Central America: Joint Efforts to Face Common Challenges

October 12, 2012

  • The region shows signs of social and economic improvement but there are still many issues to overcome.
  • Strategies are being developed to address crime and violence, vulnerability to natural hazards and conservation.
  • Each country is working at a local level in terms of education, health and gender.

From childhood nutrition programs and green, sustainable growth initiatives, to crime prevention and anti-corruption efforts, Central America is working hard to leave behind years of conflict to glimpse a future that bets on regional integration and opportunities for all.

Recent social and economic indicators show improvements, but the region still faces latent problems that threaten its development.

High crime and violence rates represent a heavy social burden for Central America. However, with the support of the World Bank and the international community, all relevant players are joining a regional dialogue to discuss experiences and identify practical solutions. Additionally, the Central America Integration System (SICA) provides assistance to strengthen prevention of crime and violence, including investments in urban improvements in Honduras; crime prevention initiatives in El Salvador; and public expenditure reviews for citizen security in Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala.

In addition to the problem of crime in Central America, limited jobs and low-quality employment opportunities perpetuate a vicious cycle of unemployment and low wages –especially among young people. The regional study “Better Jobs in Central America” offers some solutions to reverse this situation. The key: expanding secondary and tertiary education coverage while also improving the quality of education. To create more and better jobs is the new commitment for the region.

No doubt another challenge for the isthmus is its vulnerability to hurricanes, floods and earthquakes. To reduce damages and losses caused by natural hazards, governments continue to improve their ability to implement disaster risk management programs and mitigate their social and economic impact. The Center for the Prevention of Natural Disasters in Central America (CEPREDENAC) has strengthened and promoted the systematization of information related to the prevention, impact and recovery of natural disasters at a regional level.

Remittances are another issue for Central Americans given that thousands living in the US send money home to support their families. Often, transaction fees are high for immigrants: in 2010, Central American workers paid more than US$ 700 million to send US$14,900 million. In order to provide more information on the best prices in the market, enviacentroamerica.org, a free online tool, was created to compare remittance costs and choose the most suitable option. These savings will translate into more money for poor families.

At a Local level

In line with regional efforts, each country promotes relevant initiatives in education, environment, gender and health, amongst others:

- Costa Rica has renewed its commitment with the environment and aims to be fully carbon neutral by 2021, the first to reach this global milestone. Also, four public universities will invest in infrastructure, equipment and human resources, which will provide accommodation for more students and offer innovative higher education. Overall, almost 100,000 undergraduates will benefit from this initiative.

- El Salvador has taken the lead by adopting an inclusive full time school model, which will help more than 80,000 young people. The Salvadorian Government is also working in stabilizing the financial sector.

- Guatemala is promoting gender equality and female participation in the labor force across the region. The country also shares experiences with Bolivia where the program “Barrios de Verdad” is improving the life of thousands of neighborhoods and will be adapted to the local communities.

- In Honduras, moms and their children have made  significant progress towards overcoming malnutrition. A reduction of 8.3 percentage points in chronic malnutrition and a 12 % increase in exclusive breastfeeding rates have been registered.

- Nicaragua is now a model for the region, promoting a new education strategy to increase the coverage of pre- and primary school enrollment, particularly in poor and indigenous communities.

- In Panama, thanks to the PanamaCompra platform, the public procurement system has improved its efficiency and accountability. In addition, a plan is being designed to make  better use of “Reverted Areas” near the Panama Canal.

To know more about the work in the region, download “Partners for Results: Highlights of the World Bank's Work in Central America” pdf 0.84 mb