As President Obama picks a nominee, what the new head of the World Bank might find on his or her agenda straight away
Getting the world’s poor back on the agenda
Since the economic crisis, the World Bank’s role has been overshadowed by the International Monetary Fund, which has stepped in to bail out a string of struggling western economies, while many countries have cut back their overseas aid budgets. A new World Bank boss will have to make the argument that fighting poverty should still be a top priority.
Fighting high and volatile food prices
High and volatile prices for food and other basic commodities have caused hunger and political upheaval in scores of developing countries. The World Bank has the challenge of providing relief to the worst hit through its Global Food Crisis Response Program (GFRP). It has vowed to help raise agricultural yields in the poorest countries and is also looking into ways companies in developing nations can hedge against food price hikes.
There is pressure to rapidly improve infrastructure, particularly in Africa, to help bring food prices down and improve profitability for farmers.
The new World Bank head will also have to push further research into so-called “land grabs” of agricultural terrain in developing nations, particularly in Africa, by richer nations and companies. It is an issue gaining political and NGO attention and the World Bank has faced criticism in the past that some of its food policies have facilitated land grabs
Integrating China and the other leading developing countries into the fight against poverty
Middle-income countries, particularly China, are playing a growing and controversial role in delivering overseas aid, often hand-in-hand with lucrative commercial investments. The World Bank, as the only global anti-poverty body, has a crucial role in trying to negotiate a common approach and share best practice about schemes that have worked well. Giving these countries more voice at the Washington-based institution, which remains too dominated by the Old World powers, would be a good start.
Sorting out the Bank’s environmental policies
Protecting poor countries from climate change is one of the World Bank’s key public priorities; but campaigners complain that it still offers loans to polluting coal plants and oil pipelines. The Bank needs a coherent approach to all its projects, worldwide.
Rebuilding post-conflict states
Founded to support reconstruction after the second world war, the World Bank has a remit to help prevent conflict and support reconstruction after wars and upheaval. The new World Bank chief will have to navigate a range of religious, cultural and economic tensions in the wake of the Arab spring to help such fragile states. The bank’s own claim that countries emerging from war face a 44% chance of relapsing within five years will loom large in his or her mind.
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