The three kimono-clad ladies were very patient. They were sitting in a tatami-floor booth at the ADB Annual Meeting venue here in Frankfurt showing the 3,000 plus participants a small cultural taste of what they can expect if and when they go to the ADB’s next Annual Meeting in Yokohama, Japan. And they were trying to teach visitors how to write their names and phrases with a brush pen in Japanese calligraphy.
Most of us struggled to draw the characters and had no idea what the flowing script we had written really meant until they explained the different component parts of the pictograms and how, fitted together, they gave characters a full meaning.
Trying to piece together the component parts of each character, I couldn’t help but think about how they mirrored the complexity of the poverty problem that ADB is trying to solve in Asia and the Pacific. Tackling poverty means considering—among many other things—food security, climate change, gender inequality, education, clean energy, water and sanitation. The list is long as testified by the 17 Sustainable Development Goals approved by the United Nations late last year along with the 169 targets that they seek to meet by 2030.
But in some ways they boil down to the themes of both this year’s ADB Annual Meeting in Frankfurt—Cooperating for Sustainability—and the meeting that will be held in Yokohama next year – Building Together the Prosperity of Asia. To prosper in the long term, Asia and the Pacific need to be sustainable. And moreover, as former German President Horst Köhler said so eloquently at Wednesday’s opening session, we need to do this together – developed and developing economies alike.
Just as Germany is a big donor to ADB, Japan has also been a strong supporter of development in a region where 450 million people still live below the poverty line and many millions more live with the threat of falling back into poverty if something over which they have no control—a cyclone, unanticipated death in the family, debilitating sickness—suddenly befalls them.
Through the Japan Fund for Poverty Reduction, for example, Japan provides grants and technical assistance for ADB projects. As of the end of last year, they had totaled $742 million for agricultural, transport, public sector management and other poverty reducing and social development activities.
But as this year’s replenishment of the ADB’s Asian Development Fund—a fund that provides concessional loans or grants to the poorest of the poor countries in the region—shows, emerging economies increasingly see the need to support each other. Contributions by Asian emerging economies to the 12th replenishment of the fund for 2017-2020 increased to 11.7% of the total $3.8 billion pledged from 6.9% for the previous replenishment covering 2013-2016. And cofinancing from bilateral, multilateral, and private sector for ADB projects hit a record $10.74 billion last year too.
The same spirit of cooperation will continue at the 2017 ADB Annual Meeting in Yokohama. Once a tiny fishing village but now a bustling port and Japan’s most populous city, Yokohama is no stranger to urban expansion, the challenges of globalization, and even natural disasters. In 1923, the great Kanto earthquake caused destruction of the like that is still too frequently experienced in other parts of Asia.
Just as Yokohama has coped with change in centuries past, ADB—marking its 50th year following its establishment in December 1966—continues to help the rest of developing Asia cope with demographic, climatic, social, and environmental shifts. And as the Japanese calligraphers showed me, perseverance, a little learning and help from others make finding the solution easier.