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[NAIROBI] Neighbouring countries need to step up their cooperation under regional programmes to drive development, according to an independent evaluation of World Bank-funded programmes.

Regional programmes — for controlling the spread of diseases or managing water supplies, for example — currently account for less than 3 per cent of international development support.

A report by the World Bank Independent Evaluation Group launched in Nairobi this week (28 March) identifies a lack of trust among participating governments and poor definition of roles for national and regional institutions as barriers to expansion of regional programmes.

The projects were also affected by poor planning, which failed to address sustainability. In some instances, there was a conflict between national and regional project objectives.

"Regional programmes are vital in building new knowledge, physical assets and increasing income to communities," Catherine Gwin, the report's lead author, told SciDev.Net.

Gwin urged development partners to be more proactive in helping governments to identify potential regional programmes, assemble financial packages and strengthen the capacities of regional and national implementers.

She said many regional programmes were focused on environmental conservation. However, considering recent trends, future projects could focus on transport, telecommunications and energy infrastructure development.

The report identified a number of success stories, including a project to halt the decline in biodiversity on Lake Victoria, with participation from Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania. The project has developed a draft policy to protect the lake and address receding water levels.

Another success story is the Eastern Caribbean Telecommunications Reform Project of 1998. This increased access to telecom services, reduced prices, increased employment and led to the creation of the Eastern Caribbean Telecommunications Authority, the world's first regional telecoms authority.

Olu Ajakaiye, executive director of the African Economic Research Consortium, urged the World Bank and the other development partners to scale up their contribution to regional programmes.

"The portfolio should move into regional hardware — roads, railways, electricity — which could result in major changes in people's livelihoods," Ajakaiye stressed.

Link to full World Bank report