Farewell Astana, Hello Baku

By Satinder Bindra

We’ve wrapped up our 47th Annual Meeting in Astana today with plenty of food for thought on what lies ahead for our vast, diverse region.

We’ve wrapped up our 47th Annual Meeting in Astana today with plenty of food for thought on what lies ahead for our vast, diverse region.

It’s tough cherry picking the key ideas that emerged although in keeping with the theme of this year’s event, accelerating cooperation and connectivity among countries, subregions, and the wider global community has been a common thread over the past four days.

Moving our Strategy 2020 development agenda forward after the midterm review and strengthening our operations to give better value for money to donor countries were also major points discussed.

We certainly know we have our work cut out for us, as President Takehiko Nakao acknowledged in his closing statement to the Board of Governors today.

He stressed the need to remain focused on improving the lives of people in our poorest countries, and the plan to expand operations in education, health and social protection will help us do that.

Picking up the pace in disaster prevention and management is another critically important area of work given our region’s high vulnerability to natural calamities, and to that end we plan to explore deeper use of products like disaster insurance.

Infrastructure was also a ‘hot topic’ during the week with much talk of the imminent creation of an Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, headed by People’s Republic of China. Is it a threat to us as suggested by some in the media? We don’t think so, given the region’s vast infrastructure needs, and as President Nakao pointed out, ADB is happy to collaborate if and when the new bank comes into being.

Some of our member countries have rightly pointed out the need to use our resources more efficiently with concerns raised about ADB’s delayed disbursements, project cost over-runs and rising administrative costs. And there’ve been calls to up our annual lending levels significantly to meet pressing regional needs.

To that end,  the proposed plan to bring together, or ‘blend’ our  ordinary capital resources (OCR) and Asian Development Fund (ADF) financing pools was one of the exciting ideas to emerge from Astana.  It will be a big step forward in leveraging our resources more effectively, allowing us to up our lending capacity by over 20% from both our OCR and ADF windows.

The plan is still a work in progress, with discussions underway among shareholders and donors, but we’ve been encouraged by some initial support shown by some member countries for the idea.  

We’re also extremely grateful for India’s generous plan to contribute $30 million to the ADF.

Of course while the central focus of Annual Meetings revolves around our business sessions and seminars let’s not forget the vibrant, and creative role that our youth participants play as well.

Some may ask what’s the point of youth at Annual Meetings?  The short answer is that 60% of the global youth population lives in our region and their voices can’t and shouldn’t be ignored.

As Regional and Sustainable Development Department Deputy Director General Woochung Um nicely put it before today’s youth debate final: “Sustainable development is about making sure we have a future and who better to ask about the future than the youth themselves.”

And anyone who witnessed the lively discussion on the topic of foreign investment can only have been impressed by the articulate arguments and passion shown by the two teams from Azerbaijan and Kyrgyz Republic.  Congratulations to Team Kyrgz Republic who were unanimous winners on the day, and better luck next time to their opponents, who will at least go back home as better debaters.

And now our thoughts turn to Baku in the Republic of Azerbaijan for next year’s meeting.  Like our current host,  Azerbaijan also has an ancient, colorful cultural heritage. And a buoyant economy, fuelled by oil and other natural resources, which has helped lift incomes ten-fold from 2001 to 2012.

We got a short taste of what’s to come at Baku next year during a presentation by our upcoming host and its clear we are in for another stimulating and productive event.

Until then it’s do svidaniya (farewell) from Astana.