Wessel van Rensburg on 13 Sep 2000 17:04:54 -0000

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<nettime> World bank on poverty

Here is the link to the Word Bank's report on poverty released on Sept 12.


and a review of it


The World Bank's World Development Report 2000/2001 may advance the debate
on poverty reduction beyond vague declarations of good intentions. But it
is just as noteworthy - and controversial - for the way it was prepared,
after an extensive process of consultation with outside groups.

Poverty has been a favorite discussion topic at international
get-togethers lately. World leaders do not miss any opportunity to tell
the world that fighting poverty is their top priority. They have good
reasons to be concerned. About 1.2bn people live on less than $1 a day
today, and the average income of the 20 richest countries is now 37 times
higher than the average in the 20 poorest ones. Forty years ago, this gap
was only half as large.

The World Bank is no exception in the heart-warming choir of good
intentions. It has also made poverty reduction its prime objective, and
can no longer utter a sentence which does not include the word "poverty."
But contrary to other choir members, the World Bank actually goes into
specifics. The World Development Report (WDR), released on September 12,
spells out in detail the World Bank management's views on poverty and how
to fight it. It can be praised for adding some meat to the bones.

The main tenet remains the same: according to the World Bank, economic
growth is a key weapon in the fight against poverty. But it also
emphasizes that growth in itself is far from sufficient. The fight against
poverty, it says, requires a comprehensive approach, which goes beyond
economic intervention. And this comprehensive approach falls under three
main areas: opportunity, empowerment and security.

For those of us who do not speak fluent World Bank, this means that,
first, it is essential to create economic opportunities for the poor. This
involves the usual remedy of economic growth, but also improving access to
health care, education, land, credit and infrastructure, while making
markets work better for the poor. The second key element is to make sure
that the poor have a say in decisions that affect them, which means
fighting discrimination but also strengthening the participation of the
poor in the political process and in local decision-making. The third
aspect focuses on reducing poor people's vulnerability to ill health,
economic and financial shocks, natural disasters and violence. In
practice, this means preventing or managing shocks to lessen their impact,
while providing the poor with the means to cope with them whenever they

So according to the report, effective poverty reduction strategies require
the intervention of governments, but also civil society, the private
sector and poor people themselves. At the local and national levels, this
means more democratic consultation processes and more transparency. At the
global level, the fight against poverty requires better controls to avoid
global financial instability and making sure that advances in technology,
scientific and medical research, do not leave poor countries by the side
of the road. In addition, rich countries need to open their markets to
poorer countries, while both debt relief and aid must be stepped up.
Finally, the poor need better access to, and influence in, international

This might not be earth shattering, but for the Bank, which usually sings
pure market gospel, it is a shift worth noting. It is no doubt due to the
fact that, for the first time, the report's preparation has involved broad
consultation with NGOs, academics, local communities, and governments. And
this participatory approach is more of a radical change than the content
of the WDR itself. The report, prepared by the Chief Economist's staff, is
supposed to represent the views of World Bank staff and management. Yet,
according to James Wolfensohn, the World Bank's top man, the WDR is now
also "one of the Bank's critical instruments for dialogue with the
development community at large."

Consultation has not been taken lightly. On top of workshops organized
with governments and visits to local communities, an electronic
consultation process was set up, hosted on the World Bank website. The
consultation was facilitated by the Bretton Woods Project (BWP), a
London-based network of NGOs monitoring the World Bank and the IMF, and by
the New Policy Institute (NPI), another NGO also based in London. The
World Bank posted a first draft of the report on the internet for
discussion. And comments actually flowed in: the electronic forum involved
1,523 people from 80 countries. According to Catherine Howarth of the NPI,
the electronic consultation process was democratic and quite constructive.

But opening the Pandora's box of external consultation has created a de
facto contradiction. Is the WDR supposed to reflect the views of the
development community at large, or does it remain a World Bank staff
document? Tensions have emerged between, on the one hand, pure liberal
pro-market views, both within the Bank and in the Treasury departments of
its main shareholders, and, on the other, voices claiming that market
reforms and globalization have to be handled with care.

This contradiction was too much for Ravi Kanbur, the Cornell professor
appointed by the World Bank to lead the WDR team. He suddenly resigned in
June, as the final version of the report was being prepared. Kanbur's
resignation, presumably over what he considered unreasonable pressure to
tone down some of the report's sections on globalization, raised serious
questions about the World Bank's willingness to open up to the outside
world. At the same time, says Alex Wilks from the BWP, the publicity
surrounding Kanbur's departure - and the Bank's embarrassment - have
probably prevented the report from being fundamentally altered; the thrust
remains more or less the same, although some sections have been carefully

The Bank certainly won't please everyone with the results. As Wilks puts
it, "if the report is regarded as reflecting the Bank's management views,
this is a step forward; but if you look at it as an attempt to build a
consensus with the outside world, it clearly doesn't go far enough."

The World Bank is by no means the only global organization under fire for
its lack of transparency, and the fact that it is attempting to address
the issue represents at least a beginning. But the point of the exercise
is to tackle poverty. The most important issue is not how the words got
written, but how they get used.

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