World Bank announces collaboration with Arab league to boost human development, infrastructure, SMEs

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CAIRO: Mahmoud Mohieldin, the former Minister of Investment and current managing director of the World Bank Group, was in Cairo this week to discuss possibilities for cooperation and partnerships between the Arab League and the World Bank through the World Bank’s Arab World Initiative.

“The objective of this cooperation is to help achieve economic integration and to boost employment and job creation across the Arab World,” said the managing director.

In a media roundtable at the World Bank’s Cairo headquarters, Mohieldin announced that the World Bank’s top priorities for the region include funding projects that advance human development, facilitating the construction of infrastructure, and supporting micro-, small- and medium-sized enterprises.

Earlier this week, Mohieldin met with Secretary General of the Arab States Amr Moussa to discuss the potential for cooperation in these areas.

Mohieldin said that the World Bank will assist in providing the finance needed to support such projects, in addition to advisory services, technical assistance, and institutional capacity building to ensure the high priority projects are implemented successfully.

Giving examples of infrastructure projects financed by the World Bank in the Arab World, Mohieldin said that the bank’s strategies currently focus on electricity connectivity and renewable energy, supporting the region’s power generation capacity.

“There are many of these projects currently in [their] implementation phase in Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt and Iraq and, for Egypt in particular, the bank has funded joint energy cooperation projects with Libya and Saudi Arabia.”

According to Mohieldin, the World Bank also prioritizes projects linking Arab seaports, railway projects linking various Arab countries, and highways and road networks that support transport between Arab countries.

“These [transportation] networks provide a boost to trade and investments in the region and match one of the bank’s goals of investing in projects which benefit the country as a whole, rather than a targeted few,” he said.

The second main issue on the agenda for cooperation, according to Mohieldin, was micro-, small- and medium-sized enterprise development, which he said contributes to economic growth in the Arab countries and job creation — especially for the youth.

At the Arab Economic and Social Development Summit in Kuwait, Mohieldin pointed out that the Arab Small and Medium Fund was established with $1.3 billion in total capital. The target capital for the fund is $2 billion, according to Mohieldin.

“[Small- and medium-sized enterprises] constitute 90 percent of private sector contributions to growth in the Middle East, and the bank has definitely prioritized them in this region [by] providing support in the areas of access to finance, marketing, and business expertise,” he said.

He said that funds as well as technical assistance will be available through the activities of the International Finance Corporation, the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the International Development Association, and through various partnerships with other international and regional financial institutions.

Human development and an improved quality of education were considered by Mohieldin to be one of the most important, requiring great efforts to make it a success. Mohieldin discussed scaling up the quality of education, and the provision of vocational training programs.

“The quality of education differs greatly in Arab countries, and the education systems are complex, requiring careful assessment and planning,” said Mohieldin. “Aptitude tests measure the ability of students to learn, and [provide] an internationally accredited measure of education. We must measure education standards in the region by international standards.”

He explained that Middle Eastern countries eventually have to meet these educational standards, and that this should be done through widespread reforms in every national educational system throughout the region — from school construction, to teacher training.

“The World Bank is following up on the Doha Declaration, supported by 17 Arab countries, in connection with education and accreditation … to support education and [to share all available] expertise and information in this respect,” he added.

Describing the bank’s efforts in poverty alleviation and support following the global financial crisis, Mohieldin said that the World Bank allocated $145 billion to funding in the first half of 2010 — an amount significantly higher than what was allocated prior to the financial crisis.

When asked by Daily News Egypt about the World Bank’s efforts to increase the region’s resilience to future shocks and crises — particularly in response to current concerns of food shortages and climate change — Mohieldin explained that since current world food prices are down due to a fall in demand, the situation is under control in comparison to 2007.

He added, however, that the World Bank is helping to prevent future shocks by specifically supporting the region in the areas of climate change and food security, while simultaneously developing various partnerships.

He concluded that the World Bank’s focus on infrastructure, education and SMEs would in fact increase the ability of countries like Egypt to achieve food security and prevent future shocks, both directly and indirectly.

“In Egypt, for example, domestic food supplies may be hampered by a lack of logistical and transport infrastructure, [thereby] affecting the food security situation,” Mohieldin said.


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