Social services


The World Bank and disability

23 November 2006 | Inside the institutions

There are 400 million physically and mentally disabled people living in developing countries, and it is estimated that more than 10 per cent of poor people are disabled. James Wolfensohn, while president of the World Bank, said, “The World Bank considers it crucial that countries adopt development policies that include the concerns and needs of disabled people so that they can contribute to the societies in which they live.”

The Bank’s formal commitment to disability work began in June 2002 with the founding of the disability and development team within the social protection unit of the human development vice-presidency. The team’s primary focus is on cooperating at the international level on including the disabled in development, but it also assists those who ensure that the Bank’s internal working practices do not prevent disabled staff members from effective participation in the Bank.

Currently the disability and development team has five full-time and three part-time staff. Inclusion of the disabled is generally not advanced through dedicated lending projects, but integrated as aspects of other projects, for example ensuring a transit project is accessible to disabled persons.

The Bank cites its mainstreaming approach as the reason why it has no figures on the volume of Bank resources dedicated to working with the disabled. However it does estimate that in the last four years four per cent of all Bank projects, representing five per cent of lending volume, have integrated disability as a component of their work. In that time, the disability team has worked with approximately 80 staff in regional, country and sectoral offices. For example, the team worked on a flagship project on the inclusion of disability in development work in India and a system developed in the Latin America and Caribbean region to look for opportunities to enhance the inclusion of disability in upcoming projects.

In 2002 and 2004 the World Bank organised conferences on disability and development to mark the UN international day of disabled people. Much of the Bank’s early work in this field involved improving the data available about disability. Nobel-prize winning economist Ama rtya Sen’s speech at the 2004 conference highlighted the efforts that needed to be made to adapt poverty lines to consider the higher incomes needed to achieve the same quality of life by the disabled.

The Bank also set up the Global Partnership for Disability and Development (GPDD) in 2004, an international consortium of development agencies, NGOs and governments, and other interested parties. The partnership “accelerate[s] inclusion of people with disabilities and their families into development policies and practices”. The GPDD does not engage in field work but seeks to “increase collaboration among development agencies and organisations to reduce the extreme poverty and exclusion” of the disabled. It essentially serves as a clearinghouse for information on disability and its secretariat will be established at the Bank before the end of 2006. The GPDD coordinating task force includes eight representatives from civil society, three Bank staff, two government representatives (from India and Uganda) and one official from the United Nations. The NGOs on the task force include World Vision UK, the African Deaf Union and Handicap International.

The World Bank also administers a multi-donor trust fund, established in December 2005, related to disability but its work plan is under construction and it has not yet funded any projects. The trust fund’s main role is to fund the activities of the GPDD. Finland, Italy and Norway sit on the donor committee of the fund, which is expected to disburse $700,000 a year for five years.

The Bank also participates in inter-agency cooperation to ensure that the UN Convention on the Rights of Disabled Persons is implemented. Despite this rights-based approach, the Bank’s region and country offices have free reign to develop their own work programmes on disability: “Each region of the Bank has its own approach to disability, mostly depending on the priorities established by each country. The approach depends on cultural, economic and social environments and by the financial situation in the country.”

The disability and development team developed a toolkit covering knowledge on thematic areas related to disability – for example data collection, disability in the project cycle and disability law. The toolkit served as the guideline for training courses with Bank team leaders in Africa and East Asia to teach them how to include disability in development programmes. The team intends to continue improving the toolkit by updating the existing information and adding additional sectors.

The team also engages with country staff and gives advice in the Poverty Reduction and Strategy Paper (PRSP) formation process, most notably in Tanzania, as well as works on the links between disability and other issues that have captured the Bank’s attention in recent years such as water, sanitation, communication and youth. Bank engagement with disabled people’s organisations and civil society at large is done both by the disability team and at country level.