, it’s got that nice brown color–it’s oxygenated, and it don’t smell bad up here," Lynch says. If it’s black, something’s out of whack–it probably needs more oxygen.

Aerobic digestion, Lynch says, is actually inefficient–it costs money, since the plant has to pump in oxygen; anaerobic digestion, to which the plant hopes to switch, is the opposite: It generates methane, which the plant can use to generate electricity to operate its pumps and blowers; the waste heat from the generators can even help provide the heat the anaerobic digesters need to keep the bugs at optimum eating-each-other temperature. "There are plants now that generate their entire power needs from that methane," he says. "They pull no energy from the grid."

From the digesters we drive to the dewatering building–just as at the water treatment plant, the wastewater plant uses belt presses to squeeze the water out of the last, bug-eat-bug stage of the sludge. Enormous screw conveyors grind big pieces of the dewatered stuff along like the mixers in an industrial bakery. Lynch hands me a piece of what they call cake. It has no odor at all and feels a lot like inch-thick rubber, the kind used under playground equipment. Polymers are introduced to help coagulation and add to the rubbery feel. "Don’t forget to wash your hands," Lynch says.

We leave the sludge and return to the water. Primary treatment is mechanical–settling; secondary treatment is biochemical–activated sludge digestion. Tertiary treatment combines mechanical and photochemical: The water flows to a dozen deep sand filters, which remove the remaining fine particles. The final hurdle the water clears is ultraviolet treatment. We walk over to a small, low concrete building, in front of which Lynch pulls up a flat piece of aluminum to reveal a 4- or 5-foot-wide channel of water flowing smoothly past banks of green-glowing UV lamps. They look much like fluorescent lights, though they have a self-wiping mechanism to keep them clean. "It doesn’t kill [pathogens]," he says of the light. "It just scrambles their RNA. Sterilizes ’em." He mentions in passing an open concrete channel between the filters and the UV treatment, in which tilapia swim. "It keeps the duckweed down," he says. Once fish are swimming in your treated sewage, you’ve got to feel like you’re getting the job done.

Out behind the UV building we finally reach the finished product: the effluent, flowing out in strong wide arcs into a canal from a dozen UV channels. The water seems to have a greenish tinge, but when Lynch fills a little water bottle and holds it up it looks utterly clear. Then we drive down toward the end of the line, where the effluent enters the Neuse River. There, in a tiny green glade at the bottom of the hill, the river bends into a cove, near the bank of which a few surface bubbles give away the presence of the underground pipe. Lynch says if you didn’t know where the pipe was you could follow shad upstream to find it: "The water’s warm and highly oxygenated," so the fish love it.

Lynch says the river is the natural place for the water anyhow. Every drop of Raleigh water comes from the Neuse watershed and ought to return there. "All we’re doing," he says, "is what a river would do." That is, rivers are naturally self-cleaning, and the Neuse would absorb waste, given time and distance. Waste on the ground would be dispersed by rain and the water would be filtered through the earth, entering the groundwater system clean; matter that made it to the stream would become waterlogged and sink. "On the rocky bottom, bacteria live," he says, that feed off the nutrients in waste. "What happens in our plant is the exact same thing that happens in a stream. That’s exactly where the process came from. We’ve just concentrated it," Lynch says. "It might take the river a couple hundred miles to accomplish what we do in a couple days." We’ve been talking about sewage treatment for 2 hours–about dewatered cake and grit screens and activated sludge and UV filters–and suddenly I understand.

What the river does is exactly what a sewage plant does, and until around World War I most people didn’t really think plants were needed at all. It was understood that watercourses were to some degree self-cleaning, that "the solution to pollution is dilution." But as populations increased, especially downstream, dilution stopped offering much of a solution. Chicagoans felt great about their famous flow-reversal of the Chicago River, sending their sewage into the Mississippi instead of into their own water supply of Lake Michigan. Predictably, the people of St. Louis were not as delighted. Their expression of dissatisfaction eventually landed them in front of the Supreme Court. Raleigh itself was sued in the late 1940s by downstream neighbor Smithfield. Smithfield won, and in 1956 Raleigh’s first sewage treatment plant opened, treating 12 million gallons per day. The current plant replaced it in 1977; it’s expanded since, and now it’s expanding again.

Raleigh’s sewage treatment will be limited not by space, but by nitrogen. In 1995 the state of North Carolina set limits on nitrogen based on totals for that year. Raleigh’s plant released 1.3 million pounds of nitrogen into the Neuse in 1995, and its current limit is 49 percent of that total, or 676,496 pounds. In 2007 it released 233,061 pounds, its lowest total ever. Still, the state-mandated limit will keep dropping, and Raleigh’s capacity to treat its sewage will probably finally reach its limit in pounds of nitrogen rather than in millions of gallons per day.

Modern sewage treatment is a boon, of course, but it creates a new problem. If you treat sewage so effectively that by the time water leaves the plant it’s almost drinkable, then what do you do with all the sludge you cleaned out of it? People have been fertilizing with their sewage since the ancient Athenians, but modern Americans seem to mistrust the process. As recently as 2006, when water-starved San Diego considered a water-saving measure to reintroduce effluent from its sewage plant into its reservoir–from which, of course, the city’s water would still be treated before use–the Union-Tribune opined, "your golden retriever may drink water out of the toilet with no ill effects. But that doesn’t mean humans should do the same." The practice would have made the reservoir no different than the Mississippi or the Neuse or any other source of water into which the effluent of cities upstream has been poured (water managers like to spout the true-enough-for-discussion statistic that by the time Londoners drink water from the Thames, it’s been through seven sets of kidneys upstream; others repeat the same chestnut about New Orleans and the Mississippi). Two years later San Diego’s mayor claimed the reuse measure was a waste of money and vetoed it. The city council overturned his veto, but it’s clear: Even in the parched Southwest, people are frightened of wastewater reuse.

(In 2008, when Raleigh introduced a plan to save water by reusing effluent from the Neuse plant–by piping it only to large-scale users, such as universities, business campuses, and country clubs, and only for irrigation–some politicians resisted. They claimed to object to "subsidizing" large-scale users through lower rates for the reuse water. Fortunately, enough people remembered the drought; the system was built, using pipes foresightedly laid almost a decade earlier.)

Given that people feel that resistant to highly treated water, what on earth to do with all this sludge? New York used to dump its sludge far out in the ocean, a practice that didn’t represent a huge improvement over dumping raw sewage, until that was outlawed in 1992, after which the city started shipping sludge by train to a Texas landfill. Plenty of cities still landfill their sludge. Raleigh chooses to follow the example of Milwaukee: More than 90 percent of its sludge is beneficially reused as biosolids (nationwide about 50 percent of sludge is reused). Some of Raleigh’s muck is thickened on gravity belt presses and applied directly to fields as Class B biosolids (according to the EPA, this use requires a buffer between fields and the public, and they can’t be used on crops for human consumption). Some of this was overapplied to the Raleigh farmland surrounding the plant in recent years; a series of poor practices resulted in groundwater contamination near the plant, so the practice was stopped, though the plant currently has the highest certification level of the National Biosolids Partnership (the NBP is a nonprofit comprising three national groups: Two represent the sewage treatment industry, which may not be the most objective source for biosolids practice assessment, and the third is the Environmental Protection Agency, which probably is).

Some primary sludge is dewatered and sold to a composting company, which treats it and sells it to agricultural products companies as safer, more highly treated Class A biosolids. The rest is mixed with lime, which raises the temperature high enough to pasteurize it, and sold to farms, institutions, and the public as Raleigh Plus, Raleigh’s own version of Milorganite. Maybe I’ll use some on my lawn. Nobody has any statistics on how it affects gophers.

Reprinted from On the Grid: A Plot of Land, an Average Neighborhood, and the Systems That Make Our World Work by Scott Huler. © 2010 by Scott Huler. By permission of Rodale, Inc., Emmaus, PA 18098

Further Reading


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Launch of the report; “It’s the thought that Counts”; Humanitarian principles and practices in Pakistan

Humanitarianism & humanitarian practice are facing unprecedented challenges. With the increasingly complex nature of conflicts; the plethora of stakeholders in humanitarian delivery; the increasingly blurred lines between humanitarian assistance, development & state building agendas; the politicization of aid; the very validity, relevance & efficiency of the Humanitarian Project are being questioned and challenged. Since 2003, the UN Humanitarian Reform Mechanisms have increasingly become the way we do business. There have been several evaluations, assessments & critique of these mechanisms.

