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Special United Nations Initiative For Africa Launched

Press Release No:96/18AFR
Press Contact: Eric Chinje (202) 473 4467
Sheela Reddi (202) 473 5091

WASHINGTON, March 15, 1996 -This morning Mr. James D. Wolfensohn, President of the World Bank, joined UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali and the heads of several UN agencies to launch the United Nations Special Initiative for Africa. The new initiative defines an expanded program of assistance to Sub-Saharan Africa and a partnership that aims to reduce the fragmentation of development efforts among donors.

Notwithstanding the World Bank's extensive experience in development, the real answers lie in Africa, with Africans, said Mr. Wolfensohn at the launching ceremony. I have enormous confidence in African leaders, in their understanding of their problems, and in their capacity to focus on what is needed.

The Bank will participate in all the areas covered by this initiative and take on particular responsibility for mobilizing resources for two major components: basic education and health reform. The World Bank will also hold forums to mobilize funds for assistance in these and the other target areas. Under the initiative, Bank support will continue to go to Africa and will not finance UN agency activities directly.

The Initiative reflects Mr. Wolfensohn's desire to coordinate the Bank and UN development agendas for Africa more closely. Such cooperation would make it easier to put in place comprehensive sectoral strategies and to use cross-sectoral approaches to deal with more wide-ranging problems.

1. Health and education. The World Bank already supports extensive investments in health and education in Africa. Under the new initiative, the Bank will join with the United Nations in encouraging individual African countries whose health and education systems are presently fragmented among many different programs and sponsors to prepare comprehensive plans for investment to provide essential services for all citizens. The World Health Organization (WHO) will lead the health care and UNESCO the education efforts on the ground, while the World Bank will mobilize resources and support. Donors interested in both sectors will be encouraged to take part.

To help bring about a more coordinated effort in the area of education, the Bank will organize a pan-African forum to mobilize funds, and UN agencies will be invited from the beginning to take part in the planning and preparation of Bank-supported projects. In the area of health care, UN agencies will offer assistance where countries do not qualify for Bank support, and the Bank will provide technical assistance to the African Health Panel and organize a Special Program of Assistance forum to augment donor support.

2. Moving from war to peace. Efforts today to help African countries move from war to peacetime economies are primarily being run by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR). The Bank is already working with these agencies in Angola, Mozambique, and Liberia and has long planned to expand its activities. Under the Initiative the Bank will be brought in early in the transition process to help countries devise a viable economic plan. With the United Nations, it will work country by country to help reintegrate refugees, demobilize veterans, deactivate landmines, and prepare social safety nets to help the poor.

3. Building local capacity for governance. The UNDP and World Bank will prepare a common strategy for helping African countries build up their public servants' and institutions' capacities to govern. The Banks Africa Region has recently defined such a strategy, the execution of which will benefit greatly from UN family support.

4. Water and food security. The Bank's Africa Region has completed a new water strategy for Africa that would coordinate the present fragmented effort to help African countries improve the amount and quality of water they have available for domestic consumption, agriculture, transport, power, and environmental purposes. Substantial IDA support has already been granted for this purpose, and implementation of the new strategy will require substantial cooperation among country staff, Bank representatives, and the relevant UN agencies (UNICEF, FAO, UNEP , UNDP, UNESCO, and WMO). The Bank will also advocate the preparation and financing of comprehensive agricultural development programs.

Our priorities in Africa are water, food security, educationparticularly for girls, health, and the environment, remarked Mr. Wolfensohn during the ceremony. The challenge, he said, is to spend available resources in a more coordinated and effective manner, and to mobilize more resources for these vital sectors.

5. Information technology. The Initiative aims to introduce the latest information throughout the African continent.

All programs supported under the new UN Initiative will be nationwide efforts led by the recipient government and employing local people insofar as possible. Long-term technical assistance provided by expatriates will be reduced to a minimum.

Recognizing the increasing scarcity of development aid, Mr. Wolfensohn welcomed the new World Bank-United Nations partnership represented by the UN Initiative for Africa. He stressed that each dollar must be spent to reduce poverty and to alleviate the suffering of the poor. This new initiative will make sure that two great institutions dedicated to this end do not work at cross purposes or duplicate each others efforts. It is a partnership that could not come about too soon, and the World Bank is fully dedicated to doing its part.

The New York ceremony announcing the initiative was transmitted to Africa by interactive telelink and broadcast around the world. Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali was telelinked from Geneva. Prime Minister Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia (Chairman of the Organization of African Unity) and Mr. K. Y. Amoako (Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Africa) spoke from Addis Ababa. Present in New York, in addition to Mr. Wolfensohn, were Mr. Gus Speech (UNDP), Ms. Carol Bellamy (UNICEF), Ms. Nafis Sadik (UNFPA), Mr. P. R. Narvekar (Deputy Managing Director, IMF).

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