Wednesday, January 17, 2018

The Dutch Have Solutions to Rising Seas. The World Is Watching.

I read an interesting article about Rotterdam and the Netherlands in the New York Times of which I will copy the first paragraphs below. I read it because of a a conversation I had with the director corporate strategy of the Port of Rotterdam. In preparing the interview I read a couple of articles and power point presentations about Rotterdam and the Paris Climate Agreement. Very interesting stuff!

ROTTERDAM, the Netherlands — The wind over the canal stirred up whitecaps and rattled cafe umbrellas. Rowers strained toward a finish line and spectators hugged the shore. Henk Ovink, hawkish, wiry, head shaved, watched from a V.I.P. deck, one eye on the boats, the other, as usual, on his phone.
Mr. Ovink is the country’s globe-trotting salesman in chief for Dutch expertise on rising water and climate change. Like cheese in France or cars in Germany, climate change is a business in the Netherlands. Month in, month out, delegations from as far away as Jakarta, Ho Chi Minh City, New York and New Orleans make the rounds in the port city of Rotterdam. They often end up hiring Dutch firms, which dominate the global market in high-tech engineering and water management.
That’s because from the first moment settlers in this small nation started pumping water to clear land for farms and houses, water has been the central, existential fact of life in the Netherlands, a daily matter of survival and national identity. No place in Europe is under greater threat than this waterlogged country on the edge of the Continent. Much of the nation sits below sea level and is gradually sinking. Now climate change brings the prospect of rising tides and fiercer storms. 

From a Dutch mind-set, climate change is not a hypothetical or a drag on the economy, but an opportunity. While the Trump administration withdraws from the Paris accord, the Dutch are pioneering a singular way forward.

It is, in essence, to let water in, where possible, not hope to subdue Mother Nature: to live with the water, rather than struggle to defeat it. The Dutch devise lakes, garages, parks and plazas that are a boon to daily life but also double as enormous reservoirs for when the seas and rivers spill over. You may wish to pretend that rising seas are a hoax perpetrated by scientists and a gullible news media. Or you can build barriers galore. But in the end, neither will provide adequate defense, the Dutch say.
And what holds true for managing climate change applies to the social fabric, too. Environmental and social resilience should go hand in hand, officials here believe, improving neighborhoods, spreading equity and taming water during catastrophes. Climate adaptation, if addressed head-on and properly, ought to yield a stronger, richer state.
This is the message the Dutch have been taking out into the world. Dutch consultants advising the Bangladeshi authorities about emergency shelters and evacuation routes recently helped reduce the numbers of deaths suffered in recent floods to “hundreds instead of thousands,” according to Mr. Ovink.
“That’s what we’re trying to do,” he said. “You can say we are marketing our expertise, but thousands of people die every year because of rising water, and the world is failing collectively to deal with the crisis, losing money and lives.” He ticks off the latest findings: 2016 was the warmest year on record; global sea levels rose to new highs.
Rowing teams practice at the Eendragtspolder, a site intended to be both a public amenity and a reservoir for floodwater.
He proudly shows off the new rowing course just outside Rotterdam, where the World Rowing Championships were staged last summer. The course forms part of an area called the Eendragtspolder, a 22-acre patchwork of reclaimed fields and canals — a prime example of a site built as a public amenity that collects floodwater in emergencies. It is near the lowest point in the Netherlands, about 20 feet below sea level. With its bike paths and water sports, the Eendragtspolder has become a popular retreat. Now it also serves as a reservoir for the Rotte River Basin when the nearby Rhine overflows, which, because of climate change, it’s expected to do every decade.
The project is among dozens in a nationwide program, years in the making, called Room for the River, which overturned centuries-old strategies of seizing territory from rivers and canals to build dams and dikes. The Netherlands effectively occupies the gutter of Europe, a lowlands bounded on one end by the North Sea, into which immense rivers like the Rhine and the Meuse flow from Germany, Belgium and France. Dutch thinking changed after floods forced hundreds of thousands to evacuate during the 1990s. The floods “were a wake-up call to give back to the rivers some of the room we had taken,” as Harold van Waveren, a senior government adviser, recently explained.
“We can’t just keep building higher levees, because we will end up living behind 10-meter walls,” he said. “We need to give the rivers more places to flow. Protection against climate change is only as strong as the weakest link in the chain, and the chain in our case includes not just the big gates and dams at the sea but a whole philosophy of spatial planning, crisis management, children’s education, online apps and public spaces.” TO READ FURTHER, click HERE

Monday, January 8, 2018

Global Financial Crisis - An opportunity, or a threat?

When those responsible for global financial policies say they want to avoid another global financial crisis, I do not believe them because a crisis suits both private capitalists and state capitalists (eg the Chinese). It gives them the opportunity to get "assets" such as ports (eg Piraeus) and other utilities at a low price, creates the legitimacy to reduce labour costs, dismiss workers and make their employment contracts more flexible and, more generally, allows them to prescribe and apply austerity policies.

Another reason why politicians were not really dissatisfied with earlier global financial crises that have occurred since the sixties of the twentieth century is that they created the opportunity to maintain the military supremacy of the United States. In each international crisis of the dollar the countries have taken the deliberate political decision to continue supporting the global financial system based on the dollar, thus financing the military costs of the US, or have been forced to support it since there was no alternative.

Do the euro and renmimbi threaten the survival of the global financial system based on the dollar? No. The European Union continues to support the dollar-based system, as it continues to support NATO, and China may say that it favours a larger role for SDR, but that is not a threat to the current system, nor is the incorporation of renmimbi in the SDR basket a threat.

