World Bank says $65bn pledged to help poorest

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - Rich and emerging-market nations agreed to commit a record US$52 billion (S$65 billion) over three years to a World Bank fund to aid the world's poorest countries, the bank said on Tuesday.

The figure marks an increase of about 5 per cent from the last time the International Development Association, or IDA, was topped up in 2010.

"The fact that this generosity came during a very difficult economic period makes this pledge all the more significant," World Bank President Jim Yong Kim told reporters on a call.

But for the first time, some of the money will be given in the form of low-interest loans, not grants, totalling just over US$4 billion.

The World Bank, a global development lender based in Washington, said the loans allow countries to increase their contributions to IDA in a tough economic environment, and amid strong demand for the funds.

Mr Kim said the overall total is still an increase compared with prior years, even accounting for the loans and inflation.

"We are absolutely delighted, because this represents a real increase," he said.

Oxfam, an advocacy and development group, welcomed the renewed pledges, but said the concessional loans should be avoided in the future.

"Oxfam cautions that while this approach is acceptable in a context of economic crisis, it should be a temporary fix and not a permanent way of operating," the group said in a statement.

Forty-six countries contributed to IDA in the latest round of replenishment, compared with 51 last time. The World Bank said more countries may choose to add funds in the next few weeks, though it could not share exact contributions until March, after the bank's board signs off on the figures.

The United States, Japan and Britain are typically the top three donors to the fund.

IDA is the world's largest fund for the poorest countries, many of them in Africa. It offers grants and interest-free loans for such basic purposes as providing clean water, improved sanitation, education and better infant and maternal care to the world's neediest.

It is replenished with new money or pledges of money at three-year intervals.

The World Bank said the money in the latest round will be especially focused on helping countries in conflict areas, mobilising the private sector, and investments in climate change and gender equality.

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