Asia and the Pacific is the most dynamic region in the world. Yet, poverty remains the biggest challenge. The Asian Development Bank (ADB) will sharpen its operational focus to better help its clients overcome challenges, ADB President Takehiko Nakao said today in his opening address to the 47th Annual Meeting of ADB’s Board of Governors.
“There are still many challenges to tackle – traditional ones and emerging ones. As the largest development institution based in Asia, ADB must also transform to meet these challenges with reforms and innovative solutions,” he said.
The region’s economy has performed well and this has translated to much-reduced poverty, defined as less than $1.25 per day. But this threshold is well over 10 years old and cannot even support a minimum standard of living in today’s Asia and the Pacific, he said. More than 1.6 billion people in the region live on less than $2 a day. They remain vulnerable to sudden, unexpected shocks such as job loss or crop failure.
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A huge infrastructure gap, environmental degradation and climate change, and the untapped potential of regional cooperation and integration also need to be addressed.
Meanwhile, middle-income countries, which now comprise the majority of countries in the region, face additional problems such as rapid urbanization, aging populations, environmental challenges, and how best to avoid becoming mired in the middle-income trap.
ADB’s midterm review of its long-term strategy, Strategy 2020, adopted 10 strategic priorities for ADB to better support client countries in dealing with these issues: (i) poverty reduction and inclusive growth; (ii) environment and climate change; (iii) regional cooperation and integration; (iv) infrastructure development; (v) support to middle-income countries; (vi) private sector development and operations; (vii) knowledge solutions; (viii) financial resources and partnerships; (ix) delivering value for money; and (x) organizing to meet new challenges.
President Nakao outlined in his address how ADB will put these priorities into concrete actions. To strengthen its support for inclusive growth, ADB will expand its operations in education, health, social protection, and inclusive business.
ADB will continue to address climate change, putting increased emphasis on adaptation efforts in addition to mitigation, promote regional integration not only through improving cross-border connectivity but also through trade facilitation, and work on financial sector links.
The President emphasized the importance of good infrastructure such as roads, power, and water in promoting inclusive growth. “Such infrastructure is essential for people to go to hospitals and schools,” he said. “It also improves access to jobs and markets, thereby helping more people out of poverty.”
ADB will support the efforts of middle-income countries to improve productivity, mainstream innovations, catalyze private sector financing, adopt international best practices, and integrate into the regional and global economy. In addition to being a project financier, it will become a more active project developer and expand support for public-private partnerships to mobilize more private sector investment and improve the delivery of public services.
ADB will strengthen its knowledge work and knowledge sharing. Many countries are interested in learning from the best practices ADB has developed through operations in other countries. Resident missions will play a crucial role in coordinating various departments and provide services to clients as “One ADB”.
Given the region’s huge financing needs, ADB will seek ways to enhance its financial capacity and support for poverty reduction. To this end, it has proposed combining the lending operations of its Ordinary Capital Resources (OCR) with those of the Asian Development Fund (ADF). If approved, the proposal “would allow us to increase our lending capacity, and enhance support for low-income countries while reducing the burden on ADF donors,” the President said. “It would also better position ADB to respond to any future financing needs including for natural disasters and economic crises.”
To improve efficiency and ensure value for money, the Bank will streamline its processes and boost the effectiveness of its on-the-ground operations. ADB will also work to attract and retain highly skilled staff to solve problems and help clients in the best possible way. “I will ensure that we have the staff skills needed to respond to the region’s needs today, and tomorrow,” the President said.
ADB’s Board of Governors has been gathering between 2 May and 5 May in Astana, Kazakhstan, the first time for ADB to hold the meeting in the country.