Human Capital Investments for Glacier Countries

In October 2018, the World Bank launched the Human Capital Project, which is focused on promoting global economic growth and equity. Its primary component is the Human Capital Index (HCI), an assessment of children’s access to basic human rights around the world. The HCI takes into account information about children’s health and education, using these indicators to compile an ultimate score of the future generation’s productivity as it relates to the country’s economic potential. Read more about the Human Capital Project in the official published booklet, openly available here.

Countries with glaciers face many challenges associated with climate change, and having strong, healthy, educated populations will contribute to their adaptive capacity. Thus, the Human Capital Index has many implications for glacier countries.

What makes up the Human Capital Index?

The HCI is separated into three components, each of which are made up of statistical indicators:

  1. Survival
    • Probability of survival to age 5 (0-1)
  2. Education
    • Expected years of school (0-14)
    • Harmonized test score (300-625)
  3. Health
    • Fraction of children under 5 not stunted (0-1)
    • Fraction of 15-year olds who survive to age 60 (0-1)
World map with HCI quartile scores shaded for every country (Source: The World Bank).

How do we interpret countries’ individual HCI scores?

Through compilation of the above indicators, each country will receive a HCI score from 0-1. Every country is then ranked into quartiles, with the top quartile representing the countries with scores in the top 25 percent of the world, third quartile representing the next 25 percent of countries, and so on.

According to the Human Capital Project Booklet, “A country in which a child born today can expect to achieve both full health (no stunting and 100 percent adult survival) and full education potential (14 years of high-quality school by age 18) will score a value of 1 on the index.”

Take Switzerland, which received an HCI score of 0.77, as an example. A score of 0.77 means that the future productivity for a worker born today, given current levels of survival, education, and health, is 23 percent lower than what it could be. Likewise, Nepal, which received an HCI score of 0.49, could improve by up to 51 percent based on its current state.

What are the implications for glacier countries?

On the right is a table which includes data from the HCI, HDI (Human Development Index), and GDP per capita for several glacier countries, with cells color-coded to the quartile they match on the map above. The HDI measures a country’s achievement in several categories of human development beyond the confines of economic growth; read more about it here

The HCI ranks glacier countries in similar ways to how they are ranked by the HDI and GDP per capita, with some exceptions. For example, Chile has a relatively high HCI score and HDI score when compared with its GDP per capita. In 2006, Chile launched Chile Crece Contigo (Chile Grows With You), a program focused on early childhood development. Chile’s actions showcase it as an example of a middle-income country that has made the policies highlighted by the HCI feasible on a large scale. Other examples of countries who scored higher on the HCI than their relative GDP per capita are Austria and New Zealand. 

The graph to the left shows the relationship between HCI score and GDP per capita for several glacier countries. Countries that are above the line show high HCI scores relative to their GDP per capita, and countries below the line show low HCI scores relative to their GDP per capita.

This points to the importance of investment in human capital for countries of any income level. In addition, though GDP per capita and HCI scores are positively correlated, countries must allocate part of their income to investment in human capital in order to receive superlinear benefits (meaning they would be placed above the line). 

How do these indicators translate to economic potential?

The survival, education, and health of people in any country can be estimated by the HCI’s parameters. There is a direct link between the education and health of individuals and their potential productivity as workers. Once more, there is a direct link between worker productivity and a country’s ability to increase their GDP in the long-term.

Simply put, investing in the well-being of the future generation is absolutely essential to a country’s long-term economic success. Investing in the children of today will help ensure increased productivity, reduced poverty, and a better quality of life when they become of working age. This will also help countries increase their GDP, allowing for sustainable growth and more opportunity to invest back in survival, education, and health measures for the next generation.

What are the barriers to investment in human capital?

One barrier to investment in human capital is time. Investment in children will likely not see any return for at least another 18 years. Due to both political and economic benefits, policymakers may be inclined to focus on what can be done in the short-term to improve people’s lives, such as building bridges and roads. This attachment to immediacy can lead to an underinvestment in the survival, education, and health of today’s children.

Glacier countries are particularly vulnerable to the accumulating effects of global climate change. However, the slow process of glacial melting and the delayed return on investment in today’s children may similarly lead residents of glacier countries to focus on problems and solutions that are more pressing in the short term. Nonetheless, to increase their prosperity into the future, glacier countries benefit from considering the importance of investing in human capital.


Want to know more about the Human Capital Index?

