Middle East and North Africa
Setting the scene for next week’s Spring Meetings, World Bank President Robert Zoellick said today the world has changed since the financial crisis, the third world is gone and we now live in a multipolar economy.
At Washington, D.C.’s Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars, Zoellick told an audience of diplomats, economists and international development specialists, “We are now in a new, fast-evolving, multipolar world economy, in which some developing countries are emerging as economic powers; others are moving towards becoming additional poles of growth, and some are struggling to attain their potential within this new system.”
“It is time we put old concepts of First and Third Worlds, leader and led, donor and supplicant behind us,” he said.
The speech drew several questions on the Bank’s response to the financial crisis and how it is helping developing countries adapt to the new global economy Zoellick described.
In Istanbul, World Bank economists taking a hard look at how the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) are weathering the financial crisis are finding some good news. The World Bank and the IMF are holding their annual meetings in Turkey, and a status update on the MENA region shows some resilience.
Shamshad Akhtar, the World Bank’s new vice president for the region, said at a press conference today that MENA’s economy grew by almost 6.2 percent in 2008. But Akhtar says the region has been shaken by what she calls the “Triple-F phenomena”—food, fuel and the financial crisis. She says the food crisis has hit the region hardest, in part because of a growing population and a heavy dependence on imported food. But, she says, despite slowing growth, down to 2.2 percent, the region is faring better than many others.
Akhtar told reporters: “The key message we retain from all this is: the MENA region has weathered the triple crisis well so far.” But there is an “immediate danger of rising unemployment and resurgence of poverty.”
The buzz is building in Istanbul, our beautiful host city, as delegates, press and CSOs from around the world begin pouring in for the 2009 joint Annual Meetings of the World Bank and IMF.
The press room opened Monday, providing temporary work quarters for the more than 1,200 registered media who are covering the events over the next week for news outlets large and small.
They are joined by representatives from civil society organizations here to take part in a Civil Society Policy Forum being held from October 2-7. The event is jointly organized by the World Bank Group and IMF civil society teams. The forum will bring together Bank and Fund staff, CSO representatives, including from Oxfam, Civicus and Africa Monitor, to name a few, along with government officials, academics, and others to exchange views on a variety of topics ranging from the global economic crisis and climate change, to governance reform. Bank President Robert B. Zoellick and Fund Managing Director Dominique Strauss-Kahn will co-host a CSO townhall meeting Friday afternoon.
Regional finance ministers and development practitioners teamed up today to brainstorm solutions to the troubling economic crisis.
Amid World Bank warnings that Africa is likely to be the worst-hit region by the global financial crisis, African finance ministers and Bank staff met today to determine the way forward in dealing with the impact of the global financial crisis on African countries.
Hosted by the World Bank’s chief economist for Africa, Shanta Devarajan, and chaired by vice president for Africa, Obiageli Ezekwesili, the meeting challenged participants to “think outside the box” in determining solutions to the negative economic, humanitarian and political effects the crisis already is having on the continent.
“The major challenge facing African countries and their development partners is how to design appropriate policies that would respond to this crisis,” Ezekwesili said.
She said sound macro-economic policies put forward by Africans over the last decade, which have, in part, led to significant growth rates, are now being questioned.
Flexibility, diversification, and regional solutions are key to combating the crisis, meeting participants agreed. Uganda Central Bank Governor Emmanuel Tumasiime-Mutabile advised flexibility of markets, of regimes, and of policies in order to stem the force of the crisis.
In light of the global economic crisis, the World Bank announced today that its investments in safety nets and other social protection programs in health and education are projected to triple to $12 billion over the next two years.
Additionally, the Bank also increased its fast track facility for the food price crisis to US$2 billion from US$1.2 billion. As World Bank Group Managing Director Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala explains:
"The continuing risky economic environment, combined with continuing volatility for food prices, means for poor people the food crisis is far from over. Many poor countries have not benefitted from some moderation of food price spikes in global markets. The decision to expand the facility will help ensure fast track measures are in place for continued rapid response to help countries."
More information about today's announcements: