This week Devnews focuses on the World Bank’s development work in conflict areas. The work is an inherent part of the Bank’s mission, with poverty being both a cause and a consequence of conflict. Eighty percent of the world's 20 poorest countries today have suffered from a major conflict in the recent years. Devnews has talked to Bank staff on the ground, to get a clearer sense as to what this work entails on a daily basis, what progress is being made, what challenges are faced and what lessons they have learnt. "Conflict and Development: a View from the Ground" is a series of five stories, that will run from May 12-16. May 14th will also see the launch of a new World Bank report, "Breaking the Conflict Trap" by Paul Collier, on the causes of civil war.
May 13, 2003—The birth of the most recent addition to the world’s family of nations came at a tremendous cost. In 1999, following 24 years of occupation, Timor-Leste voted overwhelmingly in favor of independence. The announcement of the ballot results was followed by an orchestrated campaign of violence that wreaked physical destruction and brought terror throughout the country. As the violence settled, the people of Timor-Leste found themselves in charge of a country which in its path to independence had left hundreds dead, over 75 percent of the population forcibly displaced, homes, schools, churches and farms utterly destroyed.
The needs were pressing and swift action was deployed in the form of a Joint Assessment Mission (JAM) that flew in within a month of the end of the conflict. "The Bank reacted very quickly to the situation, having spent considerable time preparing before-hand," World Bank Country Manager Elisabeth Huybens recalls. "We had been monitoring the situation very closely, and had kept an on-going dialogue with all the major stake-holders before the violence erupted. This enabled us to rapidly send a Joint Assessment Mission, which was genuinely joint."
The composition of the team was an innovative one, bringing together 25 Timorese and 25 international experts from a variety of sectors and organizations. This was to set the tone for the endeavor to come: the reconstruction and development of Timor-Leste has been an ongoing cooperative effort, with Timorese engaged at all levels and all stages, and the international community working in a coordinated way. The cooperation in turn fostered deep mutual trust, a fundamental component in the success of the country’s reconstruction.
The work began and a World Bank office in Timor-Leste was opened, which reflected the state of the country. Staff slept on office floors or stayed with local families. Bank staff coming to Dili often found themselves asked to bring paper, or basic food supplies, for those on the ground already. Consultations were held in tents, meetings on plastic tables and chairs.
By the time the JAM assessment had been drawn, implementation was rapidly set in motion, through the Trust Fund for East Timor, which has been the Bank’s main vehicle. "We were under enormous pressure to start disbursing reconstruction funds quickly and to get activities going on the ground," notes Sarah Cliffe, World Bank Country Office Manager in Timor-Leste at the time.
Established in early 2000, the Trust Fund has maintained the active participation of 10 donor countries and institutions and has leveraged over $176 million in contributions against an initial pledge of $147 million. Projects were prepared and implemented rapidly, taking 3.5 months instead of the normal 15. Yet rapidity proved to be a double-edge sword, as Huybens points out.
"One of the major challenges we have faced and a lesson I believe we have drawn from this, is the difficulty in striking a balance between meeting the immediate needs on the ground in the face of destruction, whilst keeping in mind longer term development concerns. We now see that the sectors in which we worked more slowly, in the context of a framework that had a long-term vision and a strategy, are the ones that have been most successful."
In order to meet the dual requirements of the short-term and the long-term, efforts were made to develop programs which could deliver both. "Most of these reconstruction programs had community driven, quick impact components and at the same time initiatives to start building institutions in central and regional governments, which would be able to deliver government services later on," says Cliffe.
The country’s recovery over the course of its four years since independence, has been remarkable. "Within two years, the development indicators were roughly the same as they were prior to the conflict, which is a very rapid recovery," says Cliffe. The country now boasts 2,780 new classrooms and school enrollment has jumped from 190,000 in 1999 to 240,000. A sustainable public healthcare system has been put into place, allowing 85 percent of children under the age of five to receive vaccinations. Hospitals and clinics have been rebuilt to cover 90 percent of the population within a two hours walk. Some 20,650 rural families have received support through the restoration of agricultural goods and infrastructure.
"There are also some more intangible outputs," adds Cliffe. "For instance watching Timorese counterparts grow more confident in their new roles and supporting them in putting together their first national poverty reduction strategy with very widespread popular consultation. These too were important outcomes of the program."
And lessons have been learned, which have benefited both the program in the country, as well as the Bank’s capacity to assist other post-conflict areas. "One of the most important benefits that I have seen in East Timor is focusing hard on the fiscal sustainability of reconstruction intervention right at the beginning, which having both the World Bank and the Fund engaged helped to do. The early planning is also very important to be able to launch a rapid program. When we talk about speed of delivery in post-conflict reconstruction programs, this is never dependent on what people do after the conflict, but normally what they have done before-hand," Cliffe explains.
Huybens stresses the importance of ownership and capacity-building, when looking back at the team’s experience in Timor-Leste. Fostering a sense of ownership of the development process on the part of the authorities and building national capacity from the very beginning are elements to pay close attention to. "We really learn as we go," she concludes. "These are valuable lessons in nation-building that can be applied elsewhere."
Useful links: For more information on the World Bank’s work in Timor-Leste, please click here.
For more information on the World Bank’s work on Conflict Prevention and Reconstruction, please click here.
To hear the radio news release on Paul Collier’s "Breaking the Conflict Trap" report, please click here.
"The Bank reacted very quickly to the situation, having spent considerable time preparing before-hand," World Bank Country Manager Elisabeth Huybens recalls.
Community elders talking to project facilitator
Waiting in line for newly established health services
Rebuilding infrastructure: a mountain road is taking shape.
"There are also some more intangible outputs," says Sarah Cliffe, World Bank Country Office Manager in Timor-Leste at the time. "For instance watching Timorese counterparts grow more confident in their new roles and supporting them in putting together their first national poverty reduction strategy with very widespread popular consultation. These too were important outcomes of the program."