A Battle Plan for the World Bank

Why Refugees Are at the Center of the Fight Against Poverty

Rohingya refugees at a camp in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, November 2018  Mohammad Ponir Hossain/REUTERS

The abrupt resignation of Jim Yong Kim as president of the World Bank on February 1—more than three years before the scheduled end of his term—sent ripples of concern through the global development community. With the multilateral system under sustained attack, the last thing it needs is instability at the top.

On February 6, U.S. President Donald Trump nominated David Malpass, a U.S. Treasury official, to succeed Kim at the bank’s helm. Other countries have until mid-March to put forward their own candidates, but the United States controls 16 percent of votes in the executive board, giving Malpass every chance of becoming the latest in a long line of American leaders at the bank.

The new president will face a big task. The institution’s core mission is to end extreme poverty and promote sustainable development. But the geography of poverty is changing, shifting more and more toward conflict-affected sites. Kim understood that fulfilling the bank’s mission meant tackling the consequences of war and forced displacement. It is essential that his successor continue on this path.


Extreme poverty and conflict go hand in hand. By 2030, some 85 percent of extremely poor people—those living on less than $1.90 a day—will live in fragile settings, affected or threatened by war and other shocks. The number of armed conflicts around the world is 65 percent higher today than it was a decade ago. Many of these conflicts are civil wars, which tend to last longer than interstate wars and are much more likely to recur after a peace agreement has been reached.

When host countries develop, refugees are often left behind.

As a result, displacement is lasting longer—at least ten years for the average refugee. During those years, many of the displaced are unable to work or go to school. The host countries are often overburdened: almost 90 percent of the world’s 24.5 million refugees live in low and middle-income countries, which already struggle to educate their populations and expand their economies.

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