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Delivering Development in Tough Times

Caroline Anstey_3's picture
Also available in: العربية | Français
In Gaza earlier this week I met a group of students learning cutting-edge computer animation skills at a technical institute we support. And I met a crowd of women in a small village where simple street paving has made all the difference to their mobility, their children’s health and access to education, and I sensed, their civic pride. All good barometers of development you'd think except these particular students go out into an economy where youth unemployment hovers at around 50 percent with few prospects for improvement.

Places affected by conflict present special challenges for development. Each country's needs and fragilities may be different - they might be massive infrastructure rehabilitation or highly sensitive resettling of former enemies. Some of these needs may be urgent and short-term, like the ones that make vivid visuals in our 24/7 news world.

Less dramatic is the work of the medium and long term. Yet its precisely here that insecurity can morph into stability and begin to embed development. History demonstrates some success: since 2004, 11 countries have graduated from fragile status. But our own research also tells us that breaking cycles of violence and fragility takes sustained commitment long after the cameras leave. Development work in the Palestinian Territories where I just spent three days cannot deliver the long-sought political solution that the region so desperately needs. But it can help address the immediate needs of people trapped by history. And just as importantly it can prepare for the future.

We have worked for years with the Palestinian Authority to help build the institutions of a future state - all those nuts and bolts that a society needs to function. They include a financial system, the ability to collect taxes and pay civil servants, a dependable legal system, health and education systems and so forth.

Delivering Development in Tough TimesThe Palestinian Territories join countries like Bosnia and Herzegovina, Guinea, Nepal, and Timor Leste in now having met the Millennium Development Goal to halve the number of people living on less than $1.25 a day. Since 2005 the World Bank has worked with the Palestinian Authority on social safety net reform, targetting the poorest and most vulnerable Palestinians with cash transfers to 97,000 households. Food and fuel subsidies are a sore and costly point in many countries of the Middle East and North Africa today, burdening state coffers by 5 percent or more of GDP and very often failing to reach the poorest. By contrast, in the Palestinian Territories the cost of social safety nets was just 0.95 percent of GDP in 2010 thanks to the careful targeting of the poorest - and only the poorest - as those who qualify for help.

At the World Bank Group, we know that to end poverty and boost prosperity we cannot succeed without a much greater focus on the world’s fragile and conflict affected places. Conflict knows no borders and the impact can last generations. We also know the importance of looking for development solutions that are tailored to each situation: I learned a lot from our excellent team on the ground, our Palestinian counterparts, and our development partners and saw how they are trying to concretely address daily constraints and deliver meaningful results.