In 2006, ActionAid conducted a research “The Evolving UN Cluster Approach in Pakistan Earthquake: An NGO Perspective” which looked at the then newly introduced UN reform mechanisms & analyzed the gaps and challenges and came up with recommendations for strengthening these mechanisms & increasing their effectiveness. After four years i.e. in 2009, as part of a 10 organization Consortium in a multi-country project aiming at strengthening the effectiveness of the UN Humanitarian Reform mechanisms, operationalizing the Principles of Partnership & increasing downward accountability in the four focus countries. The idea for this research- “It’s the thought that counts” started as a follow-up on evaluation of the UN Humanitarian Reforms in Pakistan post the Spring/ Summer 2009 insurgency operations and the resulting humanitarian crisis.

This research report attempts to view the effectiveness of humanitarian reform processes and humanitarianism more broadly by looking through the eyes of those were uprooted in the Swat and Buner Districts. The main purpose is to give voice to the affected communities in assessing and influencing the reform mechanisms. This report will bring, for the first time, these voices, recommendations and what they would like to see in terms of humanitarian response. Your presence will help us in forwarding the agenda of reforms at the global level while keeping the community at the heart of this process. The abridged version of the report has already been shared with you electronically through your humanitarian affairs officer.

The launch has been planned for 29th June in Peshawar at Pearl Continental Hotel, 2-4pm.

Action Aid

Prog Plan.doc

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G8 and G20 meeting arouses the ire of Canadians

I was sent this piece entitled Free lap-dance, am still looking for the source but this makes a great read.. Strip-club in Toronto announces, "Free lap-dance for all Presidents. Must have valid ID."

G8 and G20 summit in Toronto has the downtown core barricaded. Many streets have been closed for traffic in the area marked as red-zone. Weekend business in the entertainment district was slow as moving around has become a baffling exercise.

I saw a protest last night which had fewer participants than the number of cops assigned to keep them off the restricted areas.

The G8 and G20 meeting has aroused the ire of Canadians for extravagant expenditure while residents of Toronto express anger and frustration at hardship due to road closures. This assembly of world leaders will cost more than one billion dollars to Canadians and the Conservative government of Canada will have a tough time satisfying the critics and political opponents. A common reaction on the street includes suggestions that such meetings should be held via video-conferencing while cynics advise the world leaders to meet in desolate places like the middle of an ocean or space.

Last year, the G8 had resolved to increase investment on agriculture world-wide by 22 billion dollars but not a single extra penny of investment materialized through the year. The expenditure of over one billion on the leaders moot, critics argue, could be well spent towards eradicating hunger.

Wonder if a world leader with valid ID patronized Toronto strippers.

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Economist: A special report on water – For want of a drink

Source: Economist

WHEN the word water appears in print these days, crisis is rarely far behind. Water, it is said, is the new oil: a resource long squandered, now growing expensive and soon to be overwhelmed by insatiable demand. Aquifers are falling, glaciers vanishing, reservoirs drying up and rivers no longer flowing to the sea. Climate change threatens to make the problems worse. Everyone must use less water if famine, pestilence and mass migration are not to sweep the globe. As it is, wars are about to break out between countries squabbling over dams and rivers. If the apocalypse is still a little way off, it is only because the four horsemen and their steeds have stopped to search for something to drink.

The language is often overblown, and the remedies sometimes ill conceived, but the basic message is not wrong. Water is indeed scarce in many places, and will grow scarcer. Bringing supply and demand into equilibrium will be painful, and political disputes may increase in number and intensify in their capacity to cause trouble. To carry on with present practices would indeed be to invite disaster.

Why? The difficulties start with the sheer number of people using the stuff. When, 60 years ago, the world’s population was about 2.5 billion, worries about water supply affected relatively few people. Both drought and hunger existed, as they have throughout history, but most people could be fed without irrigated farming. Then the green revolution, in an inspired combination of new crop breeds, fertilisers and water, made possible a huge rise in the population. The number of people on Earth rose to 6 billion in 2000, nearly 7 billion today, and is heading for 9 billion in 2050. The area under irrigation has doubled and the amount of water drawn for farming has tripled. The proportion of people living in countries chronically short of water, which stood at 8% (500m) at the turn of the 21st century, is set to rise to 45% (4 billion) by 2050. And already 1 billion people go to bed hungry each night, partly for lack of water to grow food.

People in temperate climates where the rain falls moderately all the year round may not realise how much water is needed for farming. In Britain, for example, farming takes only 3% of all water withdrawals. In the United States, by contrast, 41% goes for agriculture, almost all of it for irrigation. In China farming takes nearly 70%, and in India nearer 90%. For the world as a whole, agriculture accounts for almost 70%.

Farmers’ increasing demand for water is caused not only by the growing number of mouths to be fed but also by people’s desire for better-tasting, more interesting food. Unfortunately, it takes nearly twice as much water to grow a kilo of peanuts as a kilo of soyabeans, nearly four times as much to produce a kilo of beef as a kilo of chicken, and nearly five times as much to produce a glass of orange juice as a cup of tea. With 2 billion people around the world about to enter the middle class, the agricultural demands on water would increase even if the population stood still.

Industry, too, needs water. It takes about 22% of the world’s withdrawals. Domestic activities take the other 8%. Together, the demands of these two categories quadrupled in the second half of the 20th century, growing twice as fast as those of farming, and forecasters see nothing but further increases in demand on all fronts.

Read the rest of the story here

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World’s Most Livable Cities

The recent report by Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) revealed that Canada and Australia are the world’s most livable countries, as seven of the top ten spots are occupied by their cities.

EIU, part of Economist Group, is a research and advisory company providing country, industry and management analysis worldwide, have come up with new ranking of 2010 which reveals the most livable cities of the world.

Vancouver, the Canadian city, topped the list with the score of 98 out of 100. Vancouver also topped the list in 2008 as well with the score of 98.8 out of 100. The latest survey showed that Vancouver still maintains what is required for city to be called ideal.

Vienna, the capital of Austria came second and Melbourne third. The top ten included three Canadian cities, three Australian ones and four from Europe.
The top ten cities scored more than 95. Among the 140 cities, chosen for the survey from various countries, 64 cities scored more than 80.
The Economist Intelligence Unit’s livability rating quantifies the challenges that might be presented to an individual’s lifestyle in 140 cities worldwide. Each city is assigned a score for over 30 qualitative and quantitative factors across five broad categories:

  • Stability
  • Healthcare
  • Culture and environment
  • Education
  • Infrastructure

The categories are compiled and weighted to provide an overall rating of 1–100, where 1 is considered intolerable and 100 is considered ideal.
The survey showed that the most ideal and high scoring cities are mostly mid-sized and have low population density.
Pittsburg came up to be the most livable city in United States. It was ranked 29th. Among other famous cities, London made up to position 51 and New York stood at 56th place.
Among the worst cities, Harare, the Zimbabwean capital made it to the top, with the score of 37.5 out of 100. Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh, remained 2nd in this list, with 38.7 points. Algiers (Algeria) was also placed 2nd with 38.7 points. Karachi, the biggest city of Pakistan came 5th in the list of worst cities of the world with 40.9 points.

African cities dominated in the list of worst cities.
The table shows the top ten of best and worst cities.

Bottom 10 Cities (the worst ones)
Rank City Country Score
140 Harare Zimbabwe 37.5
138* Algiers Algeria 38.7
138* Dhaka Bangladesh 38.7
137 Port Moresby Papua New Guinea 38.9
136 Lagos Nigeria 39.0
135 Karachi Pakistan 40.9
134 Douala Cameroon 43.3
133 Kathmandu Nepal 47.1
132 Colombo Sri Lanka 47.3
130* Dakar Senegal 48.3
130* Tehran Iran 48.3
Top 10 Cities
Rank City Country Score
1 Vancouver Canada 98.0
2 Vienna Austria 97.9
3 Melbourne Australia 97.5
4 Toronto Canada 97.2
5 Calgary Canada 96.6
6 Helsinki Finland 96.2
7 Sydney Australia 96.1
8* Perth Australia 95.9
8* Adelaide Australia 95.9
10 Auckland New Zealand 95.7

* share the same position

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The Politically Incorrect Guide to Ending Poverty (Atlantic)

Atlantic, May/June 2010

In the 1990s, Paul Romer revolutionized economics. In the aughts, he became rich as a software entrepreneur. Now he’s trying to help the poorest countries grow rich—by convincing them to establish foreign-run “charter cities” within their borders. Romer’s idea is unconventional, even neo-colonial—the best analogy is Britain’s historic lease of Hong Kong. And against all odds, he just might make it happen.