Will the current global financial system based on the dollar be with us forever? Here we have the famous saying, I think (but I'm not sure), of a well-known Dutch central banker, Jelle Zijlstra: 'When we had a crisis of the pound sterling as the key currency of the IMS, we were able to move towards the adoption of the dollar. But, where can we go when there is a crisis of the US dollar? To the moon?'

However, I still believe in the possibility of transforming the current global financial system into a better system, eg by adopting an updated version of Keynes' proposal of an international clearing agency (see Jane D'Arista's upcoming book "All Fall Down: Debt, Deregulation and Financial Crises", and Jan Kregel's A Blueprint for Reform of the International Monetary System (2)).

Why do I believe that? Because at a certain moment it will be in the interest of those responsible for global financial policies to reform the system.

So far the poor have suffered from global or regional financial crises, while the rich have benefited from them. But that does not mean it will always be like that. Climate change is now seen by the rich as a threat.

When will global financial crisis be seen by global financial policymakers (businesses, central banks and ministries of finance) as a threat rather than an opportunity?

Saturday, January 6, 2018

The 'Sister' of Percy Mistry


Percy Mistry
For ten years, Percy Mistry was the man with whom I worked most closely within FONDAD. A friend of mine who worked at the World Bank said to me at the end of the eighties: maybe he will soon leave the World Bank and if I were you I would immediately contact him. A large number of books that I have published as director and editor-in-chief of FONDAD have been written by Percy (see Fondad publications by Percy Mistry).

But here I want to talk about his 'sister' or the lady he introduced to me as his sister when we saw each other again after 20 years, but who is actually his cousin: her mother is his father's sister, but the two families have lived in the same family building in Bombay and they grew up like sister and brother. Percy lives in Bombay for the winter part of the year, his permanent home is in Oxfordshire in the UK.

Percy and I saw each other back at CCI, or the Cricket Club of India. Just like at the Willingdon Sports Club we sat at a table on the lawn, a kind of outdoor terrace, and because there was a lot of noise and I was sitting next to Percy's sister, I had a conversation with her, while Aafke on the other side of the table had a conversation with Percy and his protégé who worked at the OECD. Percy has a serious illness and after half past eight in the evening is only capable of falling asleep or watching TV.

His sister told me about her mother who gambled money at horse racing, but she also told me about another cousin of hers who is committed to teaching children from slums. That cousin has already made thousands of slum (and disabled) children happy with education that was not only focused on learning but also on drawing and sports. And so for me, and later also for Aafke, the first-class lady became a lively, sweet woman with whom Aafke had a conversation about her youth at Catholic boarding schools in India and in Switzerland.

I still found a warm bond with Percy.

Monday, January 1, 2018

Bombay - Buying a SIM card

Mahendra and Aafke
At the exit of the cruise terminal they trudged around me, the taxi drivers. "Sir, I can take you to all the places you want to visit," "Sir, do you want to go to the Gateway?", "Sir, I can bring you to the Museum, it's very cheap."  
"Thank you for offering your services but I do not need a taxi," I kept answering. "I just walk to the traffic light to buy a SIM card."
It was a wide avenue that I walked from the gate, with high, thick trees on the left. There was little traffic. A man approached me and asked modestly if I might need a taxi. "Not now," I said, "but tomorrow. My wife and I are still on the cruise ship for another night and tomorrow morning we will go to our hotel and have an appointment somewhere in the city." " I can take you anywhere for $ 15 a day," he said. I looked at him a bit better, he looked back quietly. "Okay," I said, "can you be at the gate at 8 o'clock in the morning, then my wife and I will come with our suitcases?"
The next morning he walked towards us calmly and confidently. When we said goodbye to each other a week later at the airport, both Mahendra, Aafke and I had tears in our eyes. 

At the junction with the traffic light there was an open shop on the other side, actually more like a wide, open booth, like the one where Aafke and I bought a SIM card in Shanghai, with a man who constantly received smartphones that customers gave to him for a number of hours. I could only buy a SIM card with him if I had a passport photo, because forms had to be filled in with a photograph of me stuck to it. He told me where I could have a passport photo taken in the neighbourhood. 
I came to a photo shop, a pipe lettuce, with staff in the front, light section and in the back, in the dark, the boss. A calm, friendly and confident man, with whom I soon started talking about black and white photography, the development of negatives, the emergence of the image in developer, the type of paper that was our favorite - he sepia, I Record Rapid from Agfa - and the film rolls from initially 8 and later 36 photos. I still  have a few rolls in my closet and also photo paper, developer, fixer and tongs to pick up the wet, developed photo paper and first put it in a container with fixer and then rinse it in a bucket. But the conversation about those details was not until after he had taken off his pants and shirt and suddenly stood in front of me in half-length underpants and with calm and controlled movements pulled on a perfectly ironed shirt and white trousers to walk with me to a telephone store to buy a SIM card.  
He took me by the arm to cross a busy road and that's how I got my first lesson in crossing a street where cars on the wrong side run and crawl past each other alongside you. That lesson was useful later, when I crossed busy roads with Aafke. For me it soon became routine and an adventure without danger, because I saw that the traffic chaos and the drivers of the always honking cars, scooters and motorcycles respectfully interact with each other and with the pedestrians: they never bump against each other, even though it seems that they will do that every moment.
Together with the photographer I found a suitable telephone store. On the way back he told me about the beautiful sepia wedding photo he had of his parents, about his daily yoga exercises and the skipping of the evening meal, so he stayed so fit. He was 72 and I thought he looked younger than me. Later I introduced Aafke to him when she also had a passport photo taken to get an Indian SIM card. In the end she did not buy one: one working cell phone was sufficient.