World Bank President Robert B. Zoellick Opening Statement, Spring Meeting 2011 Media Teleconference

Robert B. Zoellick,

President, World Bank Group

Tuesday, April 12, 2011



Thank you for joining.


The world is coming out of one crisis -- the financial and economic crisis -- but we are facing other risks and tumultuous changes:  high and volatile food prices; high fuel prices with knock-on effects for food and through food for stability; political turmoil across the Middle East; political turmoil in Cote D’Ivoire; repeated natural disasters; rising inflation in emerging markets with some risks of overheating; sovereign debt issues in Europe.


So this is not a time for complacency; or for turning our backs on international co-operation. The world needs multilateralism that works.


And we need to be better at addressing crises -- with better early warning, better prevention, and better action.


The events of the last three months in the Middle East have been a catalyst for examining how best to push economic and governance reforms in support of successful development.


Last week I gave a speech calling for a New Social Contract in the region and pointing to ways that the World Bank Group would be applying some of the lessons, not just in the region, but beyond.  We will drive more transparency in the national budgets we support, and we will look to whether the Bank needs new capabilities or facilities that could leverage support from countries, foundations, and others to strengthen the capacity of beneficiaries and local civil society groups working on accountability in service delivery.


Three weeks ago, we held a global online discussion to listen to Arab voices -- young people, women’s groups, change agents. Twenty-two thousand people participated on line. Their voices, and the voices from the street, need to be heard.


We have teams working with countries in the region right now, and I expect differing speeds and twists and turns as we listen and work with the new governments and voices from society. These are revolutions.


Tunisia is a good example, where some of the changes are further along.


In Tunisia we are working with the authorities on a $500 million budget support operation, which could leverage an additional $700 million from other donors. The reforms will focus on freedom of association; access to information; transparency in public procurement; beneficiary participation in service delivery; and retraining of unemployed workers.


I'll be going to Tunisia in May to see how we can further help the Tunisian people.


Later this week IFC, our private sector arm, will be announcing an initiative that goes to the heart of one of the region’s challenges: unemployment. The region will need to create some 40 million new jobs over the next decade just to hold even -- that’s the equivalent of the combined populations of Morocco and Jordan. And to hold even is not good enough.


We have called for a meeting of the multilateral development banks this week to discuss how we can work together to support the region, but also learn lessons from other regions. Policy changes will be as important as money.



While economists often downplay short-term jobs, we need to be less allergic to devising ways to get people to work, to give them an ability to contribute to their families and their countries. The street is looking for results. There are ways to promote job creation quickly while supporting longer-term job growth.


We also need to help countries with effective safety-net programs, for those in need, but in ways that don’t bust budgets.


We have just produced and just released our World Development Report on fragile and conflict states. There are lessons here for development -- with a focus on citizen security, justice and jobs -- and we are moving to integrate the WDR into our work going forward. Cote D'Ivoire should be an early case. I will be meeting with the Ivorian Finance Minister, Charles Koffi Diby, later this week. We need to support him and President Ouattara. And we need to do so with regional partners.


Later this week we will release an updated Food Price Watch. While the numbers are still being finalized, we are continuing to see record price levels, compounded by serious price volatility.


The poor are suffering more and there are more poor suffering. We have a hunger clock on the front of this building that shows not only that there are nearly a billion and counting undernourished, but every minute 68 more people become hungry. That’s more than one each second.


We are calling on the G-187 meeting here this week and the G-20 meeting later in the year to act now to put Food First.


This is doable. And it can and should be a G-20 deliverable.


We have outlined an action plan that could help protect the poor and vulnerable from food price volatility, and boost production to help provide better food security.


Key will be more transparency about food stocks; a code of conduct for export bans that exempts humanitarian aid; better safety nets and risk management tools; and prepositioning of limited, humanitarian food stocks, in places like the Horn of Africa, with the help of the UN’s World Food Programme.


We also need to do more on the production side. The World Bank is investing about $7 billion a year in improved agricultural production, from seeds to irrigation to storage. One area of focus would be agricultural research, developing better and climate-resistant seeds.


Finally, whether through our Access to Information Policy or our Open Data Initiative, the World Bank is committed to being more open and to reaching out to find development partners. On Wednesday, I’ll be attending the awards ceremony for our “Apps for Development” competition that we launched last year. We have some terrific entries and ideas from over 36 countries for using data and technology to help achieve the Millennium Development Goals. This may be less immediately newsworthy than bailouts or financial packages, but in the long run I’m convinced these technologies and the innovation of the people who drive them can prove more transformational.


So thank you, I’d be pleased to take your questions.

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