Dealing With Poverty By Focusing on Misery

Friday, September 7, 2007

How to help the world’s poor? That’s a perennial question with apparently ever-shifting answers at the highest levels of government, though some simple approaches are out there.

The World Bank these days, under the leadership of newly installed President Robert Zoellick, is looking for a new long-term strategy. The bank’s missions are essentially to reduce global poverty and improve living standards. But as The Wall Street Journal reports, as the institution seeks to “prove its continuing relevance,” an internal review is urging it to refocus its lending on big borrowers like China, Brazil and Mexico. “Lending to so-called middle-income countries should focus on improving anticorruption measures, easing income inequality and attacking global environmental problems,” according to a report by a bank working group that’s reviewing its programs and priorities, the Journal says. The bank is “trying to figure out what role it should play in a world where big developing nations have built up huge financial reserves and can borrow readily on private markets,” the Journal adds. And while some critics want it to focus on the poorest countries and give them grants rather than loans, the bank depends on money earned from its loans to more prosperous developing nations.

These middle-income countries are those where per-capita income ranges from about $1,000 to $10,000, and they received about $12 billion from the bank in 2006. But as last year’s Nobel Peace Prize suggests — it was awarded to the Bangladeshi microcredit pioneer Muhammad Yunus and his Grameen Bank — there are strong arguments for alleviating poverty and misery from below. Mort Rosenblum, a veteran American reporter who has probably covered as many global conflicts, humanitarian crises, political phenomena and cultural wonders over the past four decades as any other living journalist, looks at the battle against both misery and poverty in the tribal village of Galder in northern India. Life in Galder, he writes in the International Herald Tribune, is tough, with a 16-year drought getting worse, crops withering and medical care “so precarious that the cure for anything serious is death.” Yet, Mr. Rosenblum argues, “faraway experts with prescriptions to end poverty, which most define as living on less than a daily dollar, could learn a lot here.” For while no one in Galder seems to have heard of President Bush, everyone there knows Madan Nagda and his “hip-pocket aid agency,” MKS.

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Source: Wall Street Journal (link opens in a new window)