The consensus at today’s high-level meeting on “Scaling Up Nutrition” was this: the world can do better for its hungry children. Many of the Ministers and donor agency leaders who spoke at the event acknowledged the global commitment to fighting malnutrition had fallen short. As many as 3 million mothers and young children die each year due to lack of nutritious food.
OECD figures show that development aid for nutrition has been modest, with commitments of less than $300 million a year – one reason why nutrition has been labeled the “forgotten” Millennium Development Goal.
At a candid discussion yesterday with African ministers of education and a range of education experts from the public and private sectors, one thing was very clear – that higher education was recognized by everyone in the room as being critical for Africa’s development in the 21st century. All participants—from the Gambia’s education minister, who pointed out that his country went without a university for 30 years after independence and was facing a severe resource gap, to his counterpart in Senegal who wanted to catch up with Tunisia on the number of students enrolled in universities—agreed that higher education was key to diversifying Africa’s growing economies and reducing their dependence on natural resource extraction.
There’s another reason higher education is so important in Africa—the region has burgeoning numbers of young people, some 7 to 10 million of whom knock on the doors of the labor market every year. These young people constitute a huge opportunity for Africa. Yet of today’s unemployed in the region, a full 60 percent are youth. Good quality, relevant education that goes well beyond the primary stage will turn out the types of employable graduates and professionals that Africa so urgently needs. Doctors, nurses, lawyers, engineers, and entrepreneurs—but also agriculturists and environmentalists. This morning’s news about intensifying drought in West Africa’s Sahel region, with 10 million people thought to be short of food, only underscores the great urgency to build human resource bases in each country that can help tackle the environmental and health issues that confront Africa.
Yesterday, I attended the TEDxWorldBankGroup event, entitled Global Challenges in the New Decade. This first TEDxWorldBankGroup event was organized by the Independent Evaluation Group (IEG) to add to the critical discussions taking place during the Spring Meetings. The event aimed to encourage conversation on gender, climate change, agriculture and water, and to find possible solutions to these global issues.
The speakers at the event were great and made excellent points about each of the chosen issues. One of the takeaways from the event was that the development community should act as one in addressing critical issues and take a wholesome approach to resolving global challenges instead of tackling them piecemeal.
Jason Clay, Senior Vice President of Market Transformation at World Wildlife Fund (WWF), who presented on water issues at the event said that every time the development community tries to maximize efforts in one area, it takes away from another; therefore looking at all of these issues as a whole is the most effective way to solve them for the future generations.
At the launch, World Bank Africa Chief Economist Shanta Devarajan explained that, "although Africa was the hardest hit by the crisis, its recovery has been so remarkable that we could be at the beginning of what history will describe as Africa’s decade."
The outlook isn't all rosy, of course. With the global financial crisis halting the steady rate of growth in the region, Africa will now likely miss most of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by their 2015 deadline, despite the remarkable progress. n estimated 7-10 million more Africans were driven into poverty and about 30,000-50,000 children died before their first birthday because of the crisis.
In a recent speech at Harvard University, Africa Region Vice President Obiageli Ezekwesili outlined the importance of the capital increase as a critical source of funding for the International Development Association (IDA), the concessional window of the World Bank that provides grants and interest-free credits to low-income countries; the majority of which are in Africa. IDA will be seeking its 16th replenishment in 2011.
Not even the eruption of Iceland’s Eyjafjallajokull could keep the Netherlands’ Prince of Orange, the chair of the UN Secretary General’s Advisory Board on Water and Sanitation, and the World Bank’s Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala from participating in a Davos-style panel discussion of solutions for the 2.6 billion people who still lack access to sanitation.
The BBC’s Katty Kay moderated today’s official Spring Meetings event, which also included South Africa’s Minister of Water and Environmental Affairs Buyelwa Patience Sonjica; Senior Deputy Assistant Administrator at USAID’s Bureau for Global Health Gloria Steele; Ek Sonn Chan from Cambodia’s General Director of the Phnom Penh Water Supply Authority; and IFC’s Executive VP Lars Thunell.
I haven’t seen the Bank’s J building mini-amphitheater filled with that much energy since, well, ever. The standing room-only event started with a delighted Ngozi acknowledging the crowd for bringing the issue of water and sanitation to such a high level on the occasion of the Spring Meetings.
Measuring human progress is a messy, complicated effort. The Millennium Development Goals, or MDGs, are an effort to bring some standardization to that process, but the 8 globally agreed goals are viewed by some as a construct that handicaps the poorer countries into a race where they started a lap behind many other nations.
It's 10 years since the goals were agreed and 2010 has been designated the 'Year of the MDGs' by the UN and its partners. If all this helps feed hungry families, educate more kids and increase the distribution of antiretroviral drugs, I'm all for it. Good thing I feel that way, since I was working with the team that launched the Global Monitoring Report 2010: The MDGs After the Crisis on April 23.
Yet beyond the goals, targets and exhortations, as well as useful forecasts of extreme poverty rates in 2015, I wonder about the elephant in the room: population growth.
In their discussions this weekend, the Development Committee will be assessing five strategic priorities for the Bank in a post-crisis environment. Gender is considered a cross-cutting issue that will factor into all of the Bank's work in these priority areas.
“Spring Meetings” is the name used to describe a series of events—seminars, roundtables, press briefings and official meetings—spread over five or so days every year and all geared toward one thing: improving the lives of people in the developing world.
Discussions throughout the week focus on a broad range of topics (see meetings and civil society forum schedules) and are in many ways a prelude to the main event—the official meeting of the Development Committee—a group of 24 finance and development ministers appointed by each of the countries, or groups of countries, represented on the Boards of Executive Directors of the Bank and Fund. This year's meeting is set for Sunday, April 25.
The Development Committee meets twice a year and advises the Boards on critical development issues and on the financial resources needed to promote economic development in developing countries. The President of the Bank has a special responsibility to propose topics that he believes require the ministers’ attention.
On April 21, a few days before World Malaria Day, we announced some very encouraging results from a pilot project in Zambia through which we were testing various improvements in the public sector supply chain for lifesaving drugs. What we had been trying to do, with support from DfID and USAID, was to remove bottlenecks and get key supplies like pediatric malaria drugs off the shelves in district storage facilities and out to patients in rural areas on time.
When private sector techniques--like hiring someone to plan drug orders based on actual consumption in rural public health centers--were used to strengthen the public sector supply chain, we saw that the availability of pediatric malaria drugs nearly doubled in rural health centers in the 16 pilot districts.
This is a very significant finding, as just 7 percent of children in rural Zambia receive first-line treatment for malaria within 24 hours of developing fever (Zambia National Malaria Indicator Survey, 2008). We estimate that if these techniques are scaled up nationwide, 27,000 children could be saved from malaria deaths between now and 2015—cutting child mortality from malaria by 37 percent in Zambia.