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Poverty: The Other War

April 11, 2003—"The purpose of these meetings is to retain attention on the other war which is going on, the war against poverty," World Bank President James Wolfensohn told reporters Thursday gathering in Washington for the Spring Meetings of the IMF and World Bank.

The issues of poverty and development are "ever-present and fundamental, and can’t be put aside," while attention is focused on other events, he said. The agenda for this weekend’s Development Committee meetings is based on the Millennium Development Goals and the progress being made in their achievement.

Specifically, the Bank is reporting to the Development Committee on Education for All, health, HIV/AIDS, and water and sanitation. Ministers will also be looking at the question of voice and participation on the Bank’s governing Board of Executive Directors—an item which is for Bank shareholders to decide.

Poor countries have been hit hard by the global economic downturn and by issues of investment and risk and consumer confidence, said Wolfensohn. "We are concerned about the issue of economic development. We are concerned about the issue of trade. And it is our hope that at these meetings we can take the time to remind all of us that this issue is not one that can be deferred, that the issue is one of urgency."

In terms of reaching the Millennium Development Goals, the amount of assistance needed is an increase of $50 billion a year over current levels, according to World Bank estimates. But, said Wolfensohn, if the international community moved closer to the figure of 0.7 percent of GDP, which donors adopted in 1970 their annual ODA commitment, that volume of financing—$160 billion to $170 billion—would make a huge difference. He also noted that the current level of aid--$52 billion—should be compared with the $350 billion that industrialized countries spent on agricultural subsidies and the $1,000 billion they spend on defense.

Asked about Iraq reconstruction, Wolfensohn said the Bank stands ready to help, if authorized by a UN resolution. In recent years, the Bank has worked on post-conflict reconstruction in Congo, Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan, East Timor, and West Bank and Gaza, among others, even though it is today more of a development institution, than one primarily for reconstruction as in 1944.

"It is our judgment that one of the prime causes of conflict in the world is poverty. So for us, the issue is to try to focus on the issue of poverty and equity, and in that context, I believe we can make the biggest contribution to the avoidance of war."

Reporters also expressed concern about less assistance going now to Afghanistan. While it has become a less prominent issue, Wolfensohn said, the Bank remains very active in the country and the recent donor meeting was successful. "When the shooting stops, it is not the end of the war. You do need to win the peace." It is among the Bank’s tasks, he said, to ensure that Afghanistan not be forgotten as other issues take priority.

Useful links: Click here to view the Press Conference Transcript. For more information on the Spring Meetings, click here.


World Bank President James Wolfensohn during the press conference



The purpose of these meetings is to retain attention on the other war which is going on, the war against poverty," World Bank President James Wolfensohn told reporters




Reporters at the press conference


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