At an event a few days ago at the Spring Meetings on Africa and the Millennium Development Goals—or MDGs for short—the speaker who left me with the strongest impression of hope for 2015 and beyond was Ted Sitima-Wina, Malawi’s Principal Secretary, Planning. Malawi, a small landlocked country with a per capita income of $280, is on track to meet five out of the eight goals, no small achievement in a region where most countries appear off-track on most goals, and many started from a very low base in 1990.
So what worked in Malawi? According to Sitima-Wina, it was aligning the Malawi National Development Strategy closely to the MDGs. “Papers signed in 2000 showed us goals and targets,” he said, “but what we did in Malawi was to contextualize them in our own poverty reduction strategy.”
Perhaps one of the most famous steps that Malawi took to cut poverty and hunger was a targeted subsidy which allowed poor farmers to afford fertilizer and hybrid seeds. With this, the country has moved from being a net importer to a net exporter of food. A recent survey showed that over the past few years, people in rural areas have reported that food is available, despite the crisis.
Ray Chambers, the UN Secretary General’s Special Envoy for Malaria, was here today to thank President Zoellick for $200 million to fund bed nets that will help prevent malaria in Africa. Chambers, who wants to bring a swift end to what he calls “the genocide of apathy,” conveyed a sense of great urgency as he described the UN’s sweeping campaign with 50 celebrities on Twitter—from Ashton Kutcher to Bill Gates. Through them, and through millions of tweets and re-tweets, money is being raised to ensure that all vulnerable people have bed nets by the end of the year. Yes, that’s this year.
As African governments look for ways to help the poorest people in the wake of the food, fuel, and financial crises, I think this was a very good moment for President Zoellick and Africa Vice President Oby Ezekwesili to note that anti-malaria efforts are relatively straightforward, with high returns on investment. The Bank’s effort to help close the gap—by funding 25 million of the 50 million remaining nets needed—is a timely one. It will cover seven countries—the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Mozambique, Sierra Leone and Zambia—among the 31 hardest hit by malaria.
“This was a highlight of my trip to Washington this spring,” said Uhuru Kenyatta, Kenya’s Finance Minister, “It is a key step to restore dignity to so many African men, women, and children.” Kenyatta called for a concerted effort by African governments to make sure that funds are used as intended and to scale up their own malaria funding. Finance Minister Mapon of the DRC spoke of great successes against malaria in his country, but noted that the “need remains sizeable.” And Zambia’s Minister Musokotwane echoed this conclusion, calling malaria “an obstacle to development.”
Even during the busy Spring Meetings here in Washington, my thoughts keep going back to two places I visited this month that lie on either side of the Congo River. I crossed the great river by boat from Brazzaville to Kinshasa, a special journey for many reasons. In Brazzaville, capital of the tiny Republic of Congo, I’d been impressed by the quality of leadership in managing additional financing for one of our projects which addresses HIV/AIDS, and on the other side of the river, I was returning to the Democratic Republic of Congo after a long gap, to find that a health systems rehabilitation project I’d worked on many years ago was in fact thriving and delivering good results.
Today being World Malaria Day, I must register that I saw some extremely useful work going on in Kikimi, a very poor neighborhood near Kinshasa. Our partnership with local NGOs to provide better health services across DRC looks like it’s working well here. Instead of just being shown reports on inputs and equipment, which I’ve found frustrating in the past, this time I met a large number of women who told me about insecticide-treated bed nets they’d received during routine visits to their health center and how useful these nets were to prevent malaria. I saw pharmacy shelves well-stocked with malaria drugs, oral rehydration therapy for diarrhea, and basic antibiotics. The project wasn’t perfect but it was delivering results that I could see with my own eyes.
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.
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.
A panel on strengthening partnerships that took place earlier this week at the Civil Society Policy Forum during the 2010 Spring Meetings looked at how partnerships were integral to the response after the earthquake in Haiti.
The panel, which featured speakers from the World Bank, USAID, IMF, Save the Children, and the German Marshall Fund, explored the ways various organizations came together to ensure effective post-disaster revitalization and development outcomes after the disaster in Haiti.
At a press briefing earlier today at the Spring Meeting, Philippe Le Houérou, World Bank Vice President for Europe and Central Asia, spoke of how the region has faced the greatest fiscal pressures among all the world's regions during the global economic crisis.
20 out of 30 countries in Europe and Central Asia have experienced a decline in GDP in 2009, and Le Houérou remarked that the region will face a slow recovery in the year ahead:
"2010 is going to be a tough year for the Region with growth projected at around 3 percent. The prospects for 2011-2013 are only slightly better. Rising joblessness is pushing households into poverty and making things even harder for those already poor."