NEW YORK, May 23, 2005—World Bank President James Wolfensohn today urged wealthy nations to reach out to the world's most fragile countries, which are burdened by conflict, weak governance and political turmoil. Global peace and security, he said, depends in part on helping these 30 countries – home to 500 million people – that are being left behind.
“We need to find a way to help countries that are lagging to catch up. This is a huge challenge,” Wolfensohn said.
Wolfensohn said he fears that a 'three-speed' world is being created, with wealthy nations in the lead, followed by countries including India and China, which are growing at a much faster pace than the developed world and are making great strides in reducing poverty. But he feels fragile states have "stalled and pulled to the side of the road," and need assistance in order to share in the benefits of global prosperity.
Wolfensohn, who hands over the presidency of the World Bank to Paul Wolfowitz June 1st, was speaking in New York at the Council on Foreign Relations. Wolfensohn has served as Bank President for ten years – a period that saw him push for major debt relief for poor countries and campaign against corruption.
The outgoing President warned against a trend by donor countries to reward only 'best performers' - countries which manage to implement reforms - while overlooking fragile states. He worried that wealthy nations will increasingly “only lend to countries doing well.” The World Bank chief said it is vital for the global community to stay engaged in countries like Afghanistan, Timor Leste, Liberia, Haiti and Sudan. He said they need financial aid so they can build political, judicial and economic systems to help them recover and gain stability.
Wolfensohn said it is not just a matter of doing the right thing. “This is the issue of peace, this is the issue of security, yet – for most of us – this issue is low on the agenda.”
World Bank research shows countries that have fragile states as neighbors lose an average of 1.6 percent of their GDP every year through disruption of production, unwanted immigration and barriers to trade and investment. The impact can also be felt thousands of miles away – 95 percent of opium production occurs in fragile and conflict affected states, mostly for distribution to wealthy nations.
Clearly not enough is being done, Wolfensohn argued. US consumers spend three times more per year on weight-loss products than the entire world spends on development aid to the most fragile states. When it comes to peace-keeping troops, he said the contributions of wealthy nations are out of balance with the needs. Sixty thousand troops were generously sent to Bosnia, but only sixteen thousand were sent to the Democratic Republic of Congo, which is 45 times larger.
Wolfensohn says the tragedy of September 11th, 2001, has shown there are no longer any walls - what happens in fragile states affects all of us. It's time to help these nations get on track to share in global prosperity.