By Sebastian Mallaby

Halfway through the 12th century, and a long time before economists began pondering how to turn poor places into rich ones, the Germanic prince Henry the Lion set out to create a merchant’s mecca on the lawless Baltic coast. It was an ambitious project, a bit like trying to build a new Chicago in modern Congo or Iraq. Northern Germany was plagued by what today’s development gurus might delicately call a “bad-governance equilibrium,” its townships frequently sacked by Slavic marauders such as the formidable pirate Niclot the Obotrite. But Henry was not a mouse. He seized control of a fledgling town called Lübeck, had Niclot beheaded on the battlefield, and arranged for Lübeck to become the seat of a diocese. A grand rectangular market was laid out at the center of the town; all that was missing was the merchants.

To attract that missing ingredient to his city, Henry hit on an idea that has enjoyed a sort of comeback lately. He devised a charter for Lübeck, a set of “most honorable civic rights,” calculating that a city with light regulation and fair laws would attract investment easily. The stultifying feudal hierarchy was cast aside; an autonomous council of local burgesses would govern Lübeck. Onerous taxes and trade restrictions were ruled out; merchants who settled in Lübeck would be exempt from duties and customs throughout Henry the Lion’s lands, which stretched south as far as Bavaria. The residents of Lübeck were promised fair treatment before the law and an independent mint that would shelter them from confiscatory inflation. With this bill of rights in place, Henry dispatched messengers to Russia, Denmark, Norway, and Sweden. Merchants who liked the sound of his charter were invited to migrate to Lübeck.

The plan worked. Immigrants soon began arriving in force, and Lübeck became the leading entrepôt for the budding Baltic Sea trade route, which eventually extended as far west as London and Bruges and as far east as Novgorod, in Russia. Hundreds of oaken cogs—ships powered by a single square sail—entered Lübeck’s harbor every year, their hulls bursting with Flemish cloth, Russian fur, and German salt. In less than a century, Lübeck went from a backwater to the most populous and prosperous town in northern Europe. “In medieval urban history there is hardly another example of a success so sudden and so brilliant,” writes the historian Philippe Dollinger.

Perhaps the only thing more remarkable than Lübeck’s wealth was the influence of its charter. As trade routes lengthened, new cities mushroomed all along the Baltic shore, and rather than develop a legal code from scratch, the next wave of city fathers copied Lübeck’s charter, importing its political and economic liberties. The early imitators included the nearby cities of Rostock and Danzig, but the charter was eventually adopted as far afield as Riga and Tallinn, the capitals of modern Latvia and Estonia. The medieval world had stumbled upon a formula for creating order out of chaos and prosperity amid backwardness. Lübeck ultimately became the seat of the Hanseatic League, an economic alliance of 200 cities that lasted nearly half a millennium.

Image credit: Mark Ostow

Fast-forward several centuries, and Henry the Lion’s would-be heir is Paul Romer, a gentle economist at Stanford University. Elegant, bespectacled, geekishly curious in a boyish way, Romer is not the kind of person you might picture armed with a two-handed flanged mace, cutting down Slavic marauders. But he is bent on cutting down an adversary almost as resistant: the conventional approach to development in poor countries. Rather than betting that aid dollars can beat poverty, Romer is peddling a radical vision: that dysfunctional nations can kick-start their own development by creating new cities with new rules—Lübeck-style centers of progress that Romer calls “charter cities.” By building urban oases of technocratic sanity, struggling nations could attract investment and jobs; private capital would flood in and foreign aid would not be needed. And since Henry the Lion is not on hand to establish these new cities, Romer looks to the chief source of legitimate coercion that exists today—the governments that preside over the world’s more successful countries. To launch new charter cities, he says, poor countries should lease chunks of territory to enlightened foreign powers, which would take charge as though presiding over some imperial protectorate. Romer’s prescription is not merely neo-medieval, in other words. It is also neo-colonial.

Inevitably, Romer’s big idea attracts some skeptical responses. “Paul is very creative,” says William Easterly, a development economist at New York University, “and sometimes creativity can cross the line into craziness.” The way Easterly sees it, charter cities (like charter schools in American cities) may provide an alternative to incumbent government systems, promising experimentation, competition, and perhaps a new way forward. But Easterly also worries that Romer has fallen prey to an old siren song—the idea that you can slough off debilitating customs and vested interests by constructing a technocratic petri dish uncontaminated by politics. Other critics are blunter. “Romer makes it sound as though setting up a charter city is like setting up a fairground,” Elliott Sclar, a professor of urban planning at Columbia University, told me. “We take a clear piece of land, we turn on the bright lights, and we create this separate environment that will stand apart from everything that’s around it. I wish it were that simple.”

However simple-seeming his ideas, Romer is no lightweight. Starting in the late 1980s, he produced a series of papers that changed the way his profession thinks about economic growth; his most celebrated contribution, published in 1990, “was one of the best papers in economics in 25 or 30 years,” in the estimation of Charles I. Jones, a colleague of Romer’s at Stanford. Before the Romer revolution, theorists had explained an economy’s growing output by looking at the obvious inputs—the number of hours worked, the skills of the workforce, the quantity of machinery and other physical capital.

But Romer stressed a fourth driver of growth, which he termed simply “ideas,” a category that encompassed everything from the formula for a new drug to the most efficient sequence for stitching 19 pieces of material into a sneaker. In statistical tests, the traditional inputs appeared to account for only half the differences in countries’ output per person, suggesting that ideas might account for the remaining half—and that leaving them out of a growth theory was like leaving the prince out of Hamlet. And whereas the old models had predicted that growth would slow as population expansion put stress on resources, and as new investment in skills and capital yielded diminishing returns, Romer’s New Growth Theory opened the window onto a sunnier worldview: a larger number of affluent people means more ideas, so prosperity and population expansion might cause growth to speed up.

Romer’s enthusiasm for technology made him a natural West Coaster, so it is not surprising that, after spells on the faculty at the University of Rochester and the University of Chicago, he fetched up at the University of California at Berkeley and then at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business. But the next turn in his thinking involved a rebellion against the libertarianism of his Silicon Valley home. “I was willing to be a bit confrontational,” Romer says, impishly. Starting with a paper he presented at a World Bank conference in 1992, Romer began to emphasize that “ideas” included more than just technologies and manufacturing processes. Ideas were also embodied in customs and institutions—or, as Romer later came to put it, “rules”—patent law, competition law, bankruptcy law, and so on, as well as the softer “norms” that govern people’s behavior. Indeed, these rules could be even more important than technologies, however much the digerati of Silicon Valley might wish to believe otherwise. Without new technologies, an economy might grow slowly. But without decent rules, an economy cannot even make use of the technologies that already exist.

To drive home the importance of good rules to economic growth, Romer sometimes shows a photograph of Guinean teenagers doing their homework under streetlights. The line of hunched, concentrating figures presents a mystery, Romer says; from the photo it is clear that the teens are not dirt poor, and youths like these generally own cell phones. Yet they evidently have no electric light at home, or they would not be studying by the curbside. “So here is the puzzle,” Romer declares: Why do these kids have access to a cutting-edge technology like the cell phone, but not to a 100-year-old technology for generating electric light in the home? The answer, in a word, is rules. Because of misguided price controls in the teenagers’ country, the local electricity utility has no incentive to connect their houses to the power grid. Their society lacks the rules that make technological advance meaningful.

For much of the 1990s, development economists built on Romer’s insights, so that laws and the institutions needed to enforce them became central to the mainstream view of what drives human progress. But then, having transformed academic economics, Romer shocked the profession once again—this time by abandoning it. Starting in 2001, he began to channel his energy into a start-up software company that he named Aplia. “I was extremely disappointed to lose Paul as an academic colleague,” Easterly told me. “By walking away from research, he no doubt ignored the advice of anyone he might have talked to.” But Romer shrugged off such complaints. “When I was young, there were too many old economists who were getting in the way,” he explained. “So after 10 years I wanted to get out of the way, and not stifle the next generation.” Besides, Romer’s father, Roy, a former governor of Colorado, had just begun running the Los Angeles school system. As a proponent of technology, the younger Romer was embarrassed that educators such as himself had barely used computers to boost their own productivity.

