World Bank Group President makes strong economic case for Investing in the Early Years
At a groundbreaking summit at the World Bank Group-IMF Annual Meetings, nine countries today pledged to make a range of major investments designed to dramatically reduce childhood stunting and equip tens of millions of young children with the abilities they need to succeed in a fast changing world. Today’s commitments are expected to help create future economic growth by preparing people – in the early years — for the jobs of the future.
“Poor nutrition, few opportunities for early learning and stimulation, and toxic environments literally hardwire young children to miss out on opportunities to learn and later to earn good wages,” said Jim Yong Kim, President of the World Bank Group. “But when Heads of Government and Ministers of Finance commit to fight stunted development and nurture the power of children’s brains, we can avert future crises where people and economies will not reach their full potential.”
Speaking for a country where 47 percent of children under age five are stunted from chronic malnutrition, H.E. Jimmy Morales, President of Guatemala said: “If our children are not healthy and well nourished, they will not be able to go to school and they will not be able to learn well; as adults they will not be able to find good jobs with good earnings so we will not have a productive, safe and secure society. This is why for me, for my government and for my country, the reduction of stunting by 10 percent during my period is the most important priority.”
Côte d’Ivoire’s Prime Minister HE Daniel Kablan Duncan said: “Côte d’Ivoire hopes to achieve dynamic economic, social and cultural growth. This development cannot be achieved without the development of human capital, the first wealth of any nation. This national consciousness has revealed the need to make early childhood a priority in order to make growth more and more inclusive and achieve shared prosperity.”
Worldwide, 156 million children under age five suffer from chronic malnutrition, only half of all three- to six-year-olds have access to preschool, and children from the wealthiest families hear as many as 30 million more words by age three than those from the poorest families. Also, according to a recent report by UNICEF, the number of child refugees has risen 77 percent in 5 years. Further, a Lancet report released yesterday noted that in Sub-Saharan Africa, 66% of children are estimated to be at risk of poor development due to stunting and poverty, while the share is 65% in South Asia.
The situation grows critical as an increasingly digital global economy places a large premium on the ability to reason, learn, communicate and collaborate. However, new evidence shows that brain development during a brief window of opportunity in early life has a profound impact on these abilities both for people and economies. The World Bank Group estimates that countries in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia would have 9 and 10 percent greater GDP per capita today had they eliminated stunting when today’s workers were children.
Recognizing that nutrition, stimulation, and safe environments for young children have a direct bearing on learning, health, behavior, incomes, and national economic development, the Prime Minister of Cote d’Ivoire, and Finance Ministers of Cameroon, Ethiopia, Indonesia, Madagascar, Pakistan, Senegal, and Tanzania pledged strong action at home on a number of fronts to put tens of millions of children on the right track.
FROM COUNTRY STATEMENTS:
Cameroon: The Government of Cameroon has been firmly committed to investing in early childhood in Cameroon, with a view to continuing its rapid economic and social development. We intend to reduce the chronic malnutrition rate among under-fives from 32% to 25% by 2019. To achieve these outcomes, we will continue to pursue a multisectoral approach that creates synergies among our education, health, and safety nets programs focusing in particular on the northern and eastern regions of the country.
Cote d’Ivoire: In May 2016 we launched the National Multisector Plan for Nutrition which will mobilize $470 million to scale up investments in nutrition, of which the Government of Cote d’Ivoire is funding US$70 million. Leaders must guarantee universal access to essential services for the development of young children.
Ethiopia: IDA has been a key supporter and partner in our efforts to address the challenges we face in our early years agenda. We are moving forward with an additional US$150 million for a health project which includes a strong nutrition component. We are also requesting US$900 million in additional resources to support the early years agenda in education and social protection. We will complement these national efforts with US$600 million for decentralized services to support local health, education, and agriculture services.
Indonesia: Indonesia has a number of efforts to improve results for the early years, including a conditional cash transfer program to incentivize behavior change and promote child development; and an earmarked fund to support early childhood education. Indonesia will also improve institutional effectiveness through harmonized policies and better coordination among different government institutions and civil society.
Madagascar: We have accorded priority to the social sectors, focusing specifically on actions that will improve conditions for mothers and children. The Ministry of Education is preparing a new education sector strategy that includes preschool education. We are piloting several types of interventions aimed at reducing chronic malnutrition and our social protection policy includes conditional cash transfers designed to encourage children to attend school and mothers to participate in stimulation activities for young children.
Pakistan: Pakistan plans to strengthen political leadership and institutional arrangements, and implement priority early childhood interventions through multiple key sectors at large scale. We plan to aim for innovation and partnerships with private sector using public financing and to commit increased funding from the Government.
Tanzania: The Tanzania Social Action Fund provides conditional cash transfers to the poorest 15% of households, to promote prenatal care and pre-primary school enrollment. We are also using results-based financing to improve nutrition outcomes, as well as innovative financing initiatives which leverage the private sector, including the Power of Nutrition.
Senegal: Investing in early childhood in Senegal will generate returns through increased internal and external efficiency in education, enhanced productivity, the country’s human resources, employability, and increased revenues in the long term, thus resulting in higher, more sustainable, and more inclusive economic growth.
The World Bank Group stands ready to support these countries as they invest in nourishing, stimulating, and protecting their greatest resource. A growing network of committed partners include the Global Financing Facility for Every Woman, Every Child; Power of Nutrition, the Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) movement, and the Early Childhood Development Action Network which was launched in April 2016 by the WBG and UNICEF.
* The World Bank’s International Development Association, established in 1960, supports the world’s poorest countries by providing grants and low to zero-interest loans for projects and programs that boost economic growth, reduce poverty, and improve poor people’s lives. IDA is one of the largest sources of assistance for the world’s 77 poorest countries, 39 of which are in Africa. Resources from IDA bring positive change for 2.8 billion people living on less than $2 a day. Since 1960, IDA has supported development work in 112 countries. Annual commitments have averaged about $18 billion over the last three years, with about 50 percent going to Africa.