Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Welcome Dr. Kim!

Although not directly relevant to sanitation, this is such a big deal that I can’t help but talk a bit about it.

This week, the World Bank selected the American nominee for its next president, Dr. Jim Yong Kim, the president of Dartmouth College. This is one of the first times around, though, that there was really a contest for the spot: in years past, the American nominee was a shoe-in. While I’m not really a fan of perpetuating American hegemony and domination in international discourses, I am excited about his appointment for a couple reasons.

The World Bank, historically, has done some pretty nasty things in the name of development. Structural Adjustment Programs (SAP) have thrown the economies of many a developing country into chaos in the name of poverty alleviation. However, these measures usually do very little to benefit the poor.

So what might Dr. Kim bring to the table?

He has worked for WHO and co-founded Partners in Health (one of my favorite medical NGOs); he was a professor of social medicine and medical anthropology for Harvard; and (my favorite), he has his PhD in anthropology. While former World Bank leaders have been more economic in background, Kim’s background in health and social justice may help steer the World Bank into making that its priority. His experience in anthropology and health care gives him a more holistic, long-term view of problems. His work shows a commitment to social justice and health, not the more profit-driven, economic, neoliberal agendas that have dominated World Bank projects.

As far as sanitation goes, I’d like to see more funding going towards the development of sanitation infrastructures in cities. Hopefully, Kim can steer the WB into building up health systems in order to improve economies. Sanitation is one of those areas. According to Rose George in The Big Necessity, for every dollar spent on sanitation an average of $7 is saved in health care costs and lost productivity. In India, the estimated cost of productivity lost per year due to fecal-borne diseases is approximately 600 million US dollars. The World Bank’s giant economic and infrastructure-funding machine seems the perfect means to help countries address the sanitation problems. Hopefully it pans out.

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