Like Romer’s research, his company was radical. It created teaching materials that could be accessed online by collegiate economics students, challenging the dead-tree model of the textbook-industrial complex. At first, Romer was told that his approach was crazy. Students were used to paying a fortune for textbooks and then getting the accompanying homework problems at a trivial cost; Romer’s little start-up presumed to invert custom. Sooner or later, Romer insisted, textbooks would be electronic, at which point they would be copied and shared. By contrast, access to online homework problems could be metered successfully on the Web, because the sale of the homework could be bundled with automatic, online grading. Professors would be drawn to the system, and to assigning Aplia’s online texts. And those who had stinted on handing out exercises because of the grading time required would now feel free to assign more, with the result that students would make faster progress. By the time Romer sold Aplia in 2007, students had submitted 200 million answers to its online problems, and the venture had made its founder independently wealthy—not rich enough to be invited to Silicon Valley’s fancy charity galas, but plenty rich enough to live without a salary. At 52 years old, he began to look for a new challenge.

Romer was not inclined to go back to academia. The World Bank sounded him out for the job of chief economist, a perch previously occupied by stars such as Stanley Fischer, Lawrence Summers, and Joseph Stiglitz, but Romer was not interested in that, either. What he wanted, he told me, was to draw on the intellectual creativity of his university days and the entrepreneurial initiative he had shown at Aplia—and above all, to be maximally ambitious. When he made his choice, in 2008, it was suitably bold. He gave up tenure at Stanford and set out to make his mark in his own way: with the help of three assistants, he launched his charter-cities campaign, operating partly out of the small office he retained at Stanford and partly out of a friend’s house or a local Peet’s Coffee. He also began to shuttle back and forth across the world, meeting with any developing-country leader who would grant him an audience. Especially in sub-Saharan Africa, a surprising number proved ready to do so.

When Romer explains charter cities, he likes to invoke Hong Kong. For much of the 20th century, Hong Kong’s economy left mainland China’s in the dust, proving that enlightened rules can make a world of difference. By an accident of history, Hong Kong essentially had its own charter—a set of laws and institutions imposed by its British colonial overseers—and the charter served as a magnet for go-getters. At a time when much of East Asia was ruled by nationalist or Communist strongmen, Hong Kong’s colonial authorities put in place low taxes, minimal regulation, and legal protections for property rights and contracts; between 1913 and 1980, the city’s inflation-adjusted output per person jumped more than eightfold, making the average Hong Kong resident 10 times as rich as the average mainland Chinese, and about four-fifths as rich as the average Briton. Then, beginning around 1980, Hong Kong’s example inspired the mainland’s rulers to create copycat enclaves. Starting in Shenzhen City, adjacent to Hong Kong, and then curling west and north around the Pacific shore, China created a series of special economic zones that followed Hong Kong’s model. Pretty soon, one of history’s greatest export booms was under way, and between 1987 and 1998, an estimated 100 million Chinese rose above the $1-a-day income that defines abject poverty. The success of the special economic zones eventually drove China’s rulers to embrace the export-driven, pro-business model for the whole country. “In a sense, Britain inadvertently, through its actions in Hong Kong, did more to reduce world poverty than all the aid programs that we’ve undertaken in the last century,” Romer observes drily.

Of course, versions of China’s special economic zones have existed elsewhere, especially in Asia. But Romer is not just arguing for enclaves; he is arguing for enclaves that are run by foreign governments. To Romer, the fact that Hong Kong was a colonial experiment, imposed upon a humiliated China by means of a treaty signed aboard a British warship, is not just an embarrassing detail. On the contrary, British rule was central to the city’s success in persuading capitalists of all stripes to flock to it. Romer sometimes illustrates this point by citing another Communist country: modern-day Cuba. Cuba’s rulers have tried to induce foreign corporations to set up shop in special export zones, and have been greeted with understandable caution. But if Raúl Castro convinced a foreign government—ideally a rich democracy such as Canada—to assume sovereignty over a start-up city in Cuba, the prospect of a mini Canada in the sun might attract a flood of investment.

It must have occurred to Castro, Romer says, that his island could do with its own version of Hong Kong; and perhaps that the Guantánamo Bay zone, over which Cuba has already ceded sovereignty to the United States, would be a good place to build one. “Castro goes to the prime minister of Canada and says, ‘Look, the Yankees have a terrible PR problem. They want to get out. Why don’t you, Canada, take over? Run a special administrative zone. Allow a new city to be built up there,’” Romer muses, channeling a statesmanlike version of Raúl Castro that Cuba-watchers might not recognize. “Some of my citizens will move into that city,” Romer-as-Castro continues. “Others will hold back. But this will be the gateway that will connect the modern economy and the modern world to my country.”

When I put this scenario to Julia Sweig, a Cuba expert at the Council on Foreign Relations, she described the whole notion as “wacky.” But not everyone has dismissed Romer’s vision so quickly. Romer maintains that when he started to discuss his thinking with governments in developing countries, he found many of them receptive. One nation in particular seemed eager to sign on: the island-state of Madagascar, off the southeastern coast of Africa, where 90 percent of the people subsist on less than $2 a day.

In July 2008, Romer made his first trip to Madagascar’s bustling capital, Antananarivo. Madagascar’s government was anxious to attract foreign investment, and it understood that a credibility deficit held it back. In an earlier bout of openness, the island had lured in foreign garment firms, but then the political climate turned hostile and the firms fled; now the government was having trouble enticing them to come back. Faced with this obstacle, the Malagasy authorities were open to unconventional arrangements. To boost investment in agriculture, they were ready to lease a Connecticut-size tract of land to Daewoo, a South Korean corporation, for 99 years. To boost investment in export industries, they were thinking about inviting a tiny Indian Ocean neighbor, Mauritius, to administer an export-processing zone on Malagasy territory. Romer’s proposal fit in with these adventurous ideas. He returned to Antananarivo in November 2008 and held another round of promising meetings with government officials. The final hurdle, he was told, would be to secure an audience with the president, a former businessman named Marc Ravalomanana. Nothing could happen without his say-so.

Romer returned to Stanford and waited to hear when the president might be available. Periodically, he would receive an e-mail: Ravalomanana’s schedulers were battling to fit him in, but dozens of competing issues demanded the boss’s attention, and they were reluctant to commit to a firm time for the meeting. As the end of the year approached, without any appointment, Romer decided it was time for a gamble: he made the 30-hour trip from San Francisco once again, arriving in Antananarivo on the Sunday before Christmas, figuring that the president’s schedule might open up over the holidays. He checked himself into the Hotel du Louvre, close to the presidential palace, and called his government contacts to announce his arrival; then he set about waiting. He found that a patisserie nearby served finer French pastries than he had tasted in any American city. Sitting in the café with an espresso and a mille-feuille, Romer could see young men, stunted from malnutrition, watching over the cars parked in front of the hotel, hoping for a few tips. A portly European of a certain age walked by with an attractive young Malagasy woman on his arm, and the men outside the hotel stared. The look on their faces expressed all that needed to be said about global inequality.

Two days after he arrived, Romer got the summons he was waiting for. Late in the evening, on the night before Christmas Eve, he was ushered into the president’s personal residence, a recently refurbished but relatively modest home high in the hills. Ravalomanana had a few guests over to celebrate the holidays, and the mood was relaxed. He invited Romer out onto his balcony to see the view of the city, and then the two men moved into a study. The only symbols of authority were a large desk and a flag. The president was in shirtsleeves.

In public, Ravalomanana cut quite a figure. Handsome, youthful in appearance, and wealthy, he had started out selling homemade yogurt off the back of a bicycle and ended up holding a national monopoly on all dairy and oil products. But in private, Romer found the president quite approachable. Romer made his pitch for a charter city, and Ravalomanana responded that he wasn’t sure one was enough; if Romer could identify two rich countries willing to play the role of government trustee, it might be better to launch two parallel experiments. The president and the professor agreed that the new hubs should be open to migrants from nearby countries as well as to locals. They rose to examine a map of Madagascar on the study wall. Ravalomanana suggested building the first city on the island’s southwestern coast, which was largely uninhabited because of its dry heat. To Romer, the site sounded very much like the coastal locations that appeal most to the world’s affluent as vacation spots.

Romer has a quick smile and a knack for saying big things with small words, but he is not much for emotion. Recalling his trips to Madagascar, he sounds typically cool about them. But a more excitable person would be whooping out the punch lines at this point in the story; the fact that the charter-cities movement had progressed so far so fast is little short of astonishing. Barely a year after launching his venture, Romer was on the brink of a rare coup: a nation of 20 million people was about to embrace a neo-medieval, neo-colonial scheme untested in the modern history of development. But then a different sort of coup occurred—the kind of coup, unfortunately, that underscores the obstacles to Romer’s project.

