Bye Bye Baku

The striking building complex of the Heydar Aliyev Center in Baku.
The striking building complex of the Heydar Aliyev Center in Baku.

By Satinder Bindra

As ADB's 48th Annual Meeting draws to a close, it's time to reflect on highlights such as livable cities, partnerships, regional integration, collaboration with AIIB, the ADF-OCR merger – as well as admire the host city and look forward to next year's meeting in Frankfurt, Germany.

Those of us lucky enough to be in Baku for ADB’s 48th Annual Meeting have walked around this dramatic capital city almost in a trance. We’ve been struck by its stunning world-class architecture, a beautifully restored “old quarter,” immaculately clean streets, pedestrian-friendly sidewalks and winding boulevards. What’s just as astonishing is that this has all been done in under a decade and a half!

This remarkable transformation stands as a testament to the “can do” attitude of the Azerbaijani people. And while uplifting, it is also sobering in some ways because we know that here in the Asia and the Pacific our urban environments are under immense strain from booming populations, inadequate services, worsening pollution, and now the growing menace of climate change. As the recent earthquake in Nepal has graphically demonstrated, natural disasters can undo years of development progress in an instant.

Making Asia’s cities green and livable was one of the most critical discussions at this year’s meeting. We heard some fascinating insights from speakers of different countries on how they are tackling their homegrown urban challenges.  Perhaps one of the most powerful testimonials came from Singaporean Liu Thai-Ker, Chairman of the Advisory Board at the Center for Livable Cities. He noted that if Asia can get urbanization “right,” it can save the world. If not, our future looks grave!

Of course, few developing countries have enough resources of their own to completely remake their urban landscapes. And that’s where partnerships—the theme of this year’s annual meeting—are clearly crucial. It was an important symbolic moment for ADB and our development partners when we stood shoulder-to-shoulder with Nepal’s Finance Minister Ram Sharan Mahat and pledged our wholehearted support to help reconstruct the country. Mr. Mahat’s words—“We will rebuild our country, we will rebuild it better, we will come out of this crisis stronger’’—were both touching and insightful. More than just being a theme, development partnerships and their ability to transform lives were a powerful takeaway for me.

ADB President Takehiko Nakao meets with Liqun Jin, Secretary General of the Multilateral Interim Secretariat of the AIIB.

Talking about impact, let me turn to the 10 member countries, including Azerbaijan, of the Central Asia Regional Economic Cooperation and congratulate them for building cross-border road, trade and energy links in recent years. These efforts highlight the crucial importance of regional cooperation as a force for change. Azerbaijan’s leading role in the development of the southern gas corridor providing fuel to Central Asia and Europe, outlined by Azeri President Ilham Aliyev at the opening session of the Board of Governors, is a good example of this collaboration.

Finding the funds needed to meet our region’s huge development needs is of course a challenging task. But ADB has taken an historical step forward with a ground-breaking initiative to combine the lending operations of its Asian Development Fund (ADF) with the ordinary capital resources balance sheet. In financing terms, this merger is expected to boost our total annual lending and grant approvals to as high as $20 billion—50% over current levels—with assistance to our poorest member countries increasing by up to 70%. As Mr. Nakao has noted, this is a major “win-win-win: initiative for ADB and our region, as it will allow us to hike support for our lower-income members, expand our operational capacity for middle-income countries, and reduce the burden on our ADF donors.

Collaboration also came to the fore when our President Takehiko Nakao met with Liqun Jin, Secretary General of the Multilateral Interim Secretariat of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. The fruitful discussion covered much ground, including the region’s huge infrastructure gap, the critical role infrastructure plays in poverty reduction, and the importance of environmental and social safeguards for development projects. Mr. Nakao’s pledge that ADB will work together with AIIB in future will be good for Asia. It was a meeting milestone and another significant takeaway.

ADB Secretary Woo Chong Um poses as German writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe at the Frankfurt 2016 booth.

And now as we say farewell to Baku, we turn our attention to next year’s meeting in Frankfurt, Germany, where the concept of partnerships and cooperation will take another step forward. Frankfurt’s theme is Cooperating for Sustainability with a focus on renewable energy, sustainable supply chains, and vocational training. With its cutting-edge technology, Germany is bound to showcase some fascinating ideas for sustainable living and smarter, cleaner cities. I look forward to some more learning and takeaways in Frankfurt.

Have a safe trip home, and see you in Frankfurt!