Ebola, infrastructure and internal reform dominate World Bank annual meetings

International Monetary Fund Managing Director Christine Lagarde (left) and World Bank President Jim Yong Kim (center) meet with the leaders of the three countries most affected by the Ebola epidemic: Guinean President Alpha Condé (right), Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Sierra Leonean President Ernest Bai Koroma. Photo by: Simone D. McCourtie / World Bank / CC BY-NC-ND

The World Bank’s annual meetings wrapped up in mid-October in Washington, D.C., with a call for new solutions to tackle the Ebola epidemic in West Africa and infrastructure development.

In a news conference following the meeting of the bank’s influential Development Committee on Saturday, President Jim Yong Kim suggested setting up a new pandemic emergency facility that could disburse money immediately to countries in the face of an outbreak like Ebola.

As Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone continued to struggle to contain the outbreak with ill-equipped public health systems, Kim insisted it’s not too late to stem the spread of the disease and apply the necessary interventions for the epidemic to not completely destroy the economies of the three most-affected countries.

“We have to get high-quality treatment and prevention services [there] immediately,” the World Bank chief said. “The humanitarian response, the public health response and the response that can blunt the economic impact are all the same.”

In a communique released after the meeting, the Development Committee — made up of 25 ministers of finance or development who represent the 188 member countries of the bank and the International Monetary Fund — praised how the institution reacted swiftly to the outbreak by fast-tracking $105 million in emergency assistance to Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. This formed part of a $400 million overall assistance package that hopes to reduce the economic impact of the disease to those three countries, which could be as high as $32.6 billion over the next two years, according to the bank’s estimates. The pandemic emergency facility Kim envisioned would allow the bank to respond even faster to similar crises in the future.

To address the estimated $1 trillion annual infrastructure financing gap in developing countries, the World Bank chief proposed a new Global Infrastructure Facility involving asset management and private equity firms, pension and insurance funds, and commercial banks, which are increasingly forging partnerships with multilateral development institutions and donor nations. GIF’s goal is to tap into expertise from within and outside of the World Bank to deliver complex public-private infrastructure projects that no single institution could address on its own.

On Oct. 9, World Bank Managing Director and Chief Financial Officer Bertrand Badré said the GIF would begin pilot operations in late 2014. It will “road-test” new models to deliver complex public-private infrastructure in low- and middle-income countries, with a focus on climate-friendly investments. In its communique, the Development Committee called the GIF “a welcome step to launch a platform that will facilitate the mobilization of private capital for infrastructure project.”

This year’s annual meetings also centered on the bank’s internal reform process, which kicked off more than a year ago and finally came into effect July 1, despite strong opposition from a sector of bank staff who still don’t know how they will fit into the new structure or if they will be affected by widely speculated but still unannounced job cuts to save up to $400 million in costs.

The Development Committee said in its communique that it expects the internal changes to result in “more efficient support to client countries, drawing on partnerships, integrated regional approaches, and knowledge sharing, including South-South cooperation, responding to client needs and reacting quickly to unexpected shocks.” The committee “will monitor the implementation of the change process and expect better lending quality with increased development impact.”

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    As associate editor for breaking news, Carlos Santamaria supervises Devex's Manila-based news team and the creation of our daily newsletter. Carlos joined Devex after a decade working for international wire services Reuters, AP, Xinhua, EFE and Philippine social news network Rappler in Madrid, Beijing, Manila, New York and Bangkok. During that time, he also covered natural disasters on the ground in Myanmar and Japan.