A new kitchen can raise the value of any home, but in developing countries it can also save lives. That is why in 2010 the OECD’s very own staff charity, the War on Hunger Group, decided to contribute funding to fitting a new kitchen in the headquarters of AFENA, an NGO dedicated to looking after abandoned women and children, and based in Niger’s second city, Maradi.

In 2008, the Chinese economist Justin Yifu Lin became the first person from a developing country to be appointed World Bank Chief Economist.

We are celebrating the OECD’s 50th anniversary during the tail-end of the worst financial and economic crisis of our lifetimes. It’s a good moment to take stock and to ask the right questions. Why couldn’t we avoid the crisis? Were the policies and the policy mix we promoted the right ones, and how can we adjust these polices to new realities? What is more, are we doing enough to prevent another crisis? Are our economic theories, our models and our assumptions still appropriate? How should our organisation’s work be adapted so that we continue fulfilling our founding mission of promoting better policies for better lives?

The OECD, a pioneer in the quest to measure the progress and well-being of societies, is launching an exciting new initiative, incorporating Your Better Life Index. The initiative is not only a major step forward in assessing people’s true welfare, but involves people in the process too.

Is Africa finally on the move? The signs are promising.Rich in natural resources and with more than one billion people, it achieved five consecutive years of economic growth averaging more than 5% over 2004-08. In fact, private investment rose every year from 2000 to reach US$472.2 billion in 2008. And despite some fallout from the economic crisis that started in the OECD area in 2008 and brought African GDP per head to a virtual standstill in 2009, activity has started to ramp up again.

There are no silver bullets or magic potions for human development. Rather than trying to replicate past experience, we need to focus on new opportunities.

On 2 November, Morocco launched a US$9 billion solar energy programme. With five power plants, the programme aims for a total installed capacity of 2,000 MW by 2020-equivalent to almost 40% of the country's electricity production.

Through the ages, the countries of the Middle East and North Africa have been known for their great feats in engineering. The marvels are legion, from the Mesopotamian irrigation systems to the Great Pyramid. But did you know that the first concentrated solar steam engine was built near Cairo in 1914? A century later, solar energy is again putting the region on the cusp of new exploits, this time in renewable energy.

A salmon would find it a hardscrabble life in the waterways of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). Not because of dried riverbeds, overfishing or pollution, but because the region has more dams per cubic metre of water than any other place on earth.

The Maghreb coastal corridor links Morocco to Egypt by road and from there connects to the Arab countries of the Mashreq. Much of the 31,000 km of planned roads are in place. Part of a major road plan that some hope will one day link much of the African coastline, the corridor embodies a future of promise.

Arab Innovative Teachers Forum, Morocco, April 2008 ©Rafael Marchante/REUTERS

Hana Barqawi realised her dream of opening her own children's furniture store two years ago in the Jordanian capital of Amman. Ms Barqawi is part of a wave of female entrepreneurs that has swept across the Middle East and North Africa area over the past decade or more. 

Africa's economies were on the rise when the financial crisis hit in 2008. Growth was running high on the back of commodity price increases, with African exports almost doubling between 2000 and 2006. Over the same period, foreign capital flows quintupled. Yet the crisis has jeopardised this progress, resulting in a severe investment slowdown, particularly in oil and mineral production, and halving Africa's growth rate from 5.7 % in 2008 to 2.4 % in 2009.

©Reuters/Atef Hassan

Water is a growing challenge for all countries, and a fresh, more coherent approach to tackling it is now needed.

Click to enlarge. By Stik, especially for the OECD Observer

While bemoaning the global impact of rich countries’ subsidies on poorer economies, environmentalists are taking a closer look at how the elimination of some subsidies may be detrimental to the environment.

The recent world summit on sustainable development was either a success or a disappointment, depending on whom you ask.For a clear assessment of the summit’s achievements, it should be measured against what is in fact needed to achieve sustainable development and what was feasible in the current political climate.

Click for larger graph

More than a billion people world-wide live in extreme poverty and preventable diseases are a major cause of mortality in developing countries, so why should we care about the environment? The answer becomes obvious once we recall that in developing countries activities based on natural resources, such as agriculture, forestry and fisheries, still contribute more to the economy than industry or services. And since many of the world’s poor depend directly on these activities for a living, environmental degradation hurts the poor disproportionately.

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