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Refugee Crisis Is The Largest Since WWII, World Bank President Says


The speed and spread of media has meant we hear about disasters and far-off conflicts far more often these days. By one recent count, about 60 million people around the globe have been forced from their homes because of war or natural disaster. They're all refugees in their own land or abroad. Relief groups are stretched thin. Jennifer Poidatz is with humanitarian response for Catholic Relief Services.

JENNIFER POIDATZ: The big change that I think that we're seeing today, of course, is just the scale and the number of emergencies. And plus, the number that are just lasting for years.

MONTAGNE: Poidatz is among thousands of aid workers gathering in Istanbul today for the first World Humanitarian Summit. The meeting is led by the United Nations, which is calling for better coordination among aid groups, more flexibility and financing, and it aims to launch new initiatives there. But most world leaders have chosen to stay away. And one prominent humanitarian group that pulled out of the summit in protest has called it a, quote, "fig leaf of good intentions." Jason Cone is executive director of Doctors Without Borders.

JASON CONE: When someone is fleeing a conflict today, they're going to face weeks, if not months, before the international aid system reaches them. And I'm just talking about providing things like water, basic food, a tent to live under, you know, medical care.

MONTAGNE: Let's turn now to someone who is at the summit and has a powerful voice in how billions of dollars are spent on poverty relief and economic development. Jim Yong Kim is president of the World Bank. We spoke to him from the summit in Istanbul. Good morning.

JIM KIM: Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: What do you think you can accomplish in this gathering?

KIM: You know, the statements that have been made about the deficiencies in the system are true. There's no question that some refugees are having to wait a long time to get services. There's no question that the scale of the emergency now is larger than it has ever been after World War II.

The reason we're here is because so many of these problems have now led to the realization that you cannot separate humanitarian response from fundamental approaches to development that we've been leading for 70 years. And so we're here as a new group that's trying to address this huge problem of 60 million displaced people in different ways.

MONTAGNE: Break down for us an example, if you would, of what you see the World Bank could do or what should be done in terms of what development.

KIM: Let me give you one example. In Jordan, you know, they've not only absorbed a huge number of refugees that are anywhere from 25 to 35 percent of the population now, but they've also gotten in debt. So they went from 50 percent of debt to GDP ratio to now over 90 percent. So they're not only doing the world a great service, but they're becoming indebted to do it. And so the question for us was - what can we do that would be completely different that might provide hope for both the Syrian refugees and Jordanians?

And so we're now putting together a project with the United Kingdom where we will blend a grant that they'll provide with some loan money that - we can provide it to the Jordanians at extremely low rates. I know, 15 or 20-year payback and zero percent interest. And we're going to use that money to try to bring in other capital, for example, from the private sector and create special economic zones that would create jobs both for Syrian refugees and for Jordanians. And this is the kind of out-of-the-box thinking we need.

MONTAGNE: And of course, the biggest challenge for the World Bank today in addressing these crises is not in the traditional category of economic development.

KIM: Well, you know, economic development, we think, is at the core of some of these issues because if you look, for example, at the reasons for migration, some of them are the result of conflict and war. But many other refugees are economic migrants. You know, my family were economic refugees from Korea in 1964. So this is a phenomenon that will continue to happen and that's been happening for a long time.

But what we need to do is in looking at the countries that are sending the most migrants out into the world, we need to be even more serious about economic development in those areas - creating hope for young people, making sure that educational systems and health systems are in place. And I think this summit is doing a good job in bringing these conversations together.

MONTAGNE: Thank you very much.

KIM: Thank you, Renee.

MONTAGNE: Jim Yong Kim is the president of the World Bank Group, speaking to us from the World Economic Summit in Istanbul, Turkey. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.