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Liberia: Challenges to Expand Fiscal Space Remain

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photo: © UNHCR/Roland Tuley

The World Bank has today launched the Second Edition of the annual Liberia Economic Update, “Finding Fiscal Space”.  According to the report, economic growth is expected to recover to 3.6 percent in 2021, before rising gradually to an average of 5.2 percent over 2022–2025. In the near term, growth will be driven by the expected recovery in the mining sector underpinned by the recent uptick in commodity prices.

Having reached a peak of 31.3% in 2019, inflation declined significantly in 2020 and 2021, and is now down to single digit, largely because of strong macroeconomic policies. The drop in world oil prices in 2020 allowed some easing in Liberian fuel prices, a frequent driver of inflationary pressures, although their decline was moderated by the introduction of an excise tax early in the year. But it was macroeconomic policy that was at the center of the action, with tighter monetary and fiscal policies, and the ensuing lower aggregate demand pressures, helping to ease the self-reinforcing cycle of depreciation-inflation observed in late 2018 through 2019.

The Government must be commended for making tough policy choices that have resulted in this positive turnaround in macroeconomic fundamentals, especially under a challenging COVID-19 environment,” said Dr. Khwima Nthara, World Bank Country Manager for Liberia. “The focus now should be on complementing the improved macroeconomic environment with critical structural and governance reforms that will help boost domestic and foreign private investment to create more jobs,” he added.  

After successfully stabilizing the macroeconomy, the government needs to create enough fiscal space to finance the country’s massive investment needs in physical infrastructure (power/energy, roads, rails, ports, and airports). In addition, Liberia needs to invest in its people and institutions, and create an educated, skilled, and healthy labor force, in both the public or private sectors, and protect its economy and vulnerable population against repeated exogenous shocks, the Liberia Economic Update emphasized.

According to this new economic report, the government also needs first and foremost to reduce the very high level of recurrent spending and strengthen domestic revenue mobilization to generate savings for public investment financing. Between 2012 and 2020, government operating expenses exceeded the domestic revenue it collected by 4 percent of GDP. This means that the external resources mobilized in the period financed a significant part of the government’s operating expenditure instead of financing public investment in infrastructure.

The recent efforts to reduce duty waivers and the successful implementation of the pay and payroll reform are steps in the right direction and need to be complemented by actions to improve the efficiency in the consumption of goods and services by the Government” said Mamadou Ndione, Senior Country Economist and main author of the report.  

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More than 59 million internally displaced in 2021

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A displaced family in Marib, Yemen, carries a winter aid package back to their shelter. Photo:IOM

A record 59.1 million people were displaced within their homelands last year, or four million more than in 2020, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said on Thursday, citing the latest Global Report on Internal Displacement (GRID). 

IOM has welcomed the report, produced by its partner the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC), calling it a valuable tool for the organization, humanitarians, and governments, in supporting communities affected by disasters and other crises. 

“Understanding, managing, and adapting to human mobility trends is crucial to ensure humanitarian assistance and essential services are reaching people where they are most needed,” the UN agency said

Running from disasters 

For the past 15 years, most internal displacement was triggered by disasters, with annual numbers slightly higher than those related to conflict and violence. 

Last year was no exception, according to the report.  Weather-related events such as floods, storms and cyclones resulted in some 23.7 million internal displacements in 2021, mainly in the Asia-Pacific region. 

IOM warned that with the expected impacts of climate change, and without ambitious climate action, numbers are likely to increase in the coming years. 

Conflict and violence 

Meanwhile, conflict and violence triggered 14.4 million internal displacements in 2021, a nearly 50 per cent increase over the previous year. 

The majority took place in Africa, particularly Ethiopia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, while Afghanistan and Myanmar saw unprecedented numbers of displacement. 

Young lives affected 

The report also includes a special focus on children and youth, who account for more than 40 per cent of the total number of those internally displaced last year.  

It looks at the impacts of displacement on their well-being now and in the future, and fills data and knowledge gaps that are critical to finding durable solutions. 

IOM added that gaps remain in understanding and addressing internal displacement in conflict. 

Driven by data 

The agency has partnered with the IDMC – which is part of the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) – to provide reliable and accurate data through its Displacement Tracking Matrix (DTM), the world’s largest source of primary data on internal displacement. 

The two organizations signed an agreement four years ago to join forces on improving data and to accelerate policymaking and action. 

IOM has also co-chaired the International Data Alliance for Children on the Move (IDAC) since 2020. 

The coalition brings together governments, international and regional organizations, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), think tanks, academics, and civil society, to improve statistics and data on migrant and forcibly displaced children. 

