World Bank chief economist François Bourguignon was among several Bank experts and researchers who addressed the conference theme of "Securing Development in an Unstable World" at the Annual Bank Conference on Development Economics (Europe), held May 23-24 in Amsterdam.
"Insecurity is fundamentally a low-income country problem," Bourguignon said in his keynote presentation, in which he outlined the development cost of insecurity of various kinds - economic, social, political, geophysical and epidemic-related, among others.
While macroeconomic vulnerability is not a new phenomenon, Bourguignon said, it has new relevance due to a large number of low-income small states that are losing trade and other preferences, as well as the fragility of growth in many African countries, the frequency of financial crises in recent years, and the persistent risk of commodity price shocks.
Bourguignon's keynote followed a call by the Netherlands' Development Cooperation Minister Agnes van Ardenne-van der Hoeven for the international community to develop new tools to deal with conflict situations in an integrated manner, combining political, security, and development instruments.
Throughout the two days of panel discussions, economists, political scientists and government officials echoed this call for governments and aid agencies to do more to integrate security and development policies. Speakers included several researchers from the Bank's Development Economics Vice Presidency. Maurice Schiff outlined a major study on migration and development, while Francisco Ferreira and Berk Ozler presented findings of the 2006 World Development Report on Equity and Development, to be launched in September 2005.
The conference looked at how all sorts of shocks--from crime, epidemics, commodity price swings, hurricanes, droughts, and armed conflict--might affect development. While the U.S.-led war on terrorism has placed security issues high on the global agenda, conference speakers noted that many forms of insecurity unrelated to terrorism have much greater development impact.
This year's ABCDE conference gathered some 400 participants from 90 countries. These annual gatherings, organized by the Bank's European Vice Presidency, are designed to connect the development research community with government policymakers and civil society and private sector representatives.
"What we will be looking for here are fresh and workable ideas to address the many dimensions of insecurity," said Bank Vice President for Europe Jean-Francois Rischard.
To better measure risk, Patrick Guillaumont, of France's University of Clermont Ferrand, outlined an Economic Vulnerability Index. Oxfam Research Director Duncan Green countered that historical vulnerability might be a less complicated (though admittedly rougher) guide to future risk.
The conference also heard examples of how risk measurement and mitigation work in practice. In Ethiopia, for example, the World Food Program's weather risk protection program will quantify the financial and food production impact on farmer of each lost millimeter of rainfall. This kind of data makes it possible to set up crop insurance programs, and to calculate aid needed in emergencies.
Some speakers proposed policy changes to tackle insecurity. Oxford University's Paul Collier argued post-conflict countries should receive more attention. "Fifty percent of these countries (emerging from recent conflict) could relapse into conflict. So we should focus on getting post-conflict development right. Conflict prevention, by contrast, is too complex, too diffuse." The cost of a civil war averages $50 billion a year, Collier said. With an average of two civil wars raging every year, the $100 billion total cost easily tops development aid from all sources.
Nicole Ball, senior fellow at the US Center for International Policy, suggested the Bank integrate security aspects into Poverty Reduction Strategies, public financial management work and Transitional Support Strategies.
Others noted that the private sector is critical to addressing the insecurity of the poor--especially in Africa, where poor economies dependent on one commodity are permanently vulnerable. These economies must diversify, many speakers said. That this is possible was made clear by the film, "Africa: Open for Business", screened for conference participants.
On the conference sidelines, Bourguignon and the Bank's research director, L. Alan Winters, met with members of the Researchers Alliance for Development, a network of development researchers established four years ago with the sponsorship of the World Bank's Europe Vice-Presidency.
The ABCDE closing ceremony, co-hosted by Ian Goldin, the Bank's vice president for External Affairs, featured the announcement of the "Building a Secure Future - Finding Practical Solutions" essay competition. More than 1,000 young people submitted essays, all of which can be read at www.essaycompetition.org.