Preserving Progress in the Poorest Countries

November 20, 2009

  • Bank's fund for the poorest countries—IDA—is part of a broad effort to improve lives in low-income countries.
  • Representatives from donor and borrowing countries endorse special crisis window to help governments maintain core spending in the face of short-term shocks.
  • IDA disbursed a record $14 billion between July 2008 and October 2009; 46% of disbursements went to Africa.

November 20, 2009 —Ten-year-old Afrah Abdel Rahman is going to school and dreaming about becoming a doctor.

She's among an increasing number of girls getting an education in rural Yemen, where social customs, family finances, and dislike of mixed-sex classrooms and schools have kept many girls out of school.

Now, Yemen is building new schools to boost overall attendance. And it’s training and hiring hundreds of female teachers—who in many cases have overcome great odds themselves—so parents will send their daughters to school.

"When I started, there was no such thing as education for women. I was the only woman in the region teaching,” says new teacher Fayza Ahmed, trained under the program. “When the families saw a female teacher, they started sending their girls--now there are 95, thank God!"

The Yemen program is part of broader effort to improve lives in low-income countries through the World Bank's fund for the 79 poorest countries, the International Development Association, or IDA.

Over the past five years, IDA financing has added more than a million teachers and 600,000 classrooms in low-income countries, helped more than 7 million people gain access to basic health or nutrition services, backed public works and social service projects benefiting over 11 million people, and supported water supply and sanitation projects raising quality of life for over 2 million people.

But in the last two years, progress toward global development goals has been put at risk by successive food, fuel and financial crises, says Axel van Trotsenburg, Vice President of Concessional Finance and Global Partnerships at the World Bank.

World Bank management and representatives from donor and borrowing countries meeting this week in Washington welcomed IDA’s strong and rapid response to the crises but recognized the need to do more and endorsed a proposed special crisis window be set up within IDA. The new window would help hard-hit governments maintain core spending on health, education, safety nets, infrastructure and agriculture in the face of short-term shocks that bring declining revenues and budget gaps.

Measuring Results

IDA is strengthening the way it measures results by collecting and aggregating data initially on four sectors — education, health, water supply, and roads — from projects in developing countries. This information complements IDA's detailed project profiles, country and sector briefs, and reveals the results achieved and progress made with IDA support.

IDA disbursed a record $14 billion between July 2008 and October 2009. Africa continued to be the largest recipient, with 46 percent of total disbursements, says van Trotsenburg.

Many countries had been adversely affected by a major decline in private capital flows, remittances, tourist revenues, and commodity price revenues. Several African countries, in particular, depended on income from commodity exports to finance government spending.

“The World Bank has been trying to lean forward and fast-track resources to these countries,” says van Trotsenburg. “The problem is that we still need to do more. We need to mobilize substantial resources on a long term basis to better position our partner countries in Africa and elsewhere to achieve the Millennium Development Goals.”