Even as Romer was meeting with Ravalomanana, the president’s main political opponent was sniping at the proposed lease of farmland to Daewoo, and the idea of giving up vast swaths of territory to foreigners was growing increasingly unpopular. The arrangement was denounced as treason, and public protests gathered momentum, eventually turning violent. In late January 2009, protesters tossed homemade grenades at radio and TV stations that Ravalomanana owned; looters ransacked his chain of supermarkets. In February, guards opened fire on marchers in front of the presidential palace, killing 28 civilians. At this, units of the army mutinied. Soon, Ravalomanana was forced out of office.

The first action of the new government was to cancel the Daewoo project, and Romer’s plans in Madagascar were put on hold indefinitely. But the larger question was what, if anything, this disappointment signified for Romer’s whole approach. The riots appeared to demonstrate the explosive sensitivities surrounding sovereignty and land—sensitivities that are not confined to Madagascar. Indeed, versions of the Daewoo story have played out elsewhere. In the late 1990s, for example, Fiji’s government decided to bring in a British nonprofit to manage its mahogany forests, and an indigenous leader launched a revolt under the slogan “Fiji for the Fijians.” The rebellion was hypocritical: as the Oxford economist Paul Collier recounts in his book The Bottom Billion, the indigenous leader had himself backed a rival foreign bid to manage the mahogany. But the venality of the rebels’ motivation didn’t change the fact that a demagogue could easily attract support by railing against territorial concessions to foreigners.

Ever since the setback in Madagascar, Romer has been coy, for obvious reasons, about which governments are interested in his plan. But he remains optimistic. “I revived growth theory. I made technology work in higher ed. I am two for two, and I think the impossible can be done,” he told me cheerfully. He added that the Daewoo deal might not have been the main impetus for the coup in Madagascar; the real reasons for Ravalomanana’s downfall lay in idiosyncratic local rivalries, even if the opposition exploited sensitivities over land to incite antigovernment protests. I suggested that the fact that land concessions could trigger such emotions was still not a good sign. Romer stopped, considered, and chose his words carefully.

“Anything that involves land can be manipulated by people who want to rise up against a leader,” he began. “You have to find a place where there’s a strong enough leader with enough legitimacy to do this knowing that he’s going to get attacked. It narrows the options quite a bit. But we shouldn’t give up without trying a few more places.” In short, a disappointment with one client is no excuse for failing to pitch other ones. Any entrepreneur knows that.

As politically freighted as Romer’s ideas are, they also carry a continuing attraction to the people in charge of many poor countries, particularly those with rapidly growing populations. By some estimates, 3 billion people will move to cities in the next few decades, abandoning miserable and environmentally destructive work as subsistence farmers in the hope of better lives in manufacturing and services. In the absence of a Romer-type solution, these migrants will move into urban slums with no running water, high crime rates, few steady jobs, and sewage in the streets; charter cities seem a better option. And Romer’s idea has the great merit of paying for itself. Land in successful cities appreciates in value, creating wealth that can be unlocked to finance new buildings, businesses, and infrastructure. And so African officials continue to meet with Romer, and Romer continues to jet off to wherever they are ready to see him.

When you listen carefully, you realize that much of what Romer is saying should not be controversial. A few development economists argue that geography is destiny, but most share Romer’s conviction that decent rules are paramount. After all, Asia accounted for fully 56 percent of world income in 1820, only 16 percent in 1950, and a substantial 39 percent in 2008; what changed over this period was rules, not geography. Equally, Romer’s contention that a developing country can achieve good government by importing the credibility of foreigners fits with mainstream thinking. When Panama or Ecuador decides to do business in dollars, or when Slovenia embraces the euro, each country is importing the credibility of a foreign central bank. Similarly, joining the World Trade Organization is a proven way to import the rich world’s tariff structure, intellectual-property rules, and domestic regulations—and, just as important, to persuade investors that the reform is permanent. Importing foreign election monitors or peacekeepers can compensate for weak political institutions or security forces. And so on.

But Romer is also urging us to reexamine assumptions about citizenship and democracy, and this is where he gets more radical. In the kind of charter city he imagines, the governor would be appointed by Canada or some other rich nation, but the people who work there would come from poor countries—the whole point, after all, is to bring the governance of the developed world to workers in undeveloped places. It follows that the workers in Romer’s charter city wouldn’t be citizens in the full sense. They would be offered whatever protections the founding charter might lay down, and they would have to take them or leave them. Rather than getting a vote at the ballot box, Romer is saying, the residents of a charter city would have to vote with their feet. Their leaders would be accountable—but only to the rich voters in the country that appointed them.

This viewpoint is, to say the least, not in keeping with the idealized vision of development, in which freedom and prosperity advance in lockstep, with democracy serving as the necessary companion to economic progress. In the 1980s Ronald Reagan declared confidently, “Freedom works”; and in the 1990s Bill Clinton lectured foreign counterparts on how democracy had become all the more indispensable to progress with the advent of the “knowledge economy.” But assertions like these have seemed more fragile recently, with authoritarian China breaking growth records and state capitalism apparently thriving; Romer is hardly the only person to doubt that democracy is a necessary condition for economic progress. And to the extent that opt-in charter cities offer a third way—something between pure democracy and pure authoritarianism—those who care for liberty might do well to embrace the experiment. Charter cities make it harder for authoritarians to claim that their system offers the only fast route out of poverty.

The real test for Romer’s attitude toward democracy is not whether it conforms to Western ideals, but whether it appeals to the poor people whom Western aid agencies claim to be serving. And on this score, the answer is clear. In fact, you could say Romer’s assertion—that voting with your feet can be a palatable alternative to casting a ballot—already has 214 million adherents, for that is the number of people who have chosen to leave their home countries and settle as migrants in places where they have no political vote. Real development, as distinct from the idealized vision of development, involves hard personal choices. If people are willing to live as legal or illegal immigrants, with rights that range from limited to none, then logically, they should be even more eager to move to a Romerplex, which would promise most of the economic gains of uprooting to another continent while allowing migrants to stay closer to their families and cultures.

If you have stuck with Romer thus far, you are ready for the last part of his argument. If good rules are the key to development, it follows that the big development challenge is to grasp how to reform bad rules—and to accept that conventional approaches are not terribly successful. Think back to the African teenagers reading under the streetlights. The bad rules they contend with are well understood: dozens of World Bank missions have doubtless pointed out that price controls on electricity destroy the electric company’s incentive to sign up new customers. But what is not understood is how to abolish those controls, since the country’s elite, which is already hooked up to the electric grid, will fight tooth and nail against higher prices.

The standard response to this obstacle is to advocate democracy and hope that voters will force change: the minority that has electric light will be outvoted by the much larger number of people who have been denied it. But Romer argues that this way forward is too slow. People don’t always vote their economic interests, and elites with tentacles all over the ministry of energy may keep price controls in place for decades. So rather than wait in vain for electricity rules to change, we are better off starting a new experiment with brand-new rules—a charter city that stands outside the ministry’s authority. Rather than going at an obstacle head-on, Romer is saying, sidestepping it is frequently a better option.

Romer likes to clinch this point with an analogy from industry. A firm like IBM may develop a culture—a set of corporate rules—that is brilliantly suited to handling the institutional customers that buy mainframe computers. But when the PC is invented, and individuals become customers, the IBM culture proves awkward and slow; and reforming its rules turns out to be difficult. So along come Dell and Apple, with business models better targeted at household consumers, and pretty soon computer-users start preferring their products. Change from without comes more easily than change from within. Industrial progress comes from new entrants and new experiments, not from the slow process of changing established corporate bureaucracies.

Sometimes, Romer continues, established businesses subject themselves to an internal version of this process. They spawn experimental subsidiaries, known as “skunkworks,” to try out new business models. For example, the discount retailer Target began as an experimental skunkworks spun off by the old-line retailer Dayton Company. Target was given its own charter and allowed to test out a new approach; it succeeded so resoundingly that Dayton eventually ditched the parts of its business that ran according to the old rules and embraced the Target formula. Again, generating change within an organization is often less effective than driving change from without. If companies can change themselves by setting up subsidiaries with new rules, countries could do the same with charter cities.

