Who is more eloquent than a hungry child? Standing in a classroom in the remote Masai Mara, on the border of Kenya’s Great Rift Valley, a young boy was reading a poem to me and visiting MPs about just how hard it is to go to school when you’re hungry, thirty and afraid. But that young man, brim full of brave hope, spoke for hundreds of thousands of his peers across East Africa which is now suffering the most brutal drought for 40 years.
Whoever now replaces David Malpass who has stood down as President of the World Bank must hear, feel and act on that child’s cries. That pain must galvanise the biggest shakeup of global development finance since the World Bank and IMF were created in 1944 to tackle the gargantuan crises of food, fragility and finance that has plunged 70 million people back into extreme poverty.
Globally, 200 million people now wake up without enough to eat and the world is well of track to meet its target to ‘end hunger’ by 2030. In vulnerable countries, violence proliferates. About half of the world’s extreme poor are expected to live in conflict affected countries by 2030. Yet poorer nations have exhausted their financial reservoirs to supply assistance. Total gross debt in developing countries has now surged to 256 percent of GDP in 2020, a fifty-year high, and it is far more expensive than before.
Some roots of this agony were unpredictable. Few foresaw Covid or the ensuing global crash or the conflict in Ukraine which has spiked food and fuel prices around the world.
But one great looming cause was absolutely foretold: the warming of the planet and the chaos of extreme weather, which now means as Kenya’s Jesuit community explained to me, that the seasons are simply no longer predictable; the sun which brings life now burns with such ferocity it brings death. The rains when they fall, fall with such force that life-giving water floods and destroys the land it once nourished.
These great global inhuman forces now twist, bend and too often, end the lives of babies and children.
Unicef now calculates 300 million children will be in need of humanitarian assistance this year. During Covid, children lost education worth 14 percent of today’s global GDP in lost lifetime earnings. Now hunger twists the knife: more children are sent to work earlier. More girls are married younger. More children are sent further and further afield to find the family water.
Because the capacity of most developing countries has now become exhausted the global community must now remodel the global financial system to help. Developed countries lack the resources to deal with the crises at hand - never mind the looming emergency of climate change.
But there is hope. Thanks to inspiring leaders like Barbados’ Prime Minister Mia Mottley, there is huge kinetic energy behind what is known as the Bridgetown Agenda: a collection of ideas with radical implications for the World Bank’s mission and model, the resources deployed by the IMF for development, and the demands on richer countries to step up and lead a gigantic expansion of development finance.
A concerted push is underway to transform the World Bank’s mission to put sustainability alongside its twin goals of ending extreme poverty and fostering inclusive growth. Pressure is growing on richer countries to deliver in full on the $100 billion of IMF Special Drawing Rights promised by G20 countries to help fund a new Resilience and Sustainability Trust providing billions to vulnerable countries. And the G20 has already shaped a blueprint for using existing Bank balance sheets better to release hundreds of billions of dollars in new resources for nations in need.
These are big changes inspired by a big idea: justice. Justice for those children, who have the same dreams for the future as children everywhere. Justice for nations that did not cause climate change, but now reap the bitter harvest. The new President of the World Bank has a huge task ahead. Whoever is appointed – yesterday US President Joe Biden nominated former Mastercard chief executive Ajay Banga – must work centre-stage to help turn these ideals and these ideas into action. The world’s children expect nothing less.