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W. Bank President: War on  Poverty, a Prerequisite for Peace - 2002-03-06

World Bank President James Wolfensohn is urging wealthy countries to begin a "war on poverty" before it is too late. Some of the weapons he says are necessary to win that war are politically far from reach.

Mr. Wolfensohn criticized what he called a wall that exists between the world's rich and poor.

"It is time to tear down that wall, to recognize that in this unified world, poverty is our collective enemy," he said. "We must fight it because its existence is like a cancer, weakening the whole of the body, not just the parts that are directly affected."

Mr. Wolfensohn outlined four steps he says leaders in developed countries must take. First, the wealthy countries need to empower the poor ones to have healthy government and business. Second, they need to break down trade barriers to grant poor countries market access. Third, he says they need to give between $40 billion and $60 billion more each year in aid. And fourth, they need to cut agricultural subsidies.

"The fundamental truth here is that agricultural subsidies constitute a heavy burden on the citizens of developed countries," said Mr. Wolfensohn. "With skillful political leadership they can be cut back."

But according to American University Economics Professor Kevin Carey, some of these goals are nearly impossible politically. "Agricultural trade barriers will only come down if several trade blocks do it at the same time, and the farm lobby is still very powerful in Europe," he said.

Professor Carey also says the chance for billions more in aid is very low because the wealthy countries can not agree on how to distribute the aid that is already out there.

But Mr. Wolfensohn believes change is possible. He said, "If we want to build long-term peace, if we want stability for our economies, if we want growth opportunities in the years ahead, if we want to build that better and safer world, fighting poverty must be part of national and international security."

He said if politics and time are not on his side, perhaps public opinion is.