This year’s Annual Meeting of the Asian Development Bank (ADB) took place May 2-5 against the spectacular backdrop of Azerbaijan’s capital Baku—a stunning mix of the ancient, the strikingly modern and the attractively neoclassical on the shores of the Caspian Sea. About 3,000 delegates debated the current development issues facing the Asia and Pacific region, and the Asian Development Bank’s (ADB) role in addressing them.
The title this year— “Fostering Partnership for Development,” proved to be much more than a mere theme, since the Meeting resulted in a number of concrete steps toward greater international partnerships.
One of the most urgent issues addressed at the Meeting was assistance for Nepal, wracked by a devastating earthquake just a few days earlier. A last-minute decision by the Nepal delegation to attend in Baku proved fruitful, since ADB members were able to affirm support for the country at a quickly convened Partnership Forum for Nepal chaired jointly by ADB President Takehiko Nakao and Nepal Finance Minister Ram Sharan Mahat.
“The international community stands together with the people and the Government of Nepal at this challenging time,’’ Mr. Nakao told the meeting. Mr. Mahat explained his country’s most urgent needs such as tents, and surgical equipment for displaced and injured people. After rescue and relief are secured, Nepal would need substantial assistance for rehabilitation and reconstruction, he said.
“I want to convey to you a solemn pledge on behalf of the government and people of Nepal—we will rebuild our country,” Mr. Mahat said. “We will rebuild it better. We will come out of this crisis stronger. But to support our resolve we will need the goodwill of our development partners.”
In this regard, the Government of Nepal and delegates welcomed Japan’s proposal to organize with ADB and other development partners a conference to support reconstruction.
Another partnership for development was forged when Mr. Nakao met with Liqun Jin, Secretary General of the Multilateral Interim Secretariat of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) on the sidelines of the Annual Meeting.
Mr. Nakao and his staff and Mr. Jin and his team discussed for an hour future collaboration including cofinancing, and confirmed their commitment to working together for Asia, based on a shared understanding of safeguards.
The commitment was also mentioned in Mr. Nakao’s speech at the Opening Ceremony of the Annual Meeting at which he pledged ADB will become stronger, better and faster as it scales up its operations to eliminate poverty and promote sustainable development in Asia and the Pacific.
A groundbreaking initiative unanimously approved on the eve of the Meeting by the Board of Governors will see the merger of ADB’s Asian Development Fund lending operations (ADB’s concessional lending window) with its ordinary capital resources (which lends to middle-income countries at quasi market-rates) balance sheet, to increase ADB’s annual operations to as much as $20 billion, or 50% above the current level.
The expanded financial capacity will allow ADB to increase its support for sustainable development in the region. With the post-2015 development agenda’s Sustainable Development Goals and a global pact against climate change expected to be ratified this year, Mr. Nakao said ADB will scale up support for sustainable infrastructure, education and health, and climate change action.
“The stronger lending capacity offers an opportunity, but we must use it well,” Mr. Nakao said. “We are already actively working with our client countries to identify new projects and programs for our finance.”
The Annual Meeting saw a varied program, with seminars addressing livable cities, economics of gender, regional cooperation in Central Asia, and financial sector development, to name a few. This was complemented by a vibrant program of panels for civil society--including youth debate--media events, and sponsored debates.
The Governors’ Seminar saw a distinguished panel examine how countries are adapting their growth models to take advantage of new opportunities, to address emerging challenges and to realize the full potential of their economies.
“Despite the global financial crisis, developing Asia continues to be an important source of growth in the global economy,” Mr. Nakao said. “It’s important that countries prioritize reforms that will best position their economies for continuing expansion.”
Growth in Asia and the Pacific remains strong, the President reported. But as recently as 2011, 544 million people were still living under the traditional poverty threshold of $1.25 a day. Under a new poverty measure developed by ADB, the number of absolute poor rises to 1.4 billion, or about 40% of the region’s total population. “Such high poverty is unacceptable,” Mr. Nakao said. “Poverty must be defeated decisively, and soon.”
In his Closing Statement, Mr. Nakao reiterated that ADB will remain focused on poverty reduction and inclusive growth. “Continued economic growth supported by sound macroeconomic policies and structural reforms will be key to poverty reduction,” he told Governors. “At the same time, we need to squarely address the issues of quality of growth and inclusiveness.”
Given ADB’s expanded financing capacity and the changing development landscape in the region, Mr. Nakao ofered a glimpse into his long term plans:. “We will begin to prepare ADB’s long-term strategy beyond 2020 this year,” he said. “The strategy will respond to the Sustainable Development Goals to be approved by September 2015, the Financing for Development Conference in Addis Ababa, and the outcomes of the Conference of Parties on Climate Change in Paris later this year.
He closed by assuring Governors “I will continue to consult you closely on our transformations to meet the changing needs of the region.”
Doubtless, the progress made at Baku—and the work still to be done—will be topics for discussion in a year, when the Board of Governors next meets in Frankfurt in May 2016.