Throughout our conversations, Romer maintained a steady confidence that poor countries will eventually welcome charter cities. At the end of one of his overseas trips, he messaged me from his iPhone: “Sadly can’t say more yet other than that in two cases I’m waiting for next step meeting w the president. As before I remain optimistic about response from developing countries.” In one case, Romer and his government counterparts have progressed quite far: they have identified the site for the charter city, and agreed that its success will require the construction of a new port. Meanwhile, Romer is equally confident that elite opinion will come around to his idea—and my own recent straw poll of development economists suggests that at least some of them have already done so.

But the largest obstacle Romer faces, by his own admission, still remains: he has to find countries willing to play the role of Britain in Hong Kong. Despite the good arguments that Romer makes for his vision, the responsibilities entailed in Empire 2.0 are not popular. How would a rich government contend with the shantytowns that might spring up around the borders of a charter city? Would it deport the inhabitants, and be accused of human-rights abuses? Or tolerate them and allow its oasis to be overrun with people who don’t respect its city charter? And what would the foreign trustee do if its host tried to nullify the lease? Would it defend its development experiment with an expeditionary army, as Margaret Thatcher defended the Falklands? A top official at one of Europe’s aid agencies told me, “Since we are responsible for our remaining overseas territories, I can tell you there is much grief in running these things. I would be surprised if Romer gets any takers.”

Sensing the resistance among potential trustee nations, Romer has come up with new variants on his formula. A group of advanced countries could share the burden of trusteeship, rather than one nation shouldering the responsibility alone. To reduce the sensitivities over land and sovereignty, the territory for a charter city could be provided by one country while the migrant workers come from another. When I asked Romer about setting up a charter city in post-earthquake Haiti, he recoiled at the idea: the country has no functioning government, so there is no entity that could transfer sovereignty over a parcel of territory in a legitimate way. But Romer was happy to contemplate creative variations on this theme. What if Mexico ceded some land for a charter city for Haitians, with the charter being administered by a consortium of outside governments?

Whatever becomes of Romer’s movement, it is going to be interesting. His thinking taps into so many currents of our era—an era in which millions of migrants embrace his vote-with-your feet vision; in which the old faith in democratic development is questioned; and in which globalization scrambles settled notions of who rules what where. On one side, critics will be scathing: Elliott Sclar, the Columbia professor, warns, “Charter cities amount to a new form of colonialism, and that’s the last thing we need right now.” On the other side, adherents will cheer eagerly: charter cities are “one of the best ideas that anybody in development ever had,” according to Michael Clemens of the Center for Global Development, a think tank in Washington, D.C. And throughout these debates, it will be hard not to sympathize with Romer’s plea for fresh thinking. Charter cities face plenty of obstacles, and I could have written an article that dwelt exclusively on them. But when African teenagers do their homework under streetlights, isn’t Romer right to think the unthinkable?

This article available online at:

Isa Daudpota
– Errors have been made. Others will be blamed.
– Not all men are annoying. Some are dead.
– Stress is when you wake up screaming and you realize you haven’t fallen asleep yet.

– Too many freaks, not enough circuses.

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Bad Aid

Patta Scott-Villiers
24th May 2010 — Issue 171 Free entry The government’s promise to up foreign aid risks pumping more cash into a broken system

With the election over, tax hikes, public spending cuts and possible job losses are on the way. But the new government is still promising more aid abroad. It is morally right and pragmatic, said the Tories before the election: cutbacks would cost lives and leave Britain vulnerable to dangerous resentment in the world’s most beleaguered corners. The Lib-Con agreement even promised that the target of 0.7 per cent of national income spent on aid by 2013 “will also remain in place.” This could mean £12bn to £16bn by 2013, depending on the performance of the economy.

Yet much existing aid is spent badly, and there is little sign that the new government has a workable plan to fix it. Yes, David Cameron’s 2009 green paper proposed aid based on evidence of effectiveness, a new independent watchdog, increased transparency, punishing corruption and promoting the private sector. That all sounds fine. But the department for international development (DfID)—which gives out Britain’s aid money—would be forgiven for saying there is nothing much new here.

DfID puts prodigious effort into independent evaluations, while financing plenty of private sector initiatives. Britain’s bureaucrats (alongside phalanxes of outside experts) constantly push leaders of poor countries to deal with disorder and dishonesty. Labour even created a new “stabilisation unit” between the ministry of defence, the foreign office and DfID to try to solve the most intractable foreign conflicts that threaten our security.

But the difficulties with the aid system go deeper. Most aid goes to governments, so auditors aren’t able to evaluate programmes without treading in murky political waters. Instead they produce bland reports, which all too often are ignored in the rush to spend money. And the Tory promise to focus on results could see more focus on easy wins: counting children into schools, miles of road built, or police trained, while riskier projects that might deliver balanced economic growth or durable security are ignored.

As I’ve learned working in east Africa for 25 years, successful aid requires not just money for infrastructure and training, but also a social consensus on how to run things effectively and fairly. I have recently been part of a small team working on a DfID-funded project in Ethiopia. Over seven years we organised events for thousands of ordinary citizens to meet and debate with traditional leaders, politicians, administrators and aid providers. We commissioned research on local issues and fed it back to those who came. While the priorities of ordinary people are the same as those on Cameron’s list—more security, less corruption, and more say in their government—they are certainly not pleased with the way the aid system works.

Poor aid is not just a waste of money, it’s dangerous. As economist Dambisa Moyo points out in her recent book, Dead Aid, too much of it creates corruption, fuels inflation, reduces domestic investment, undermines the market and limits innovation. In Africa, Moyo reports many cases in which aid increases have gone alongside decreases in growth: a government that gains much of its revenue from abroad has less incentive to be good to its citizens at home.

Similarly, a report in April from Harvard Medical School found that when health-related aid was provided to the governments of countries in sub-Saharan Africa, governments’ healthcare budgets tended to go down. In the countries where I worked, I have seen regimes investing heavily in security forces, winning elections with violence rather than performance, while aid pays for schools and healthcare. Without political accountability, excessive foreign aid contributes to an irresponsible leadership or worse.

Back in Britain, officials will always try to disburse the money they are given. So a rise to 0.7 per cent could mean more problems, not less. To keep transaction costs down, DfID will have to give larger grants to the poorest countries—often to governments answerable to no one but themselves. The perverse result of doubling aid could even be to deaden progress and increase corruption. Tory thinkers, I suspect, see violence and mismanagement as occasional and avoidable slip-ups, rather than systemic to the logic of foreign aid.

To fix this, we must focus on what it means to hold aid to account. We are politically responsible for what aid does to a country, and so we should strengthen the hand of its citizens, not undermine them. This means understanding that aid is part of the politics of the countries to which it is given. What we need is quality rather than quantity: a target for 0.7 per cent of excellent aid, and one which may well take much longer than 2013 to reach.

We must do more than insist that financial accounts are kept and reported properly. Cameron should certainly consider Moyo’s suggestion of promoting foreign direct investment and domestic savings mobilisation before aid. This means extending lines of credit to investors, while putting aid money towards reducing trade barriers. Experience in Asia has shown how an expanding private sector brings demand for improvements to legal and administrative governance.

We also need to rebalance aid so that it goes equally to government bureaucracies, civic and private initiatives. And instead of crowding out domestic investment, we should put money into the more difficult areas where new thinking can happen, including the arts, media, public gatherings and old and new institutions of learning.

At an event I chaired last year to consider strategies for some of Kenya’s least developed areas, an old man was presented with a diagram. It showed his country’s political elites at the apex of a tall pyramid. Bureaucrats and aid workers were the middle, while an undifferentiated poor massed at the base. He asked me, incredulous: “who built this house?”

People in countries like Kenya must never be put at the bottom of a pyramid, waiting to be given aid. Instead they should be at the centre of an intricate system capable of renewing itself. Rather than stifling it, our aid should support this renewal.

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PAKISTAN: Half of the population is exposed to food insecurity because of bad governance and abuses

An article by the Asian Human Rights Commission

Julia Lemétayer

The Pakistani people are increasingly vulnerable to food insecurity because of the government’s bad governance and its lack of political will to tackle hunger. According to the Global Hunger Index (GHI) prepared by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), Pakistan is one of the most food-insecure countries in Asia. Causes of food insecurity are as various as its consequences and the government must acknowledge its responsibility to tackle all dimensions of this complex issue that threatens the lives of more than 83 million Pakistanis.

