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Tuesday, 14 March, 2000, 17:08 GMT
World Bank: Listen to poor
Poverty is growing in the developing world
Poverty is growing in the developing world
The World Bank has called on aid organisations to cut out the middlemen and give aid directly to the poor.

The institution has called for a partnership to fight world poverty which involves community groups and local people as well as governments and international institutions.

In a new report, "Voices of the Poor," the Bank endorses a new model of "community-driven development" which comes from below, not above - and can be an antidote to the corruption and injustice that often block social progress.

What poor people share with us is sobering... we are prepared to hold ourselves accountable to make an effort to respond to these voices

James Wolfensohn President, World Bank
The World Bank says it has spent 10 years in intensive consultations with 60,000 poor people from five continents, and now wants to adjust its development plans to listen to their voices.

"The core message from the poor is a plea for direct assistance to them... so they can negotiate directly with governments, voluntary organisations, and traders without exploitative middlemen. They want governments and voluntary organisations to be accountable to them," said Deepa Narayan, author of the report.

James Wolfensohn: listening to the poor
James Wolfensohn: Listening to the poor
In the forward to the report, World Bank President James Wolfensohn and UK International Development Secretary Clare Short say:

"Our core mission is to help poor people succeed in their own efforts, and (the report) raises major challenges to both our institutions and all those concerned about poverty."

New approach

The report, and the related global consultation via the internet about the World Bank's annual World Development Report - which will be published in April - is the culmination of a major switch in strategy engineered by Mr Wolfensohn.

Children are the main victims of poverty
Children are the main victims of poverty
He is determined to bypass governments if necessary in order to ensure that services are directly delivered to the world's poor - better health, access to primary education, and micro-credit schemes to encourage small businesses.

Mr Wolfensohn is far more willing than his predecessors to work with non-governmental organisations (NGOs) like Oxfam, and is funding projects from community education in El Salvador to anti-AIDs campaigns in China through the voluntary sector.

His central idea is the creation for each country of a comprehensive development framework, which involves the private sector, NGOs, the government, and other international institutions.

The plan was born out of the frustration when the World Bank and IMF rushed to spend billions to rescue many Asian countries whose economies had gone into freefall in 1998 and l999.

Many of the countries lacked the legal, financial, or political framework to deal with the crisis.

The poor under pressure

The urgency of the World Bank's task is also underlined by the report, which outlines how the plight of the world's poor has worsened over the last decade.

The Bank estimates that one billion people live on an income of less than one dollar a day, and that number could double in the next 10 years.

It identifies five key elements in the way the poor see their own poverty:

  • Multiple deprivation

    For many poor people, lack of income is only one factor in being poor. Lack of power, lack of information and education, lack of access to basic services like transportation and clean water, and ill-health are just as important.

  • Government failure

    The poor do not believe the government is generally on their side, and believe that their access to services like education and health care is blocked by corrupt and rude officials.

  • Household strain

    The pressure of poverty has put a great strain on family life, with many unemployed husbands turning to drink or violence. But women's traditional roles have generally remained in the home.

  • Social fabric crumbling

    The social bonds of reciprocity and trust are crumbling under the strain of poverty. The breakdown in the social order is leading to increased lawlessness, crime, and violence.

    Commenting on the findings, Mr Wolfensohn said:

    "What poor people share with us is sobering... we are prepared to hold ourselves accountable to make an effort to respond to these voices."
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See also:

14 Feb 00 | Business
Internet boost for Third World
02 Feb 00 | Business
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23 Apr 99 | The Economy
World Bank: 'Help the poor'
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The IMF and World Bank
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