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Speeches & Transcripts June 21, 2021

Remarks by World Bank Group President David Malpass to the 2021 World Cities Summit

Watch President Malpass's remarks here

Ladies and Gentlemen, thank you for inviting me to address the 2021 World Cities Summit, organized by the Government of Singapore, a longstanding and valued partner of the World Bank Group.

Cities are critically important to the mission of the World Bank Group –to reduce poverty and increase shared prosperity. Historically, cities are where people look for jobs. Cities are where people gain better access to health and education. And businesses choose to locate to cities to leverage skills and economies of scale.

Yet even before COVID-19, urban centers were struggling to accommodate newcomers, to provide adequate housing and services, and to address inequalities across socioeconomic groups.

COVID-19 has exacerbated consequences of these challenges:

We’ve seen that crowding in slums prevents social distancing and helps spread disease.

Inadequate health systems, poor sanitation and waste mismanagement have compounded the crisis.

And municipalities have been hurt by dwindling financial resources.

On top of COVID-19, conflict and climate change continue to put lives and livelihoods at risk, raising the stakes for well-managed urbanization.

I am hopeful that the World Bank Group can help countries tackle these overlapping challenges alongside governments and partners. Here are a few examples of such programs.

First and foremost, social inclusion. Decent housing is a prerequisite for healthy living, yet close to 1 billion people worldwide live in slum-like conditions.

In Kenya, where many urban residents live in informal settlements, a project has helped provide property titles to people who once feared eviction; better street lighting and roadways have spurred economic activity; and labor-intensive public works provided jobs in the first months of the COVID-19 lockdown.

In Indonesia, a home improvement program that benefits poor households was adapted to increase the safety of workers and residents during COVID-19. The program is set to improve living conditions for over 137,000 households this year, creating jobs and injecting money into the local economy while limiting the spread of the virus.

Second, is climate action.

The World Bank Group has been a consistent partner of countries and municipalities in strengthening disaster risk management.

In Bhutan last year, we expanded the use of our Development Policy Financing with Catastrophic Deferred Drawdown Options, CAT DDOs, to help the country manage natural disasters to deal with emerging public health and climate challenges.

We’re also helping countries and cities set themselves on a greener path.

IFC, our private sector arm, is also working on its first green loan in Asia, for the Indian state of Kerala. The related advisory program will build capacity and mainstream climate resilience aspects into new infrastructure planning and design.

Third and not least, city leaders face the urgent challenge of financial sustainability.

Preliminary analysis from a small sample of cities shows severe impacts of COVID-19 on municipal finances – with revenue declines in the 5 to 25 percent range and drops of more than 60 percent for capital expenditures in some cases. Not surprisingly, cities that were in a more robust position pre-COVID were better able to shield themselves from these impacts.

That’s why it’s so important to mobilize private capital and improve cities’ balance sheets and transparency.

In Morocco, the city of Casablanca was able to adapt to COVID-19 shocks while maintaining the delivery of essential infrastructure and services, thanks to improved revenue management systems, as well as private investments in transport infrastructure.

I’m optimistic about the resourcefulness that cities have exhibited in times of crisis. With thoughtful planning, financing and support, cities can play an important role in the recovery from COVID-19 toward green, resilient and inclusive development.

Thank you.