As the world wrestles with a response to the refugee crises unfolding in the Middle East and around the world, it is essential that sustainable development is a core component of our strategy.
Right now there are more than 63 million displaced people on earth and 4.5 million people were forced from their homes in the Sahel region of Africa alone. In the Sahel — the region encompassing the southern edge of the Sahara desert — rapid population growth is further complicated by high rates of poverty, a changing climate, and security threats — challenges that could potentially force far greater displacement rates in the future.
When people don’t have access to clean water, roads to take goods to market, and an agricultural sector that produces enough food for everyone, they not only struggle to get ahead, they struggle to have hope and opportunity. As World Bank President Jim Yong Kim said recently, if extreme poverty persists in fragile states, “the flow of migrants and refugees will not stop.”
The refugee crisis is, then, a reminder of the urgent need to invest in reducing poverty—a process that evidence shows is driven by inclusive economic growth. We need to support development in the home nations of those forced to flee today, and those who might be forced to flee tomorrow.
Reducing poverty is the sole mission of the Millennium Challenge Corp. Nearly 15 years ago, the co-founders of ONE — including activist and rock star Bono — worked with the U.S. Congress and the George W. Bush Administration to launch MCC, a small U.S. government agency committed to partnering with the best-governed poor countries to invest in projects that lead to economic growth and help people lift themselves out of poverty. Bono sat behind Bush as he announced “a new compact for global development” that would provide financial assistance to poor countries that demonstrated a commitment to good governance and investment in their people.
MCC’s most recent compact is a $437 million grant agreement with Niger. Located in the Sahel, Niger is one of the poorest countries on Earth, consistently ranking last on the U.N. Human Development Index. Nearly 4 out of 5 people in this mostly desert nation — more than 15 million people — live on less than $3.10 a day. And like many of its peers at the lower rungs of the income ladder, it is disproportionately impacted by global challenges, from climate change to security. In recent months, for example, the Nigeria-based terror organization Boko Haram has made repeated incursions north across the border into Niger, raiding villages, displacing more than 100,000 people, and killing dozens of citizens and soldiers.
The Millennium Challenge Corp. and the government of Niger are embarking on a $437 million plan to boost the country's food security, agricultural production and market access. Devex spoke with Niger's president and the MCC chief during New York Global Dev Week.
MCC’s compact represents a concerted commitment to help the country strengthen its economy and fight poverty in the face of these challenges. The five-year compact will focus on Niger’s agricultural sector — which employs more than 80 percent of the population — to increase food security in a country prone to famine.
By improving water availability, roads, and market access, while also promoting climate-resilient agricultural techniques and sustainable livestock farming, this investment is designed to increase the country’s food supply and rural incomes.
It has the potential to benefit more than 3.9 million people. In line with MCC’s approach in all of its compact partner countries, a local entity comprising Nigerien staff will be charged with implementing the projects with MCC funding. To ensure success and accountability, the projects will be held to the highest standards, consistently monitored by MCC staff and independently evaluated after the compact comes to a close.
Ultimately, a more prosperous Niger will be better equipped to respond to the critical needs of its people and the challenges in the region — and a better neighbor within Africa and in our global village of nations and peoples.
Programs at MCC, the World Bank and the African Development Bank are models for how the world can work together with developing countries to reduce poverty. The solutions we generate today will impact the lives of millions of people seeking freedom, peace and opportunity — including those brave enough to leave the only homes they have ever known.
Only a significant, long-term commitment to inclusive economic development and poverty reduction in the world’s poorest countries can advance security, democracy, human rights, and shared prosperity for us all.
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