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Food insecurity threatens societies: No country is immune

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photo: WFP/Oluwaseun Oluwamuyiwa

“When war is waged, people go hungry,” Secretary-General António Guterres told the Security Council on Thursday during a debate on conflict and food security chaired by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

Some 60 per cent of the world’s undernourished people live in areas affected by conflict he said, adding that “no country is immune”.

Conflict means hunger

Last year, most of the 140 million people suffering acute hunger around the world lived in just ten countries: Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Ethiopia, Haiti, Nigeria, Pakistan, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria and Yemen – eight of which are on the Council’s agenda.

“Let there be no doubt: when this Council debates conflict, you debate hunger. When you make decisions about peacekeeping and political missions, you make decisions about hunger. And when you fail to reach consensus, hungry people pay a high price,” Mr. Guterres spelled out.

Though pleased to announce that the Central Emergency Response Fund is releasing $30 million to meet food security needs in Niger, Mali, Chad and Burkina Faso, he said sadly: “But it is a drop in the ocean”. 

Emergency levels of hunger

The UN chief expressed concern over food insecurity in the Horn of Africa, which is suffering its longest drought in four decades, impacting more than 18 million people, while continuous conflict and insecurity plague the people of Ethiopia and Somalia.

Globally, 44 million people in 38 countries are at emergency levels of hunger, known as IPC 4 – just one step away from famine.

More than half a million people in Ethiopia, South Sudan, Yemen and Madagascar are already in IPC level 5: catastrophic or famine conditions.

‘Frightening new dimension’

The war in Ukraine is now adding a frightening new dimension to this picture of global hunger,” said the UN chief.

Russia’s invasion has meant a huge drop in food exports and triggered price increases of up to 30 per cent for staple foods, threatening people in countries across Africa and the Middle East.

Leaders of Senegal, Niger and Nigeria confirmed to Mr. Guterres that they were on the brink of devastation.

While UN humanitarian operations are gearing up to help, they too are suffering the impact of rising food prices, including in East Africa where the cost of food assistance has increased 65 per cent on average, in the past year.

Breaking ‘deadly dynamic’

The top UN official outlined four actions countries can take to break “the deadly dynamic of conflict and hunger,” beginning with investing in political solutions to end conflicts, prevent new ones and build sustainable peace.

Most important of all, we need to end the war in Ukraine,” he said, calling on the Council to do everything in its power “to silence the guns and promote peace, in Ukraine and everywhere”.

Secondly, he underscored the importance of protecting humanitarian access and essential goods and supplies for civilians, drawing attention to the members’ “critical role in demanding adherence to international humanitarian law, and pursuing accountability when it is breached”.

Third, he said there needed to be “far greater coordination and leadership” to mitigate the interconnected risks of food insecurity, energy and financing, while reminding that “any meaningful solution to global food insecurity requires reintegrating Ukraine’s agricultural production and the food and fertilizer production of Russia and Belarus into world markets – despite the war”.

Finally, it is “more necessary than ever” for donors must fully fund humanitarian appeals with official development assistance.

“Diverting it to other priorities is not an option while the world is on the brink of mass hunger…Feeding the hungry is an investment in global peace and security,” said the Secretary-General.

In a world of plenty, no one should accept “a single child, woman or man” dying from hunger, including “the members of this Council”, he concluded.

‘Declaration of war’ on food security

The head of the World Food Programme (WFP), David Beasley, spoke extensively of “the perfect storm” driving hunger, namely conflict, climate change and the COVID pandemic.

He said the failure by Russia to open the ports in southern Ukraine to grain and other agricultural exports, would be “a declaration of war on global food security, and it will result in famine and destabilization, and mass migration around the world.”

He cited destabilizing dynamics in Mali, Chad, Malawi, and Burkina Faso; riots and protests in Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Pakistan and Peru; conflicts in Ethiopia and Afghanistan; drought and famine in Africa, and a “ring of fire around the world” as an escalating number of people continue “marching to starvation”.

Food security is critical to peace and stability” globally, he underscored.

The WFP chief said 276 million people are struggling to find food, and 49 million in 43 countries are “knocking on famine’s door,” which results not only in death but “unmatched migration,” which destabilizes societies.

And while the “perfect storm” has resulted in a rise in food prices in 2022, he said that food availability would be the big concern in 2023.

Mr. Beasley stressed the importance of increasing production, opening Ukraine’s ports and emptying its silos to stabilize markets and address the global food crisis.

“Act with urgency today,” he told the Council.

Reversing prosperity

The Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO) Director-General, Qu Dongyu, discussed the importance of people, peace, prosperity and the planet.

Worldwide, prosperity is being reversed,” he said. “There is less food security, health security and income” while inequality becomes greater.

He pointed to a “spike in acute hunger globally,” with 2022 threatening even further deterioration.

