Thu, 27 May 2004

WB: Wealthy nations must up measures to help poor nations

Stevie Emilia, Shanghai

Wealthy nations must do more to help the poor by reducing debt and ending trade protectionism, leaders of developing countries said here on Wednesday.

Addressing a World Bank conference on poverty, the host, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, cited the "unfair and irrational international, political and economic order" for helping create widespread poverty. Fulfilling targets of poverty reduction in developing countries "remains an uphill battle," he said.

Given developing countries' disadvantageous position in globalization, he said, developed countries should "provide more Overseas Development Assistance, further relieve their debt, accelerate technology transfer ... and roll back trade protectionism."

Although the number of people living in extreme poverty, or those living on less than US$1 a day, has halved over the last 30 years, trends show that most targets, including those of education and health, will not be met by most developing nations.

Opening the two-day talks, World Bank President James D. Wolfensohn said the poor must be engaged in finding their own solutions. "They know poverty more than we do, they know more (about) what they need than we do."

At the Millennium Summit in 2000 in New York, heads of states had agreed on Millennium Development Goals, including to cut the proportion of the world's population living in extreme poverty by half by 2015. Some 2.8 billion people, more than half the population of developing countries, live on less than $2 a day. Of that figure, 1.2 billion earn less than $1 a day.

Wolfensohn said that identifying which programs worked, and why, would enable poor people to be a central force of change, rather than objects of charity. In the talks, delegates will review 100 case studies on assisting the poor from 11 countries.

Meanwhile, Brazil's President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva said that despite the recent focus on security, hunger was "the greatest weapon of mass destruction."

In a swipe at the agricultural policies of the European Union and the United States, Lula said "We cannot allow cows in some developed countries to receive $2 in subsidies every day while half the people of the world must survive on even less than that."

In Indonesia, more than 30 million people, or some 14 percent of the population, are still living under the poverty line.

Economist Mari Pangestu, who is attending the talks, said "scaling up" poverty reduction would only make sense if a number of factors, such as the capacity of institutions -- of either non-governmental organizations or local governments -- which would be in charge of such programs, were taken into account.

While attention should be given to poverty and hunger, especially in rural areas, she said, "you need to do it at the same time as achieving growth and responsible economic policies.

"What the poor need are opportunities so they can work, earn money, and then send their children to school, so an economic policy is not only for growth, but also to deal with poverty," she said.