MADRID -- One thousand days. That's all we have left to meet the Millennium Development Goals, a series of commitments to improve the lives of families in the developing world. I was just in Madrid to attend the United Nations' Chief Executives Board -- the heads of the UN agencies -- and we talked about the importance of setting targets to spur urgent action. Watch the video blog below to learn more.
In two weeks, economic policymakers from around the world will gather in Washington, D.C., for the World Bank-IMF Spring Meetings. As has been the case for the past five years, there will be much talk of economic crisis and of strategies to restore confidence, kick start growth, and create jobs. There is growing evidence that we are on the right track, but this agenda still requires much more work.
The meetings, though, also offer an occasion to look beyond the short term crisis-fighting measures. It is a chance for leaders to adopt a long-term perspective and assess where we stand and where we are headed.
If they do, they will see that today we are at a moment of historic opportunity. For the end of absolute poverty, a dream which has enticed and driven humanity for centuries, is now within our grasp.
Today, we know that being overweight or obese are major risk factors for diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, hypertension, and premature death. We are constantly reminded that personal behaviors, influenced by culture and lifestyle, and our metabolic development contribute to being overweight or obese. In the March 2013 Food Price Watch, we wonder how another factor could potentially influence the world’s obesity epidemic: high food prices.
But first, let’s run a quick quiz. Many of us watch our weight routinely and may even have figured out our Body Mass Index—the ratio of body weight in kilograms by the square of body height in meters—to determine whether or not we are overweight. Yet there are some stunning facts about being overweight that you may not know.
Can you answer the questions about being overweight or obese below?
Photo: IDA16 Mid-Term Review, right to left, President Alassane Ouattara, Republic of Côte d’Ivoire, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Republic of Liberia, and Axel van Trotsenburg, Vice President of the World Bank, Concessional Finance & Global Partnerships. Credit: Abidjan.net
Two weeks ago, a consortium of donor and borrower countries met to take stock of progress on meeting commitments made by IDA, the World Bank's fund for the poorest countries. (Not sure what IDA is? Click here.) This meeting was an important check-in at the half-way point in what is known as IDA16—a three-year period running from July 1, 2011 to June 30, 2014, during which special grant and soft loan financing is made available for life-changing works in the world's 81 poorest countries.
The meeting was hosted by Côte d'Ivoire, our first mid-term meeting held in a client country. The talks were attended by IDA Deputies and Borrower Representatives, individuals appointed to represent their governments on IDA.
I have some good and some not so good news about aid. First, the good news. The aid landscape has seen three important changes during the last decade that have had a transformative, positive effect on the very nature of aid.
One of these changes has been the increased focus on the quality of aid—especially on the results being achieved on the ground. The World Bank and IDA, the Bank’s fund for the poorest, have placed a premium on having a real impact in the work we support, and the results show.
In a blog post by Molly Norris and Joshua Powell for the End Poverty in South Asia blog, they talk about Bangladesh as "ground zero" at the intersection of climate change and food security.
"The country is widely recognized as one of the places most vulnerable to the effects of a changing climate, which strains food systems alongside rapidly growing and urbanizing populations. Yet, despite these dual challenges, the World Bank expects Bangladesh will meet its Millennium Development Goal (MDG) of halving the number of people living in extreme poverty by 2015," they write.
As we heard last month during the MDG Summit at the United Nations, progress has been made but much work remains if we are to come close to halving poverty or reaching other targets we all agreed to in 2000. These issues are very much at the center of the Bank-IMF Annual Meetings this week in Washington.
Making development aid more accountable, transparent and effective is at the heart of this week’s discussions. New partnerships and players are emerging. Donor and client governments, along with their constituents, are demanding measurable results. That said, it is challenging to measure aid when there are multiple channels and types of assistance, from bilateral to multilateral, from loans to trust funds, and the data generated is not always presented in a comparable way.
Higher food prices are again a concern as the World Bank and IMF head into their Annual Meetings. In the last several months, volatility in the price of wheat has been reminiscent of the kinds of market movements that occurred during the food price crisis of 2008. While that volatility has decreased somewhat, the World Bank Group is asking the World Bank Board of Directors to reinstate its food crisis emergency fund – the Global Food Crisis Response Program (GFRP)--so the Bank can be ready to respond quickly again if needed. The $2 billion program provided support for policy change, social safety nets and agricultural inputs to boost food production in hard-hit countries.
The longer term worry, of course, is food security, especially in light of a continued higher food prices, underinvestment in agriculture in the last decade, and changing weather patterns related to climate change. The Bank Group increased agricultural assistance last year to $6 billion, and will likely keep lending in the $6 billion to $8 billion range for the next several years, as recommended by our Agriculture Action Plan (pdf) for fiscal years 2010 to 2012. The plan calls for increased investments in agricultural productivity, especially in areas of Africa where the land is suitable and farmers currently struggle to make a living.
Investing in women’s health isn’t just the right thing to do, it contributes to economic growth and builds secure nations.
It’s a message we heard at the Bank last week during a moving panel discussion on reducing maternal mortality, and it’s a message the U.N. Secretary General and heads of state made loud and clear yesterday, with the launch of the Global Strategy for Women’s and Children’s Health.
As prominent advocates for anti-malaria efforts in Africa cautioned at the United Nations yesterday, recent successes against malaria—however significant—are still fragile. Both the malaria parasite and the mosquitoes that carry it can develop resistance, to drugs as well as to insecticides, and therefore the fight against malaria must gain rather than lose momentum.
“The British army surgeon who in 1897 helped discover that malaria is transmitted by mosquitoes predicted it would be eliminated in two years, but the parasite has remained a silent and stealthy killer,” said World Bank Group President Robert Zoellick, noting that the preventable and curable disease continues to have a debilitating effect on many African economies.
Zoellick acknowledged the tremendous job that Ray Chambers, the UN Special Envoy for Malaria, had done to raise money for anti-malaria efforts, in conjunction with the African Leaders Malaria Alliance. Anti-malaria funding, which stood at just $175 million in 2005, is $1.6 billion today thanks to their efforts and many countries such as Rwanda and Zambia have made dramatic progress in recent years.