Video of the Week: The World Bank’s Human Capital Index

Video of the Week: The World Bank’s Human Capital Index

This Video of the Week provides an introduction to the World Bank’s newly released Human Capital Index (HCI); it explains what the Human Capital Index is, how it works, and why it is important. 

The HCI measures investment in human capital in countries around the world. It highlights the necessity of basic human rights for children of the next generation of workers, such as: social and economic equality, good health, proper nutrition, and access to education. Proper investment in human capital is essential to facilitate economic development and prosperity on the national level. At the individual level, investment in human capital works to help people reach their true potential, provide for their future families, and improve overall quality of life.

This index also calls attention to existing disparities between glacier countries. The United States, Switzerland, Norway, Austria, Iceland, and New Zealand have HCIs ranking in the top (fourth) quartile of countries; Peru, Ecuador, Chile, and Kyrgyzstan rank in the third HCI quartile; Tajikistan and Nepal rank in the second HCI quartile. Bolivia and Bhutan both lacked data to calculate HCI values.

Watch the video below, and explore the World Bank’s Human Capital Project webpage for more information.

Discover more glacier news at GlacierHub:

2018: An Exceptional Year of Losses for Swiss Glaciers

North of Nightfall: Glaciers, Mountain Biking and Climate Change

Horn Signaling at a Medieval Icelandic Monastery

World Bank Study Proposes Solutions to Bolivia’s Water Crisis

A recent photo of drought conditions in La Paz, Bolivia (Source: Alan Farago/Twitter).

Bolivia is currently in the midst of the worst drought in twenty-five years following decades of intense water crises, including an infamous “water war” in 2000 in the city of Cochabamba in which tens of thousands of Bolivians protested the privatization of water. To cope with the current situation, Bolivia’s president Evo Morales has declared a national state of emergency, imposed stricter water rationing, and even fired a top water official, but can more be done to alleviate the crisis?

In a recent report for the World Bank Group, Sarah Botton et al. cover the current crisis and explain how a blend of “big system” water infrastructure, in which a single operator manages the piped system, and “small system” infrastructure, in which individuals informally control water resources, can help conditions in La Paz, Bolivia’s capital, and El Alto, a large adjacent city known for its high elevation and largely indigenous population. 

Botton et al. present a case study of water management in La Paz and El Alto to consider the benefit of future water management strategies in the region. The central and oldest neighborhoods of these Bolivian cities have traditionally had better access to water, with poorer communities suffering from noteworthy shortages or decreased access, according to Botton et al. As a result, both cities have gone through cycles of public and private management before changing back to a public management system in 2007. 

Dirk Hoffmann, a professor at Karlsruhe University of Applied Sciences in Germany and an expert in glacier change and glacier lake outburst flood risk in the Bolivian Andes, explained in an interview with GlacierHub that the immense population growth in La Paz and El Alto further complicates water management issues in the area. He indicated that the urban area of the metropolis of La Paz and El Alto is growing 40,000 to 50,000 people each year. 

“The water supply system in La Paz and El Alto has not kept up with the population growth,” Hoffmann told GlacierHub. To make matters worse, Hoffmann explained that there is a 40 to 50 percent loss of water as it travels from the source due to old water pipes, open canals, infiltrations, and (illegal) access by users.

In 1997, while under public management, 95 percent of the La Paz population was connected to the drinking water system and 80 percent to sewers, according to Botton et al. In El Alto, where the population is poorer and more heavily indigenous, only 65 percent of the population was connected to drinking water and 25 percent to sewers. In order to provide more dependable water to the indigenous people, the decision was made by the government of El Alto in July 1997 to move the governance of the water system to a private company. La Paz similarly made the decision to privatize.

A contract was signed by both cities with Aguas del Illimani, a subsidiary of the French company Suez. However, problems with privatization arose because the company lacked the resources to equip the poorest households with water. Aguas del Illimani was ultimately replaced in 2007 by Empresa Pública Social de Agua y Saneamiento (EPSAS), a public utility.

EPSAS dealt with a major setback in 2008 in which a landslide caused by heavy rain destroyed the pipes in the Pampahasi system, which supplied water to the southern and eastern part of La Paz. The area went without water for three weeks because repairs were delayed and EPSAS could not afford the US$450,000 s to repair the damage. They required a loan from the municipality and the national government.

la paz
A photo of a public faucet that serves 1,000 families in El Alto, Bolivia (Source: Stephan Bachenheimeri/World Bank).

