For the past few years, I have been fortunate enough to be the World Bank’s resident economist for Mauritius and Seychelles. With this now coming to an end, here are some especially striking impressions of these countries’ successes and challenges that I hope can provide food for thought more widely.
small island states
"We’re the nation that just had six of our scientists and researchers win Nobel Prizes—and every one of them was an immigrant," U.S. President Barack Obama recently said after the Nobel Prize winners were announced.
The Internet was abuzz about it, and how could it not be?
The announcement couldn’t come at a better time. Not only are US Nobel laureates immigrants, but also the country has been identified as one of four where the world’s high-skilled immigrants are increasingly living, according to a new World Bank research article. The other three countries are the United Kingdom, Canada and Australia.
The World Bank and the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR) are actively working with small island states to mitigate the impact of natural disasters and climate risk, including through their joint Small Island States Resilience Initiative. World Bank Senior Director Ede Ijjasz-Vasquez and GFDRR's Sofia Bettencourt tell us more.
Grenada – Photo by Steve Utterwulghe
Many Caribbean States have long been trapped in a vicious cycle of low growth, high debt and limited fiscal space. The impact of the 2008 financial crisis, as well as recurrent natural disasters, has made the situation even more acute in the region.
To address the structural and policy obstacles to development and growth, a multi-stakeholder dialogue platform on growth in the Caribbean was launched in 2012 by policymakers, the private sector and civil society from 12 states in the region. The Caribbean Growth Forum (CGF) was championed by the states’ prime ministers, and focal points were appointed in the respective Ministries of Finance. The World Bank, acting as the CGF Secretariat, has been behind this initiative from the onset, in collaboration with other regional development banks and various development partners active in the region.
Using a conceptual framework of reform identification, tracking and reporting, CFG’s stakeholders have made 495 reform recommendations so far – 40 percent of them actionable in the three pre-identified thematic areas: investment climate, connectivity and logistics, and productivity and skills. The World Bank in 2015 undertook a stocktaking exercise, which identified the CGF’s positive impacts and the areas of improvement.
The benefits of the CGF are unanimously recognized: the generation and dissemination of knowledge to support the reform implementation in the three thematic areas; support for the prioritization of government reforms; the strengthening of stakeholders’ accountability; the creation of social capital by giving a voice to a range of stakeholders; peer-to-peer exchanges and pressure; and the fostering of a culture of dialogue in the policy reform agenda.
Along with Cecile Fruman, Director of the Trade and Competitiveness Global Practice of the World Bank Group, I was honored to participate and speak at the launch of the Second Phase of the CGF in Belize on March 1 and 2. The objective of the event was twofold: to share and discuss the lessons learned so far, and to have the finance ministers of 12 Caribbean countries endorse a Joint Communiqué.
That communiqué, according to Sophie Sirtaine, the World Bank’s Country Director for the Caribbean, “signals the renewed commitments of these Caribbean nations to accelerate growth enhancing reform implementation, while strengthening public accountability through strengthened public-private dialogue (PPD) mechanisms.”
Running from event to event to partnership dialogue here in the beautiful island of Upolu, Samoa, while listening to delegates to the 3rd annual Small Island Developing States Conference, two things ring loud and true: Small islands need ocean-based economic growth to diversify their economies, attract investment, grow their GDP, increase jobs, and end pockets of extreme poverty. And strong ocean-based economies need healthy oceans.
Great ocean states know this. They know that they cannot afford the boom and bust cycle that emerges as natural capital is liquidated and the ocean emptied and trashed. But small islands cannot forsake growth in the name of conserving natural resources either. We can fish the oceans empty; but we mustn’t. The future of growth, jobs, resilience all depend on the sustainable management of the resources of the ocean. For small islands, blue growth is critical; done smartly, blue collapse is avoidable.
On Sunday in Apia, the capital of Samoa, I saw the results of the World Bank Group’s work with coastal communities that were devastated by the 2009 tsunami and by Cyclone Evan in 2012. Working with the Samoan government and partners, we built coastal roads and a new system of access roads that leads into the hills away from the seashore. Many families rebuilt their homes in the hills, and the new road system helps bind those new households together as well as providing safe escape routes should a tsunami or major storm hit the coast again.
The hard infrastructure construction is interesting; the community conversations about next steps for protecting the coastlines are even more so. The government is launching a series of community consultations that will bring together village mayors, women leaders, government agencies, and NGOs to decide how best to climate-proof their coastlines. The communities are set to decide if sea walls or mangrove plantations will best protect their land and livelihood.
I’m in Apia with a team from across the IFC and the World Bank to represent the World Bank Group at the 3rd UN Conference for Small Island Developing States and took the opportunity to learn more about climate and disaster risk management at the community level.
For island nations, the small size of their land and their economies comes with a set of unique vulnerabilities that makes climate change a major determinant of their ability to thrive and in some cases even survive.
Today was an exciting day in Cancun. For me, it marked a break from the rhetoric of negotiations to focus on the reality of action on the ground to combat climate change. This morning’s weather was picture perfect as the World Bank’s President, Bob Zoellick arrived at the Press Conference Centre in the Moon Palace to voice the Bank’s support for the concrete actions of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS).
AOSIS consists of 43 island and low-lying countries that encircle the tropical belt around the globe. Given the very real threat posed by climate change, they have been attending international meetings on climate change for the last 20 years and are frustrated at the pace of progress and the lack of ambition. They are here in Cancun to fight for their survival and to call upon their partners and the international community to be ambitious. In the negotiating text, they want to see reference to 1.5 degrees, “loss and damage” and a legal form to the agreement. After 20 years of talks, AOSIS is going beyond negotiations and embarking upon concrete actions to lead by example: They are intent on entering an era of renewable energy and energy efficiency—hence today’s press conference.
Amidst a blaze of flashing cameras, a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) was signed by the Prime Minister of Grenada in his capacity as chair of AOSIS, Dr. Lykke Friis, the Danish Minister of Climate, Energy and Gender Equality, Helen Clark, Administrator of UNDP and the World Bank President Robert Zoellick. Simon Billett of UNDP who had been stellar in his efforts joined me on stage as we facilitated the signing. This MOU calls for the introduction of renewables and energy efficiency into these island states with an initial injection of US$14.5 million from the Danish Government as part of their Fast Start financing pledge.
The World Bank employs a variety of specialists in different disciplines, often with abstract and hard to understand titles. Not me. When people ask what I do for the Bank I say “I build roads”. This often brings laughs from other Bank staff, but it’s true.