World Bank seeks commitments to poverty battle

WASHINGTON (AFP) - The World Bank will press the international community to endorse its 2030 anti-poverty goals at next week's meeting with the IMF, Bank president Jim Yong Kim said on Friday.

"Our top priority for this meeting is simple and clear: We want to push the world to commit to ending extreme poverty by 2030 and boosting shared prosperity in countries worldwide," Mr Kim said in a conference call with reporters.

Mr Kim noted significant strides had been made in poverty reduction, especially thanks to China's efforts. The level of extreme poverty has fallen from 42 percent of the world's population to 21 per cent over the past 25 years.

But he warned that further progress would be more challenging.

"The last mile is always the most difficult," he said. "We're not even close."

In early April, Mr Kim, who took office in July 2012, unveiled a sweeping agenda aimed at reducing extreme poverty to three percent and raising the incomes of the poorest 40 per cent in each country by 2030.

Mr Kim expressed optimism that world finance chiefs will back his poverty initiative at the spring meetings of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund that open April 19.

The Bank is hoping that the governors of the Development Committee, the World Bank-IMF policy steering body, will endorse it, he said.

"If we get a strong endorsement from the governors for our strategy... we're going to go on to present a real strategic plan that will cut across the World Bank Group."

"For the first time in history we are proposing to put together an integrated strategy" for the Bank's groups that provide lending and financing investment, he said.

"There's just no way that we're going to be able to achieve what we want to achieve for the developing countries if we think about it just in terms of what we can do with official development assistance."

Mr Kim pointed to the World Bank's proposed 2013-2017 lending strategy for India, the country that has the largest number of poor people in the world.

The Bank could lend India US$3-5 billion (S$3.7 to 6.2 billion) each year under the plan, with a much higher proportion than before, 30 per cent, going to India's poorest states.

The program's goal was to cut poverty to 5.5 per cent of India's population by 2030, from nearly 30 per cent in 2010.

"We look forward to having these goals discussed - and, we hope, endorsed - by the Development Committee on Saturday," he said.

Mr Kim recalled his visit in March to Uttar Pradesh, India's most populous state which alone has eight percent of the world's population living in extreme poverty.

Indian authorities said they have a US$1 trillion infrastructure deficit over the next five years, and can only publicly fund 50 per cent of that, with the rest needed from private sources, he said.

"If we make the best possible use of the official development assistance we do get, and then bring in private-sector resources to build the kind of infrastructure we need, that will lead to job creation which will be the most important aspect of lifting people out of poverty," Mr Kim said.

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