President Morales and water experts maintain that climate change has contributed to and continues to exasperate the current water crisis in Bolivia. Bolivian glaciers have shrunk by 43 percent between 1986 and 2014, according to a study recently published by the Geosciences Union journal. Meanwhile, glacier meltwater in the region remains a crucial source of drinking water, irrigation, and hydropower, with two million residents in La Paz and El Alto reportedly receiving about 15 percent of their water supply from glaciers.

As water resources diminish in Bolivia, conflicts over their allocation will only intensify, Botton et al. explain. Hoffman emphasized to GlacierHub that, ironically, Bolivia is a big contributor to climate change due to deforestation in its lowlands, when counted on a per capita base. Deforestation brings smoke particles to the glaciers, accelerating their melting (although the exact magnitude still has not been established). In this sense, Bolivia continues to contribute to climate change, which has negatively impacted it own water supply.

la paz
La Paz residents wait in line to fill water buckets (Source: Water Mark/Twitter).

Botton et al. analyze the differences between “big systems,” like the ones used in La Paz and El Alto, which are maintained by a single operator that manages the pipes of the entire municipal water system, and “small systems,” which offer an alternative management option.

In small systems, inhabitants of a rural area informally control the system and turn the resource into a service for the community. The operators are required to register with the Ministry of Water, but many currently do not because of onerous procedures involved.

In La Paz, small systems are located on the western slopes, which are considered “non-constructible” for big systems. These small systems provide water without undermining the big system, which lacks options for expanding. Another positive of small systems is that they rarely need repairs, and when they do, those repairs are done more easily with a technically simple approach. Botton et al. concur that future solutions for La Paz and El Alto water issues will require coordination between big and small systems.

Hoffmann agrees that there needs to be more coordination among all of those involved and that there remains significant disagreement on who should have access to water or how it should be utilized. Many of the reservoirs used in La Paz and El Alto are on rural lands belonging to indigenous people, for example, who want to use the water for irrigation purposes. The indigenous people claim these natural resources are theirs. However, Bolivians living in the city want to use the water for drinking. 

Hoffmann concluded, “The many actors involved are slowly becoming more convinced that they need an agreement between urban and rural populations.”

New Report Documents Pakistan’s Water Insecurity

Screen Shot 2017-02-22 at 8.26.39 PM
A map of the mean annual precipitation in Pakistan, illustrating the country’s aridity (Source: United Nations Development Programme).

Water security is a pervasive issue in Pakistan, a largely arid country. The majority of the country receives less than 300mm of rain per year, while a small region in the north receives upwards of 1000 mm per year. The Indus River provides much of the water to the area, but its flow is irregular due to the variable precipitation. Moreover, the river originates partly in Pakistan and partly in India, creating additional political challenges that stem from the decades-long history of tension between the two countries.

Last month, the United Nations Development Programme released a Development Advocate Pakistan report that describes the uncertain future of water in Pakistan, which is impacted by changing climate and melting glaciers, as well as political issues with neighboring India. The report’s editors suggest several ways to increase water stability in Pakistan. They advise increasing public awareness because the lack of trust stems in part from incomplete access to data and information. They also recommend high efficiency irrigation systems and updating academic curriculum in the country to include sustainable development.

A road passes through Tharparkar, a region in southern Pakistan (Source: Rcbutcher/Creative Commons).

As the report describes, the region of Gilgit-Baltistan in northern Pakistan provides most of the water in the glaciated parts of the country. Altitudes exceed 5000 meters with annual snowfall of approximately 5000 millimeters in the highest regions. This zone is the largest area of perennial glaciers outside the polar regions; nearly one third of the Gilgit-Baltistan area is glaciated. The meltwater of these glaciers contribute a massive volume of freshwater, which forms a significant component of the flow into the Indus River.

The variability of river flows as a result of monsoon seasons has led to water crises and conflicts between provinces, as well as neighboring countries. The Indus Water Treaty has allowed for peaceful relations between Pakistan and its neighbor India for the past 40 years. As Justin Rowlatt describes in his BBC report from September 2016, the Indus Water Treaty has survived two wars and numerous military impasses between the two countries. However, the increased water stress in the Indus River basin since the early 1990s has strained the treaty. 

Coverage of the UNDP report in Indian and Pakistani newspapers has unsurprisingly varied. A recent article in the Times of India covering the report emphasized Pakistan’s negligence and delays in presenting cases to the Indus Water Treaty. An article in the Hindustan Times reports that, “Pakistan has cleverly employed the IWT to have its cake and eat it too” by receiving the larger amount of water the treaty allots for downstream States, while also using the treaty to sustain conflict with India.

