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Losing the fight against poverty

John Dimsdale Dec 7, 2006

KAI RYSSDAL: The World Bank spends billions of dollars to fight poverty in developing countries. But so far it hasn’t done as much as it could. It’s not us saying that. It’s a study today from the Bank’s internal watchdog. Our Washington bureau chief John Dimsdale has more on that story.

JOHN DIMSDALE: The World Bank’s Independent Evaluation Group looked at the economic performance of 25 poor countries over the last decade and found that while 11 had gotten better, 14 stayed the same or lost ground to poverty.

VICTORIA ELLIOTT: I think the bank would want to hope for a better result than that.

Victoria Elliott, who supervised today’s report, says the World Bank should focus more of its efforts on job creation and income distribution instead of macro-economic growth.

ELLIOTT: There’s still more than a billion people living on less than a dollar a day. That’s extreme poverty in the developing world.

The World Bank’s management calls the report overly bleak. Spokesman Cosma Gatere says the Bank is already aware of the lack of income equality and has been targeting loans to rural areas, as well as to women, young people and the disabled.

COSMA GATERE: There will be increasing attention to some of these areas. There are already programs underway to address them. These are programs already producing results.

For years, the World Bank’s many critics have questioned its poverty-fighting strategy of imposing macro-economic conditions on its loans. Mark Weisbrot is director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research.

MARK WEISBROT: To tell these governments what their major economic policies should be around interest rates, exchange rates, budgets, fiscal policy . . . . They’ve just gotten it wrong so much over the last 25 years.

Weisbrot says for the very poorest countries, the World Bank would be wiser to make outright grants rather than loans.

In Washington, I’m John Dimsdale for Marketplace.

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