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Asian Bank Meeting to Look at Shifting Role as Region Prospers

Over the past 40 years, the Asian Development Bank has loaned billions of dollars to the poorest areas of the region. Now that much of the region is booming, the non-profit institution is in the process of reinventing itself to tackle some of the problems created by economic success. VOA's Kurt Achin reports from Kyoto, Japan, where ADB delegates and officials are holding their annual board of governors meeting.

When the Asian Development Bank was formed 40 years ago, much of Asia was an economic backwater. It has since helped underwrite hundreds of billions of dollars in loans and development projects for nations that could not secure financing on their own, in hope of eradicating severe poverty.

Now, as the 67 member nations of the ADB get ready to start their annual meeting Friday in Kyoto, Japan, the bank is seeking to reinvent itself to reflect the unprecedented development of the last four decades.

ADB spokeswoman Ann Quon says the organization has helped Asia overcome a wide range of crises.

"We overcame the famine of the '60s, the oil crisis of the '70s, the debt problems of the '80s and of course the financial crisis of the '90s, and this has been a region of tremendous resilience," said Quon. "So we'll be looking at the challenges that now face the region."

Those challenges, for the most part, no longer stem from widespread and severe poverty, but rather from the sizzling pace of the region's economic development.

An ADB report released last month predicted that absolute poverty - people living on less than a dollar a day - would be essentially eliminated in the region by 2020. Quon says this weekend meeting is about discussing ways for the bank to evolve.

"As Asia moves toward middle-income status, then we as a development institution are also going to have to change," she said. "So we are looking at a paradigm shift as to how we do business."

Key items on the meeting's agenda involve ways of dealing with the side effects of rapid economic growth in Asia. Led by China, South Korea and Japan, governments in the region have piled up vast foreign reserve accounts, and ADB members hope to coordinate policy for more effective ways to allocate those funds.

Pollution and climate change also are high on the agenda, along with the social problems of the region's rapid urbanization.