‘Food security’ means the availability of food and one’s access to it. According to recent reports and international rankings, food insecurity is an increasing issue in Pakistan. In 2009, the country was ranked 58th among 84 developing countries (India was ranked 65th). Over 48 per cent of Pakistanis are food insecure today, according to the Swiss-sponsored report The state of food security in Pakistan, cited by Dawn editorial Poverty of thoughts. The number of districts believed to be facing "extreme" food insecurity has more than doubled between 2003 and 2009, while the number of food-secure districts has fallen by 14 per cent. In 2007, UNICEF concluded that half of all child deaths in Pakistan could be attributed to poor nutrition.

The world remembers images of "hunger riots" in the past years because of a double-digit surge in food costs. The extraordinary rise of global food prices in early 2008, notably due to an increasing demand for food by the growing world population, a decline in agricultural investments and rapid increase in oil prices, along with the international financial crisis, hit developing countries’ economies and deeply endanger their population’s access to adequate nutrition.

The reasons for food insecurity in Pakistan are not only external. The government bears a strong responsibility in this situation. Zafar Altar of the Pakistan Agricultural Research Council denounces the bad governmental management of agriculture, notably the disproportionate emphasis on wheat, the inefficiencies of fertilizer and irrigation systems, the poor infrastructure in the western provinces, and a lack of innovative knowledge generation. Unfair subsidy policies that disproportionately favour producers and penalize consumers are also to blame. Food insecurity is also due to unequal land distribution. For instance, the availability of, and access to, wheat is very different in poor Northwest Frontier Province (NWFP) and in rich Punjab. Instead of launching broad-based and efficient land reforms, the government is selling 202,342.8 hectares of farmland to Saudi Arabia, so that it can meet its own food needs. An improved land access would reduce food prices for families an d thus would help strengthen food security and reduce poverty, two closely linked issues.

Military-driven policies on the part of the government are also responsible for the Pakistani people’s high food insecurity. Regions where the government is conducting military operations, like the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, or Baluchistan and the NWFP have been found to be respectively "extremely food insecure" and "food insecure". The reason is of course the level of destruction caused by military operations, and also the number of persons forced to flee their homes in relation to the conflict. 1.23 million Pakistanis has allegedly been internally displaced by the conflict against the Taliban and the so-called "war on terror" and are particularly vulnerable to food insecurity. Instead of military spending, the government should invest a larger part of its budget in social development.

Food insecurity is not only about poverty and agriculture. It also causes a host of humanitarian, human rights, socio-economic, environmental, developmental, political and security-related consequences. The society is divided by a growing poverty gap. The richest become richer, while the number of hungry rag pickers is increasing.

The state cannot implement the rule of law and efficiently guarantee its people’s rights if their right to food is not protected. For instance, some Pakistani families have to choose between their children’s education and their nutrition, as underlined in the Dawn editorial Poverty of thought. Struggling parents therefore withdraw their children from school, sometimes sending them to a Madressa (Muslim seminary). There is a great risk of thus creating an uneducated and radicalised youth. History has shown that hunger leads to insurrection and terrorism. In Pakistan, religious extremists exploit the hungry and uneducated, leading to greater instability and ignorance. The exploitation of hunger will push the country further into crisis.

Hunger also comes hand in hand with violations of human rights by the state. Indeed, as stated by the Asian Human Rights Commission’s Food Justice Program, such violations by law-enforcement agencies are due to the deep inequality that reigns in the society, the same inequality that denies food or water to the people. The state-managed violence thus maintains inequalities in food distribution and is responsible for food insecurity. "Torture is used to keep people hungry", insofar as it maintains a system of fear and deep inequalities that prejudices the most vulnerable.

Article 38 of the Pakistani Constitution refers to the state’s responsibility to promote the social and economic well-being of the people. It notably refers to equity in food. It must also be recalled that Pakistan ratified several international human rights treaties which recognize the right to food: the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. It is therefore the responsibility of the state before national and international law to protect its citizens’ right to food and to ensure their food security.

The solution is not only in land or agricultural reforms, or in international conferences discussing global food prices. It lays in a deep change of mindset and implementation of rule of law and democracy that empowers the people. As its causes are structural, the solutions to food insecurity are also to be found in the structure of society. A change of mindset to improve the status of women would for instance significantly reduce child malnutrition. The struggle for food goes hand by hand with the struggle for justice and rule of law.

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About AHRC: The Asian Human Rights Commission is a regional non-governmental organisation monitoring and lobbying human rights issues in Asia. The Hong Kong-based group was founded in 1984.

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Pakistan: Whatever happened to Kerry-Lugar?

Raza Rumi published by Express-Tribune

Pakistan’s dire fiscal situation has resulted in the reduction of development spending by 40 per cent. This does not bode well for the citizens who have been tormented by an energy crisis, persistent food inflation and rampant unemployment. In these circumstances, the development assistance under the Kerry-Lugar Bill (KLB) is much needed. Pakistan’s civilian government braved a media onslaught and the ire of the security establishment for tacitly supporting the US legislation. Other than the rhetoric around the ‘conditions’ drafted in Washington, there was an unstated agreement that the development assistance was welcome. It was expected that given the urgency of the situation, USAID was going to kick start the delivery of its interventions. Well, the progress so far has been disappointing.

First, there seems to be no public sign of a consensus within the US bureaucratic machine on how the aid under KLB will be delivered. Unconfirmed media reports suggest that the political versus the bureaucratic channels are not on the same page. The ‘political’ administration is ostensibly managing USAID systems and processes. There may be strategic reasons for that but the net result is that things are delayed. Not long ago, the Pakistani government’s procedures were thought to be a problem, but the trajectory of US bureaucracy only proves that public sector ailments are common. Second, USAID is unfamiliar with the methods of working with the governments. In fact, its operations keep the government systems out of the programme design and create parallel structures for big US firms for accountability and results. On the ‘results’ front the experience of USAID has not been flattering to say the least. The case of irregularities in the ongoing Fata programme, highlighted by the media in recent months, is a case in point. Third, there is no clear roadmap for the key priorities that KLB will help address. We read about the energy sector support and other immediate responses to Pakistani government’s needs. But surely, the sizeable pipeline of $7.5 billion needs to be well planned. Needs identification and programme design should be responsive as well as flexible. Bureaucracies are averse to out-of-the-box thinking, and perhaps this is what explains lack of alternatives to lengthy, US firms-centric approach typically employed by USAID. Continue reading

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ASIA: Wide-ranging restrictions on freedoms of expression must be addressed

This statement by the Asian Legal Resource Centre (ALRC), shows that we are not the only one keen to curb freedom of expression (Raza Rumi)

The Asian Legal Resource Centre (ALRC) wishes to highlight a number of restrictions to the freedom of expression ongoing in several countries in the Asian region. There are a number of situations in the region that are cause for concern with regard to this important right, affecting a range of countries with different levels of development, democracy and records concerning human rights.

At one extreme, in Myanmar, the absence of opportunities for free speech is nullifying the prospect for any notion of free and fair elections. The media have been prohibited from analysing the new laws and rules for the planned elections, or from saying anything about parties already registering for the ballot. The ALRC has submitted a separate written submission concerning the issue of the elections in Myanmar to this session of the Human Rights Council (HRC). Continue reading

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The Non-Existent Hand – How to Save Capitalism

Joseph Stiglitz: How to Save Capitalism

While most of the blame for the ‘Great Recession’ clearly lies with those who work in financial markets, Joseph Stiglitz writes in the latest issue of the LRB, economists shouldn’t be spared their share of it. It was after all economists who pushed the bogus view that markets are efficient and self-adjusting, even though ‘economic theory never provided much support for these free-market views’. ‘Adam Smith’s hand was not in fact invisible,’ Stiglitz says: ‘it wasn’t there.’

Fiscal stimulation, as advocated by Keynes in the 1930s, stopped the recent recession from turning into another depression. But now the financial markets that caused the crisis in the first place are telling governments they need to rein in their spending to cut their deficits. ‘In many quarters, the Keynesians, having enjoyed their moment of glory just a year ago, seem to be in retreat.’ But Keynes’s insights, according to Stiglitz, are needed now more than ever. ‘Keynes’s great contribution was to save capitalism from the capitalists,’ Stiglitz writes. It remains to be seen if he can do it again. More

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Pakistan: 92 per cent of USAID projects go to US NGOs

By Umar Cheema (The NEWS)

ISLAMABAD: Over 92 percent of the US aid money granted in previous years is being spent through the American NGOs resulting in the return of a fair portion of the financial assistance back to the donor country.

