World Bank calls for new infrastructure investment fund

By Richard High04 February 2009

World Bank president Robert Zoellick has outlined three urgent steps to help the World's poorest countries weather the global financial crisis.

In a statement released at the end of the African Union (AU) Summit (26 January - 3rd February 2009, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia), Mr Zoellick called for a three-point action plan that would include setting up a vulnerability fund for poorer countries.

This would be used to support crucial investment in infrastructure projects and create jobs. It would also provide finance for small and medium-sized enterprises, added Mr Zoellick.

This would be backed up by "safety net programs" aligned with an individual country's ability to put them to good use, said the statement.

The AU summit, the 12th meeting of the leaders of 51 African countries, was convened under the theme: "Infrastructure Development in Africa", with an emphasis on the transport and energy sectors.

Launching infrastructure Day at the AU summit, Dr. Elham M A Ibrahim, African Union Commissioner for Infrastructure and Energy, said, "Infrastructure has long been identified as a key requirement for any economic growth. Yet, Africa's infrastructure, in its current state, needs to be developed to an adequate and efficient standard. Infrastructure should be integrated and interconnected, making it easier for Africa to meet its goals on socio-economic development and poverty reduction."

Africa has felt the effects of the global financial crisis most acutely, according to Obi Ezekwesili, World Bank vice president for Africa. Unless wealthy countries help quickly, he added, the financial crisis could ruin the continent's long spell of promising economic growth.

Delegates to the summit had warned Africa would struggle to cope with the global downturn, which could end years of growth in many countries driven by record commodities prices.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said aid for Africa was crucial and would lead to growth, trade and financial flows as well as the fight against poverty. This he said, could only be achieved if Africa got the good roads, schools and hospitals, and reliable and efficient water services, electricity grids and telecom networks it needed.

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