The World Bank has put the number of people languishing in abject poverty at 1.54 billion. According to its president, Jim Yong Kim, the latest troubles roiling the global economy risk devastating many developing countries and hitting its poorest people.
Kim said that about 22 per cent of the world’s seven billion people live in absolute poverty, measured as people making $1.25 a day or less. He revealed that plans are on track to drop the figure by one percentage point a year because it would take more than two decades to end poverty. “Our major concern is making sure all the gains that we’ve seen from the growth over the last five to 10 years are not wiped out by the crisis,” Dr. Kim said in an interview Thursday here ahead of his first meeting of the bank’s shareholders.
“We need to protect the developing countries from the impact of a recession.” Dr. Kim, a physician and anthropologist, took his post in July as the bank’s first president without a background in finance or politics. Many of his predecessors waded into the intricacies of international finance, becoming heavyweights in the economic concerns of even the world’s richest countries. Dr. Kim is shaping up more as a poverty-fighting evangelist, aiming to draw attention to concerns often cast aside early in a downturn.
In just two days in Japan, he has recounted his own long history of development work in Siberian prisons, Peruvian settlements and on the ground in poverty-stricken Haiti. His task now: persuading the world to worry about developing countries as other crises erupt from Europe to the Middle East to Asia. Focusing on poverty in times of crisis, particularly by spurring private-sector investment, helps lay the groundwork for economic development decades from now, he said.
“This is not about charity. This is a commitment to the global economy of the future.” Just over 100 days into the job, the bank chief is trying to reorient what is widely seen as a deeply bureaucratic institution. The World Bank, best known for making loans and providing guidance to developing nations, has been partly supplanted by easier access to finance in developing economies. Some of its biggest clients for decades, such as Brazil and China, have emerged as economic powerhouses that need the expertise of the bank’s development experts far more than its money.
Approvals for projects can be byzantine, stymied by internal procedures and external barriers in governments that need help. Among his key goals, he plans to tell the bank’s shareholders in a speech here Friday, is to orient the institution as a “solutions bank” that focuses on gathering the world’s insight about development and sharing the approaches more broadly. Dr. Kim said the World Bank is even having “informal conversations” with some euro-zone nations about providing guidance about improving their economies. He wouldn’t disclose the countries.