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.
Helping girls and young women in developing countries transition from school to work isn’t always an easy path. In many places, early marriage and childbirth prevent girls from pursuing an education, putting their earnings potential—and future prosperity—at significant risk.
Development results are hard to capture sometimes, but if you take a walk through the World Bank’s lobby this week, you’ll see a string of successes in 79 of the world’s poorest countries.
Giant colored circles pasted across our entrance detail results reported by IDA, the Bank’s Fund for the Poorest: 33 million mosquito nets purchased and distributed to prevent malaria; 11 million people benefiting from crisis response programs; 300 million textbooks distributed.
In a speech before students, faculty, policymakers and journalists at Georgetown University yesterday, World Bank President Robert Zoellick urged a sweeping new approach to development economics research. He said the Bank will change its research model to better access developing country experience through “Open Data, Open Knowledge, Open Solutions,” and make research more easily accessible to policymakers.
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.
Over at the Bank's Conflict and Development blog, Nicholas Van Praag, Communications Manager for the 2011 World Development Report, shares his thoughts on the insidious impact of violence on development.
"With more than 1.5 billion people living in conflict-affected countries, the challenge is daunting. There’s no chance of coming close to attaining the MDGs at the global level unless we move from bumper-sticker aspiration to policy action in fragile states."
So the big news out of the MDG Summit today is the launch of Every Woman, Every Child, the new joint action plan to help reach MDGs 4 and 5 on child and maternal health.
The World Bank, numerous UN agencies, governments and civil society groups have all pledged their support. But another document with pledges is not going to make much difference to poor mothers and children in developing countries unless we act on three things.