While FAO has strengthened agri-food systems to save lives and protect livelihoods for the most vulnerable, “more needs to be done together,” according to its top official, who called conflict “the single greatest driver of hunger”.

Protect thy neighbour

Meanwhile, the Ukraine war is impacting the world with “historically high” food and energy prices, according to Mr. Qu – “putting the global harvest at risk”.

He reminded that we “are neighbours on this small planet village. What happens to one affects us all” and flagged the need to prevent accelerated acute food insecurity in the coming months and years.

We must protect people, agriculture food system and economics against future shock…increase sustainable productivity, [and] strengthen the capacity to deliver relevant services,” said Mr. Qu.

‘Play our part’

Nobody needs to go hungry “if we all play our part”, he added, describing investing in agri-food systems as “more relevant than ever”.

Ending his remarks with a poem in Chinese, the FAO chief said:

“The mountain is high. People depend on food to survive. We need to stay united, working cohesively to serve millions of people around the world”.

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First international day spotlighting women working in the maritime industry

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A trainee chief mate pilots a ship in China. © IMO

The first ever International Day for Women in Maritime kicked off its inaugural celebration on Wednesday with a seminar to “take stock and identify areas where improvement is needed”, the top UN official representing seafarers said.

“Women account for just 20 per cent of the workforce in the maritime authorities of Member States and 29 percent…across subsectors in the maritime industry,” International Maritime Organization (IMO) chief Kitack Lim told the virtual Symposium on Training-Visibility-Recognition: Supporting a barrier-free working environment for Women in Maritime.

Noting that these numbers are “significantly higher than those at sea, where women make up as little as two per cent of the workforce,” he added, “we can and must do better”.

Gender inclusivity commitment

The day intends to celebrate and promote the recruitment, retention and sustained employment of women in the maritime sector.

By raising the profile of women in maritime, IMO is strengthening its commitment to the fifth Sustainable Development Goal 5 (SDG5) of gender equality while addressing gender imbalances in maritime. 

IMO is committed to gender inclusivity,” underscored Mr. Lim.

Ample evidence supports that investing in women is the most effective way to lift up communities, companies, and even countries. Countries with more gender equality, enjoy better economic growth.

Progress for all

For over three decades IMO has been working to address the gender imbalance in its maritime programme.

“We have committed to this important cause – and we are seeing these efforts bear fruit,” said Mr. Lim.

As enshrined in the Sustainable Development Goals, or SDGs, women in the maritime workforce is a benefit for everyone.

The IMO chief outlined the need for “creative thinking to navigate maritime towards a more sustainable, more diverse, and more inclusive green future,” which requires “the brightest minds to address the challenges” thrown up by decarbonization and digitalization.

“People must be empowered to participate in discussions about maritime’s future, irrespective of gender,” he said, calling collaboration “the best pathway to find optimal solutions”.

“I am pleased that there are more women in our sector than in the past – as well an increasing number of diversity champions and allies”.

Targeting equality

Across the world, IMO has helped to establish eight thriving Women in Maritime Associations (WIMAs): three in Africa and one each representing Arab States, Asia, the Caribbean, Latin America and the Pacific.

There women can gain technical expertise via IMO-funded opportunities at the IMO International Maritime Law Institute, Women in Port Management course and most recently the Maritime SheEO leadership accelerator programme, which was launched in March.

“We must build on this progress,” said Mr. Lim.

Revealing data

Despite the challenges of the COVID pandemic, IMO was able to conduct a global survey that lays bare the sector’s gender gap.

The 2021 IMO-Women’s International Shipping and Trading Association (WISTA) Women in Maritime Survey Report details the proportion and distribution of women working in the maritime sector from IMO Member States and the maritime industry.

Launching the publication, he said gender diversity in maritime was “extremely fragmented by sector”.

“Benchmarking the current state of the sector is vital to measure where we are, and where we need to go,” added the IMO chief.

“By actively empowering women with the requisite skills, maintaining a barrier free working environment, we create truly sustainable systems of gender equality.” 

Respect for migrants at sea

Meanwhile, the Inter-Agency Group on Protection of Refugees and Migrants have called upon States to investigate and prosecute abuses committed against migrants who are being smuggled on board vessels at sea, including in transit and destination countries.

In a joint statement, UNHCR, IOM, OHCHR, UNODC, UNICEF and the UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Migrants, recalled that people take to the seas across the world’s regions in search of dignity, safety and refuge.

The drivers are complex and without safe and legal alternatives, people are increasingly compelled to turn to smugglers and traffickers for irregular migration across the seas, who frequently have little regard for human life.

Against this backdrop, the group called upon all States to create the conditions that respect the human rights of people rescued at sea on their territories.

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