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UN Organization Calls for Overhaul of Anti-Poverty Policies for Africa - 2002-09-26

An overhaul of policies intended to fight poverty in Africa is being encouraged by the United Nations agency for Trade and Development, known as UNCTAD. The organization says current policies supported by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund have increased poverty rather than reduced it.

UNCTAD says the number of people living on less than one dollar a day in Africa's least developed countries has risen by more than 10 percent over the past three decades. In a report issued Thursday, the agency says Africa's sluggish economic growth and weak income distribution have contributed to rising poverty.

But the chief author of the report, Yilmaz Akyuz, says the main culprit may in fact be structural adjustment programs advocated by the World Bank and the International Monetary Funds. He says these policies have hurt Africa's poor and a revised approach is urgently needed. "There should be some steps, like safety nets or targeted spending to take care of it. There has been no social impact analysis accompanying trade policy, financial policy, fiscal policy reforms and what the impact would be on the poor on income distribution," he said.

Mr. Akyuz says even countries with strong economic growth in recent years, like Mozambique and Uganda, are probably only making short term gains and not seeing sustained growth.

The United Nations agency for Trade and Development says the best way to help reduce poverty is to increase public expenditure across all levels of society. It says improving the quality of governments in Africa is also important for creating sustainable economic growth, but the pace of such improvements will vary depending on the country and the specific conditions it faces.

The agency is also urging industrialized countries to focus on trade rather than charity. It says the industrialized world can help African countries grow economically by opening up its markets to African goods and reducing long-term debt.