The coverage of the issue by Pakistani newspapers is sparser. In one editorial published in Pakistan Today, the author calls the UNDP report a “wake-up call” and urges cooperation between Pakistan and India to resolve the dispute.

The treaty itself fails to address two important issues. The first is that it does not provide for a division of water during shortages in the dry years between India and Pakistan. The second is that it does not discuss the cumulative impact of reservoirs on the flows of the Chenab River, a major tributary of the Indus, into Pakistan.

On a fundamental level, the government of Pakistan does not think the Indus Water Treaty is effective because its people are not satisfied with the amount of water received, but the government of India does not wish to amend the treaty or address water conflict between the countries in other contexts. The treaty allows India to create reservoirs on nearby rivers to store water for hydropower and flood shortages. This provision has created conflicts between Pakistan and India, since India controls the flow of most of these dams and reservoirs.

The Jhelum River in Pakistan (Source: Myasinilyas/Creative Commons).

The Jhelum River also presents a problem to Pakistan’s water security. The river is controlled by India, but is a major source of irrigation and hydropower for Pakistan. If India were to close the gates of the river for long periods, it would have a detrimental impact on Pakistan. As relations between Pakistan and India continue to decline, India has threatened to use water as a political weapon. The “possibility of turning off the taps has been raised before, but never as forcefully as this,” explains Rowlatt in his BBC article,

Pakistan itself contributes to the dysfunction of the treaty. As the editors explain in the UNDP report, “Pakistan’s negligence in conducting sound analysis and delays in presenting cases to the Indus Water Commission of World Bank” has slowed progress.

The Times of India reports that following the release of the UNDP report, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif met with the World Bank CEO Kristalina Georgieva to discuss the dispute over the Indus Water Treaty. Sharif hopes that a Court of Arbitration helps solve the dispute, while the government of India requested the World Bank nominate a neutral expert to solve the disagreement. The World Bank Group is a signatory to the Treaty and has encouraged both India and Pakistan to agree to mediation on the issue. It is clear that without some sort of institutional change, Pakistan’s water security will become less certain as climate continues to change and tensions with India escalate. 


Roundup: Glacier Tourism, Monitoring, and Melt

Each weekly Roundup, we highlight three stories from the forefront of glacier news.


Tourists’ take “last chance” to see New Zealand Glaciers

From The International Journal of Tourism Space, Place and Environment:

“For more than 100 years, the Fox and Franz Josef Glaciers in Westland Tai Poutini National Park have attracted thousands of tourists annually and have emerged as iconic destinations in New Zealand. However, in recent years, the recession of both glaciers has been increasingly rapid and the impacts on, and implications for, visitor experiences in these settings remain relatively unexplored…Results revealed the fundamental importance of viewing the glaciers as a significant travel motive of visitors, suggesting that there is a ‘last chance’ dimension to their experience. Furthermore, the results demonstrate a high adaptive capacity of local tourism operators under rapidly changing environmental conditions.”

Franz Josef Glacier, New Zealand (Wiki)
Franz Josef Glacier, New Zealand (Wiki)

To read the full study, click here.


Glacier monitoring in the pre-internet era

From AGU Blogosphere:

“We have been monitoring the annual mass balance of Easton Glacier on Mount Baker, a stratovolcano in the North Cascade Range, Washington since 1990.  This is one of nine glaciers we are continuing to monitor, seven of which have a 32 year long record. The initial exploration done in the pre-internet days required visiting libraries to look at topographic maps and buying a guide book to trails for the area.  This was followed by actual letters, not much email then, to climbers who had explored the glacier in the past, for old photographs.  Armed with photographs and maps we then determined where to locate base camp and how to access the glacier.”

Easton Glacier retreat, taken in 2003 (wiki)
Easton Glacier retreat, taken in 2003 (wiki)

For more, go to the AGU Blog post here, and check out “Easton Glacier Monitoring” by Mauri Pelto on Vimeo


Water scarcity in central Asia

From The World Bank:

“Communities in Central Asia talk about how water is vital but scarce resource across the region. The Central Asia Energy-Water Development Program (CAEWDP) works to ensure effective energy and water management, including at the regional level. This work should accelerate investment, promote economic growth and stable livelihoods.”

For more, click here.