“We’re going to be focusing on many issues, especially energy. But we’re also going to be talking about how we can take this opportunity to, for example, to build a health system that will never allow this problem of Ebola to happen again.” - Dr. Jim Yong Kim, World Bank Group President

Washington - Ahead of this week’s spring meetings in Washington, DC World Bank Group President Dr. Jim Yong Kim says the bank would be announcing a major new effort to rebuild the economies of Liberia, Guinea, and Sierra Leone, three West African nations hit hard by the deadly Ebola virus outbreak.

Addressing a media teleconference ahead of Spring Meetings last Friday, Dr. Kim while not offering a detail plan explained that the bank has been working with partners throughout all the parts of the World Bank Group in both the public and the private sector. “We’re going to be focusing on many issues, especially energy. But we’re also going to be talking about how we can take this opportunity to, for example, to build a health system that will never allow this problem of Ebola to happen again.”

A recent report by the United Nations revealed that the virus outbreak has had a ripple effect on the economies of the three countries. According to the United Nations Development Group (UNDG), West Africa as a whole may lose an average of at least US$3.6 billion per year between 2014 and 2017, due to a decrease in trade, closing of borders, flight cancellations and reduced Foreign Direct Investment and tourism activity, fuelled by stigma.

In addition, the report says, preventing future outbreaks must involve a combination of regional and national interventions that include strengthening health sectors across the region, the immediate creation of a regional Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, coordinated border control and establishment of early warning and disaster management systems.

During last Friday’s media teleconference, Dr. Kim said the bank is making a major new commitment to invest in infrastructure in Africa. “We’ve put together something called the Global Infrastructure Facility, and we are now in discussions with other multilateral development banks to try to restructure investments throughout Africa, including in Liberia.”

Building Post-Ebola Health Systems

On what steps the bank is making to addresses lapses from the handling of the deadly Ebola outbreak, Dr. Kim said the epidemic taught a tremendous amount and the most important recognition that came out of this is first and foremost, for Africa. As a result he noted, stakeholders are keen to build the kind of health systems that are not only capable of providing good, quality care for everyone, but also capable of detecting these outbreaks, and then beginning the first stages of response to them.

It is an issue, Dr. Kim says will be high on the agenda during this week’s meeting which is expected to feature the presidents of Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone. “We have been talking about universal access to health care for a very long time, and now is the opportunity to actually build those systems. We'll be talking about this quite a bit with the Presidents of the three countries when they are here,” Dr. Kim said.

Dr. Kim said the bank has also realized that they had underinvested in certain organizations like the World Health Organization but that is likely to change with the new thinking of the WBG. “We need to have a very, very strong World Health Organization to manage and to be the leaders in coordinating these outbreaks.”

Dr. Kim said the third lesson learned from the outbreak is that there did not exist a ready source of funds that could quickly disburse, and that could quickly mobilize, literally an army of people, who would be ready to respond to the epidemics. “This will require not just public sector entities, but private sector entities,” the World Bank Group President noted.

Dr. Kim added: “We've been talking with the reinsurance industry, and the insurance industry is a very important player in this, because they are the ones who really are thinking about what the risks are in the world, and what they tell us, is that the number one risk in the world is pandemics. And so, if that’s the number one risk in the world, we need to be sure that we are doing all the things we need to, to protect people, and in the case of The World Bank, the global economy from that risk.”

The World Bank president also said they have been putting together a pandemic emergency facility which will be a rapid finance facility, and will also help to coordinate all the different players who have to be ready to go at a moment's notice, in the event of an outbreak. “And this is drug companies, and transport companies, this is the teams of medical doctors with specialty infectious disease. We had none of those things in place and it is absolutely our commitment to put those things in place.”

Dr. Kim revealed that Chancellor Merkel of Germany, the Leader of the G7 Process, has pledged to put this at the top of the agenda for the G7 Meetings. “And we also have very strong support from Turkey. Japan who is going to be G7 Leader next year -- the host next year, also is very concerned about these issues, as is China, which will host the G20. So we have a whole series of events and engagements, and I'm now quite optimistic that we will finally, finally after so many decades build a pandemic response system that’s equal to the challenge.”

Reducing Poverty

Dr. Kim said the bank is still in the process of gathering gathering all the evidence on what works in reducing poverty and then use that evidence to implement critical initiatives.

“At the World Bank Group we’ve looked at all the evidence for the past 50 years in reducing poverty, and we found that the path toward ending extreme poverty is anchored in three broad areas: Grow, invest, and ensure. First, we can only reach the end of extreme poverty if we follow a path toward more inclusive economic growth that benefits the poor. Secondly, we need to invest in people, especially through the education and health, and even more importantly through the education in health of women and children. Finally, governments must provide social safety nets for its citizens as well as build systems to protect them against disasters and the rapid spread of disease.”

To reach our goal to end extreme poverty in just 15 years, Dr. Kim said, the bank needs to be much more collaborative among all the players in development. “And that in our mind includes two new entries, the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank led by China, and the BRICS countries’ new Development Bank. We welcome them and we believe that their investments in energy, roads, bridges, and water facilities can be critical contributors to ending extreme poverty.”

At this year’s spring meeting, Dr. Kim said many initiatives directly connected to ending poverty will be on the agenda. A panel of faith leaders will talk about the power of faith groups in ending poverty on Wednesday and on Thursday, the WBG will be releasing a paper called “The Future of Food” complement by a discussion with the renowned chef, David Chang, on how chefs are contributing in all kinds of ways to the problem of hunger in the world, including what he calls “rethinking edibility.”

Liberia, which was the epicenter of the disease outbreak in 2014, has been aggressively working on the development of a comprehensive recovery strategy, “Liberia’s Economic Stabilization Recovery Plan” having seen a remarkable turnaround in recent months. The strategy seeks to advance measures that would mitigate the impact of the crisis on the domestic economy.

 The year “2014 was an extremely difficult year for Liberia when the economy nearly collapsed due to the negative impact of Ebola and declining commodity prices (iron ore and rubber) due to declining global growth.  With the Recovery Plan, we are targeting key investments in health, education, UNMIL transition, agriculture, infrastructure; social services like unconditional cash transfers to affected communities; water, sanitation and hygiene services (WASH).  "

"We also intend to provide relief to a struggling private sector. the Recovery Plan does not seek to replace our Agenda for Transformation (AfT) but rather intended to accelerate recovery & resilience within the existing pillars of the AfT,” Amara Konneh, Minister of Finance and Development Planning said recently at a joint Cabinet-Liberia Development Alliance meeting.