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Saturday, 20 April, 2002, 21:49 GMT 22:49 UK
World Bank issues poverty warning
World Bank Chief Economist Nicholas Stern
Stern: "We must do better"
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David Schepp
BBC News Online's North America Business Reporter

The World Bank in a new study has warned many developing countries are at risk of not achieving poverty goals established by the United Nations (UN).

UN Millennium Development Goals
Halve poverty and hunger by 2015
Universal primary education
Promote gender equality
Reduce child mortality
Improve maternal health
Combat HIV/AIDS and other diseases
Ensure environmental sustainability
Develop a global partnership for development

In response, the World Bank urged both rich and poor nations to recommit themselves to halving the number of people living in poverty, defined as living on less than $1 a day.

"The study is not a final verdict on how countries will perform," said Shanta Devarajan, a World Bank economist. "But it is a warning that many are not on track to reach many of the goals."

Mr Devarajan and other World Bank officials spoke at the spring meetings of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank currently underway in Washington.

Aside from reducing the numbers of poor, the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDG) seek to reduce the child mortality rate, child-birth related deaths among women and the spread of HIV/Aids, among other things.

More trade

In releasing the latest study, the World Bank said while there had been progress in reducing poverty it had been uneven, leaving too many regions and countries behind.

One example is sub-Saharan Africa, where life expectancy has fallen to 47 years from 50 since 1990 due in large part to HIV/Aids, which has boosted the infant-mortality rate.

Four African nations still have life expectancies of only about 30 years.

Still, the World Bank said progress could be made through better governmental policies within countries and greater liberalisation of trade between nations.

Word Bank President James Wolfensohn
Wolfensohn has called for a crackdown on poverty
"The past decade has been a good one for opening up markets to goods from poor countries and a bad one for increasing foreign-aid flows," said Nicholas Stern, World Bank chief economist.

Impeding development

Despite the ominous predictions, World Bank officials speaking to the press on Saturday expressed optimism that much can be done to alleviate poverty.

"Monterrey showed that we have begun to turn the corner on aid," Mr Stern said, referring to last month's UN conference in Mexico.

At the summit, world leaders called for increased development as a way to reduce poverty. It has been the theme IMF and World Bank officials have been promoting in recent weeks and months.

IMF Managing Director Horst Koehler has called "unconscionable" the subsidies rich nations, such as the US, Japan and those of Europe, give to their farmers and manufacturers.

Other officials, including finance ministers from several African nations speaking on Saturday, said tariffs imposed by developed nations on commodities and goods from poor ones impede development.

Assessing the world

In its report, World Development Indicators 2002, the World Bank noted nations of the Pacific Rim are likely to reach the UN's Millennium Goals.

It warned, however, that countries in the Middle East and North Africa have not been successful in achieving sustained growth in the past decade.

Improvement in health care also remains an issue.

In South Asia, which includes populous India, the World Bank noted that while much progress had been made, malnutrition still remains a serious problem.

Nearly half of all children under the age of five in the region are undernourished, the report said.

Problems also exist in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, where infant deaths and poverty are on the rise and school completion rates have fallen.

See also:

19 Apr 02 | Business
World Bank calls for more trade
05 Apr 02 | Business
IMF 'to ignore' Argentina cash plea
06 Mar 02 | Business
World Bank's war on poverty
05 Feb 02 | Business
Annan plea to help world's poor
20 Feb 02 | Business
World Bank calls for doubling aid
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