The News investigation found that of the projects run through $1.05 billion assistance, the government agencies were granted an amount of $29.68 million (2.78% of the total amount), UN bodies received $50.80 million (4.8%) and US NGOs bagged projects of $960 million (92.30%). This coincides with Ambassador Holbrook’s disclosure about short-listing more than 1,000 NGOs for awarding contracts in Pakistan.

As the misuse of the US taxpayers’ dollar due to lack of oversight has drawn fire from American watchdogs and concerned Pakistanis, the beltway bandits-influential US NGOs with strong connections in the USAID—-continues having a field day in Pakistan.

A detailed examination of the USAID projects, the history of NGOs and their ties in Washington indicates that majority of the contractors running projects in Pakistan have their executives and directors that previously served in the USAID or former administrations. Not in Pakistan only, they also won major contracts in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Out of 34 projects worth $ 1.05 billion in different sectors, 29 have US NGOs either as the lead implementing partner or carrying out exclusively without local partnership. Four projects are directly run by the government or local organizations and five by the UN organizations.

A call for establishing direct partnership with local organizations instead of involving the beltway bandits has so far fallen on the deaf ear of the USAID. As the projects carrying hefty funds have been awarded to the US NGOs, yet there is no proper oversight.

The fact can be illustrated through an example of a five-year project of $83 million intended to carry out education sector reforms. It was awarded to the RTI International, considered 16th biggest receiver of the US overseas contracts.

The company claimed in 2007 having “positively impacted” 400,000 Pakistani students but the USAID’s inspector general could not validate the claims because the US mission in Islamabad reportedly didn’t require RTI to adhere to reporting requirement. The big question mark on RTI notwithstanding, it still is carrying out a project, now in health sector. A former high-ranking official at USAID, Aaron S. Williams, is a senior executive of the RTI. According to the US Centre for Public Integrity, a new position—-vice president of international business development-was created for William upon his joining the office.

A Washington-based Chemonics International Inc. that is running a project worth $ 90 million—-Empower Pakistan: Firms—-is owned by Scott Spangler, who was a senior USAID official during the first Bush Administration. The organization that receives 90 percent of its business from the USAID has its senior vice president of the Asia Division, Douglas Tinsler, who used to design and manage large-scale development assistance projects for the USAID, according to the Centre for Public Integrity.

Yet another Washington-based International Resource Group (IRG), doing a $23.48 million project—-Energy, Efficiency and Capacity—-has its three corporate vice presidents, David Joslyn, Dough Clark and Timoth R. Knight. All of them served with USAID on senior positions.

A Maryland-based organization, Development Alternatives Inc. has a $17 million project—-Pakistan Legislative Strengthening Project. The company has its vice president of operations, Larry Birch, who served 17-year in USAID. Again, the USAID is among its principal clients of the company besides the World Bank, UN agencies and the US Agriculture Department.

A Massachusetts-based NGO, Abt Associates Inc. that implements a $ 10.9 million project named Pakistan Safe Drinking Water and Hygiene Promotion Project (PSDW-HPP) has a former senior USAID official its vice president for international development, Janet Ballantyne, according to the Centre for Public Integrity.

Arkanas-based Winrock International is working on a $150 million project—-Community Rehabilitation Infrastructure Support Program. The company has a former member of Clinton administration, Kay K. Arnold, and a senator Robert J. Junior, among its directors of the board. US ambassador to Pakistan Anne Patterson also hails from the same state.

Other US organizations implementing projects include American Institute of Research ($107 million), National Academy of Science ($ 7.5 million), Population Council ($60 million), Centre for Disease Control ($ 5.7 million), Academy for Education Development ($75 millions), CDM Constructions ($120 million), Advanced Engineering Associates ($6 million), USEFP ($93million), IFES, Asia Foundation and others.

The aid money directly handed to the government agencies has only four examples as far as the distribution of $1.05 billion assistance is concerned: HEC ($6.8 million), Finance Ministry ($11.8 million), and Khushhali Bank ($11 million).

In other cases, the projects are either implemented exclusively by the US NGOs or the NGOs have partnered with local organizations/government agencies. According to the former finance minister, Sartaj Aziz, more than 40 percent of the aid money goes back to the donor country through consultants.


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Learn from the UK. Open up data sources in South Asia

[categories governance]
Thanks to Isa Daudpota I learnt of this excellent initiative.

Professors lead development of Government’s one-stop shop for data

Sir Tim Berners-Lee and Nigel Shadbolt from the School of Electronics and Computer Science, Southampton University, were given a special role by Prime Minister Gordon Brown to help transform public access to Government information. They played a key role in the development of the new web site that was launched by the Government in January.

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Kiran Bir Sethi teaches kids to take charge


Kiran Bir Sethi shows how her groundbreaking Riverside School in India teaches kids life’s most valuable lesson: “I can.” Watch her students take local issues into their own hands, lead other young people, even educate their parents. She is the founder of the Riverside School in Ahmedabad, Kiran Sethi has launched an initiative to make our cities more child-friendly. Full bio and more links

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State of research in Pakistan…

Nadeem ul Haque, a senior, respected economist has some insightful remarks to make about the state of policy research institutions in Pakistan

For 5 years the position of the Chief Economist of the Planning Commission has been vacant. The PIDE Director/Vice Chancellor has served in an “acting” capacity! Why “acting?” And how do you keep someone in an “acting” position for years? Is that good governance?

Every few months the government runs expensive ads (the most recent is produced below). They seem to be content with placing the ad! There is no serious effort then made to fill the position.

This is not the only position this has happened with. The SECP position too was left vacant for many months on a number of occasions.

The government seems to find it very hard to find professional economists. Why is this so? I would welcome your views on this subject!

I would like to point out that very few senior positions are filled by the mere placement of an ad! Often this is a matter for a search committee and serious effort by several competent people to seek an ideal candidate and persuade him or her to accept the proposed position. Since the government is unwilling to form such a search committee and seek out serious people, perhaps it should stop wasting tax-payer’s money on such ads! (Even when they form a search committee they will pick on the most well known establishment figures who in turn will find a very well known non-professional or a house-broken professional who will not rock the boat.) No wonder the government seems to have no fresh thinking.

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Reforming Pakistan Civil Service

Islamabad/Brussels, 16 February 2010: If Pakistan’s deteriorating civil service is not urgently repaired, public disillusionment and resentment could be used by the military to justify another spell of authoritarian rule.

Reforming Pakistan’s Civil Service,* the latest report from the International Crisis Group, analyses the structure and functioning of Pakistan’s civil bureaucracy. It identifies critical flaws as well as measures to make it more accountable and able to provide essential public services. Military rule has left behind a demoralised and inefficient bureaucracy that was used to ensure regime survival. Low salaries, insecure tenure, obsolete accountability mechanisms and political interference have spawned widespread corruption and impunity. If the flaws of an unreformed bureaucracy are not urgently addressed, the government risks losing public support. Continue reading

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Pakistan – Restructuring of PSEs

EDITORIAL (February 15 2010): It is good to know that some concrete measures would be taken soon to improve the health of Public Sector Enterprises (PSEs) in order to reduce burden on the budget. According to the latest reports, the Cabinet Committee on Restructuring (CCoR) has finalised a roadmap for the turnaround of eight loss-making public sector entities, focusing in particular on replacing their managements with professionals from the private sector.

Talking to a newspaper, Finance Minister Shaukat Tarin revealed that the Committee would replace the existing managements of Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) and Pakistan Steel Mills (PSM) with others within two weeks after approval of the plan by the Prime Minister. New and vibrant boards were also needed for corporate restructuring of Pakistan Railways, Pepco, NHA, USC, TCP and Passco.

These eight entities were incurring annual losses of about Rs 200 billion and Ministry of Finance had always been advocating for structural changes in the management of these PSEs to make them profitable. Tarin deplored that weak governance, susceptibility to outside influence and implicit guarantees by the government were the major reasons behind these entities’ under-performance.
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I just moved to Islamabad not to long ago, As you know in this country you need contacts to do anything, and the problem is i do not posses these contacts.

I am a person that will go through any channels to posses these type of contacts as i posses contacts with some of the leading companies worldwide.

I have over 5 years of extensive commodity trading experience with leading companies in Canada/America/UAE mainly in the energy markets, I am also a business development guru.

I Have some ideas on things i would like to do in Pakistan, but it would be hard doing anything alone especially when you dont know anyone here. If you would like to see my cv i would be more then happy to send it to you.

There are many things we can collaberate on if you are business minded the sky is the limit.

Best Regards,

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