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War On Poverty

March 6, 2002—Rich countries must build on the global war on terrorism by launching a new war on global poverty, World Bank President James D. Wolfensohn said today in an address at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, DC.

In remarks this morning, Wolfensohn called on wealthy donor nations to double foreign aid over five years and tear down trade barriers that harm the world's poorest workers and rob them of markets for their products.

"The horrifying events of September 11th have made this a time of reflection on how to make the world a better and safer place, and we will not create that world with bombs or brigades alone," Wolfensohn said. "We will not win the peace until we have the foresight, the courage, and the political will to redefine the war. Today we fight a different kind of war in a different kind of world. A world where violence does not stop at borders; a world where communications sheds welcome light on global inequities:  Where what happens in one part of the world affects another. Inclusion, a sense of equity, empowerment, anti-corruptionthese must be our weapons of the future. Poverty is the war we must fight. I believe we have a greater chance today, than perhaps at any other time in the last 50 years, to win that war and forge that new partnership for peace.

"On September 11 the crisis of Afghanistan came to Wall Street, to the Pentagon, and to a field in Pennsylvania. And the imaginary wall that divided the rich world from the poor world came crashing down. Belief in that wall, and in those separate and separated worlds, has for too long allowed us to view as normal a world where less than 20 percent of the population--the rich countries in which we are todaydominates the world's wealth and resources and takes 80 percent of its dollar income. Belief in that wall has too long allowed us to view as normal a world where every minute a woman dies in childbirth. Belief in that wall has allowed us for too long to view the violence, disenfranchisement, and inequality in the world as the problem of poor, weak countries and not our own.  There is no wall. There are not two worlds. There is only one." 

Wolfensohn's speech comes just days before the United Nations Financing for Development Conference in Monterrey, Mexico on March 18-22. Wolfensohn says Monterrey offers a chance for the international community to live up to its commitment to the UN's Millennium Development Goals, which call for a halving of world poverty by 2015 and improvements in health and education.

In order to reach those Goals, developing countries must pursue sound policies but rich countries need to do more. The Bank estimates that it will take on the order of an additional $40 to $60 billion a year to reach the Goalsroughly a doubling of current aid flows. In his address, Wolfensohn said budgetary realities in rich nations may make it impossible to double aid overnight. He calls for a gradual phasing-in of more aidan additional $10 billion a year for the next 5 years, building up to $50 billion in year 5.

On trade, Wolfensohn called on rich nations to open their markets for imports from developing countries, and to cut agricultural subsidies. The European Union's lead on the Everything But Arms Agreement should be followed by others and the benefits extended to all low income countries now to end the trade barriers that harm the poorest nations and poorest workers. This action does not need to wait on WTO agreement.

"Yes there will be powerful political lobbies ranged against any such action," said Wolfensohn. "But it is the task of political leaders to remind electorates that lowering of trade barriers will not cost the rich countries anything in the aggregate; they gain from freer trade in these areas.  Second, rich nations must also take action to cut agricultural subsidies. Farm support goes mainly to a relatively small number of agribusinesses, many of them large corporations, and yet those subsidies are six times what the rich countries provide in foreign aid to a developing world that includes 5 billion people.

"Yes there are powerful political lobbies ranged against this action too. But the fundamental truth here is that agricultural subsidies constitute a heavy burden on the citizens of developed countries. With skillful political leadership they can be cut back. But we need that leadership. And reducing these subsidies would have the additional benefit of yielding significant budgetary savings for governments of rich countries."

Wolfensohn said development assistance represents the best investment in long-term peace and points to the success foreign aid has helped achieve in recent years. The number of poor people worldwide has fallen by 200 million since 1980, even as the world's population rose by 1.6 billion.

Life expectancy at birth in developing countries increased by 20 years during the past four decades. And in education, the adult illiteracy rate in the developing world fell during the past 30 years, from 47 percent to 25 percent.

The experiences of several countries reflect the gains made. In Vietnam, the number of people in poverty has halved over the last 15 years; in Uganda, the number of children in primary school has doubled; and in Bangladesh, dramatic strides have raised the enrollment of girls in high school to about par with boys. In Brazil, the number of AIDS-related deaths have been cut by more than a third; and in Ethiopia, six million people are now benefiting from better education and health services.

"To the doubters I would say:  Look at the facts," he said in his prepared remarks. "For the facts show that yes, we have made progress in the past, and we will make progress in the future. Together we must promote understanding that national policy can no longer exist in tidy boxes labeled foreign and domestic; home and awaysquirreling away 0.1 percent or 0.24 percent of GDP on aid. Together we must persuade finance ministers that when they discuss budgets, together with defense, together with domestic spending, must be international spending." 

Useful links: Click here to view the full text of today's remarks, here for more on the MDG costing paper. For more on the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars visit:


"The horrifying events of September 11th have made this a time of reflection on how to make the world a better and safer place, and we will not create that world with bombs or brigades alone," Wolfensohn said




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