Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 9 December 2019

Chance for wealthy countries to step up their contribution to fight global poverty

Helping poor countries is in line with the Mena region’s rich history of generosity towards the less fortunate

Millions of Yemenis who have suffered from a long and brutal conflict are receiving assistance from multilateral institutions such as the IDA. AP Photo
Millions of Yemenis who have suffered from a long and brutal conflict are receiving assistance from multilateral institutions such as the IDA. AP Photo

How can the wealthiest nations around the globe continue to help the world's poorest countries? This is a question that delegates will look to address during a meeting organised by the International Development Association, or IDA, in Stockholm next week.

The role of IDA, a financial institution and a member of the World Bank Group, is to offer loans, grants and debt relief to poor countries unable to borrow on the terms offered by another arm of the World Bank, the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development. Its member states will gather in the Swedish capital on December 12 and 13 to set the agenda for assistance to these countries for the three-year period starting in July 2020. While countries in the Mena region, including Saudi Arabia, had contributed funds to the previous cycle, it is critical that they – and potentially others – sustain and increase their participation in this forum and support a global public good.

Many people are unaware that countries such as China, India, and South Korea were beneficiaries of IDA assistance in the past but now they have become donors giving back to the international community

This upcoming replenishment, as it is called, is indeed an opportunity for the region as a whole to make its presence felt. Beginning next year, it will be the epicentre of several global events. Saudi Arabia will host members of the G20, Egypt is the chair of the African Union and the UAE is preparing to host the region's first World Expo. The World Bank-IMF annual meetings will take place in Marrakech in 2021. While these events are significant in their own right, a substantially higher financial contribution from Mena countries to IDA will demonstrate the region’s capacity to lead on long-term challenges such as poverty reduction, inclusive growth and climate change.

Since its creation in 1960, IDA has become one of the largest sources of assistance for the world’s 77 poorest countries and the foremost instrument to channel multilateral funding where it is needed the most and in the quickest and most efficient way possible. Over six decades, it has provided almost $400 billion for investments in over 100 countries, its support paving the way towards equality, economic growth, job creation, higher incomes and better living conditions. IDA's work covers primary education, basic health services, clean water and sanitation, agriculture, business climate improvements, infrastructure and institutional reforms. More recently, it has intervened to bring hope to people affected by conflict and violence.

Since 2000, it has provided more than $88 billion in financial assistance to Arab and Muslim countries. In the previous replenishment, more than 50 per cent of the resources were allocated to 28 members of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, including Djibouti, Syria and Yemen.

In Yemen, IDA has played a critical role in providing relief and mitigating the lasting impacts of conflict. It has helped Yemenis fight diseases and famine, helped train nearly 12,000 health personnel and immunise 6.9 million children. Through an emergency programme, it has helped ensure around nine million vulnerable Yemenis have access to food and other basic necessities.

Meanwhile the conflict in Syria continues to take a heavy toll. More than 5.6 million people are registered as refugees, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. In Lebanon, where many of them live, IDA is helping the country enroll 200,000 children in public schools. In Jordan, IDA assistance is creating 100,000 jobs for Jordanian nationals and Syrian refugees.

Beyond the Mena region, IDA is a development partner for the poorest countries.

International institutions remain important for some of the most lagging regions and communities in the world. Independent assessments have documented the tremendous benefits of IDA’s support for the development of poor countries. Many people are unaware that countries such as China, India and South Korea were beneficiaries of IDA assistance in the past but now they have become donors giving back to the international community.

Multilateral institutions deserve our utmost support because when misfortune strikes countries, the knowledge and financial resources of these institutions can save, protect and nurture lives. They can provide ideas for development strategies and funds for critical infrastructure. To eliminate extreme poverty and shared growth, they are a valuable ally for governments and citizens.

The World Bank Group is grateful for generous financial contributions from the international donor community to IDA. However, I believe that the more fortunate Mena countries can and must enhance their contribution to this agency. Its economic heft presents an opportunity for the region to take on a leadership role in this forum. It is also a wonderful opportunity to help those in need, which is fully in line with the region’s rich history of generosity towards the less fortunate.

Ferid Belhaj is World Bank regional vice president for Mena

Updated: December 3, 2019 07:53 PM

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