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Sunday, 29 April, 2001, 22:17 GMT 23:17 UK
World Bank's plea for poorest
World Bank
The World Bank wants concerted action to fight poverty
By BBC News Online's David Schepp and Kevin Anderson in Washington

The World Bank is calling for urgent global action in order to reduce poverty and improve education in world's developing nations.

It said that while some countries had made progress in reducing poverty, others needed "concerted international co-operation" in order to improve living conditions - most notably in Africa.

World Bank economist Nicholas Stern
Nicholas Stern: Wants rich countries to give more
The loan-making institution made the statement during the five-day spring meeting of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank in Washington.

"If developing countries, donor countries and international organisations work together with urgency, hundreds of millions of people will then have the opportunity to escape severe deprivation," said Nicholas Stern, World Bank chief economist.

Uneven progress

Mr Stern warned, however, that progress was dramatically uneven and that remarkable progress was needed to keep hundreds of millions of people from staying destitute.

"If China and India continue with their economic reforms and achieve sustained high rates of economic growth, the international goal of reducing poverty can be attained," he said.

But he added that many countries would fall short of organisation's targets.

The World Bank's World Development Indicators report, released on Sunday, says that:

  • Of the world's six billion people, 1.2 billion live on less than $1 a day
  • About 10 million children under the age of five died in 1999, most from preventable diseases
  • More than 113 million children do not attend school - more of them girls than boys
  • About half a million women die each year during pregnancy and childbirth from complications that could easily be treated or prevented if they had access to appropriate care.

Speaking to reporters after release of the report, Mr Stern said reforms that would further help poor nations were already underway. "Changed poverty-reducing policies in developing countries are really bearing fruit," he said.

He said that better trade policies had emerged, and noted that the US had shown strong interest in trade integration with Latin America.

Police in Washington
Police were prepared for violence
But he added that rich countries had to go much further to assist developing nations with aid. The US, for example, contributes just 0.1% of its total gross national product (GNP) in aid to poor countries.

Mr Stern said that if developed countries achieved a benchmark of providing 0.7% of GNP in aid to other countries, an extra $100bn would be made available.

Source of controversy

The World Bank and IMF's poverty-reduction programs are one source of controversy among the institutions' critics. They claim World Bank and IMF policies do not reduce poverty, cause poor nations to become dependent on richer ones and degrade the environment.

A few hundred protestors gathered outside the World Bank building on Sunday to call for the complete cancellation of debt to the world's poorest countries.

They also called for the World Bank to issue grants, not loans, to poor countries.

The rally passed off peacefully - in sharp contrast to the protests last year in Washington during meetings by the World Bank and IMF, when thousands turned out and there were violent clashes with riot police.

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