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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