Robert B. Zoellick, a former U.S. Trade Representative and Deputy Secretary of the U.S. State Department, became the World Bank's 11th President in July 2007. In his "100 days" speech, Zoellick said the Bank must be the catalyst for an "inclusive and sustainable globalization." To reach the nearly 1 billion people who live on $1 a day, he said the Bank must not only work with the least-developed countries, but also middle-income ones where the majority of poor people live.
At the Annual Meetings, he outlined Six Strategic Themes that will guide the Bank's work. Emphasizing the relationships among the institution's four semi-autonomous organizations, he said "we must work as one World Bank Group for our clients."
The world's richest nations pledged a record US$25.1 billion in December to fund the International Development Association (IDA), the Bank's chief vehicle for helping the poorest nations. Earlier, the World Bank Group itself pledged a record US$3.5 billion to put "our money where our mouth is," Zoellick said.
IDA funds basic needs like infrastructure, health, and education, but increasingly targets programs – like "aid for trade" – that help the poorest countries become more competitive globally. It succeeds because it "focuses on results, effectiveness, and national ownership," Zoellick said.
At the December UN climate-change conference in Bali, President Zoellick detailed the Bank's multi-billion-dollar plan for helping developing nations achieve low-carbon growth. The planís Forest Carbon Partnership Facility will give poor countries financial incentives to slow down deforestation. The Bank will create an "enabling environment" to tap private capital for the billions of dollars of additional but unidentified funding needed to support low-carbon growth.
"Climate is not just an environmental issue, it's a development issue," said Katherine Sierra, the World Bank's Vice President of Sustainable Development.
Agriculture employs 65% of the Sub-Saharan labor force, generates 32% of the region's GDP, and is about 4 times more effective than non-agricultural growth in reducing poverty, the Bank's World Development Report 2008 found. But farm productivity is lagging and threatening to push millions of people into poverty.
The October 2007 report calls for an "agriculture for development" agenda for Africa that will improve the investment climate as well as make optimal use of markets, technology, sustainable water and soil management, and institutional services.
"We aim to be better, faster, and cheaper," Zoellick said about lending and other Bank financial products. The Board approved the President's proposals to simplify and cut lending rates. The moves are aimed at meeting the needs of middle-income countries, which want Bank assistance tailored to their circumstances.
The Bank is also developing instruments to provide emergency liquidity during financial shocks, as well to lower the cost of coverage for natural catastrophes. The innovative Gemloc (for Global Emerging Markets Local Currency), will seed local-currency bond markets in emerging countries.
Zoellick said the World Bank Group must integrate "good governance and rule of law policies in the development agenda," and cited the Bank's partnership with the UN to launch a Stolen Assets Recovery (StAR) Initiative, where developed and developing countries work together to recover the financial plunder of corruption.
Bank programs aimed at the world's three deadliest health threats – HIV/AIDS, malaria, and infectious diseases like smallpox. The biggest killer, HIV/AIDS, has leveled off and the number of infections is down, based on revised UN data, but the human devastation from the disease continues, particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa, where even increasing funding meets only half of treatment needs. The Bank's new HIV/AIDS strategy, tailored to regional conditions, expands treatment, prevention, and mitigation in southern Africa, where the epidemic still rages.
The Bank has 83 active projects that promote gender equality and advance women's economic empowerment around the world. The programs tripled girls' access to school in Bangladesh, increased income for 8 million Indian women, improved the status of 170,000 Mexican women in their workplaces, and improved women's access to finance in Uganda and Vietnam, among other benefits.
The centerpiece of programming is the US$30.2 million Gender Action Plan funded by the Bank and other donors. The Plan focuses on empowering women and improving their financial access, particularly in poorer countries.
The World Bank, the world's largest source of external support to education, lent slightly more than US$2 billion in FY07 to learning programs, most on IDA concessional terms. Education lending to Africa - nearly all on IDA terms – increased to an all-time high of US$707 million. Many Bank projects focused on education equity for girls and poor and rural children.
While funding is expected to remain steady FY08, assistance to Sub-Saharan countries will have to increase further in coming years if they are to make significant progress toward achieving their Millennium Development Goals. Halfway to the MDGs' 2015 target, many countries are in danger of missing their goals.
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