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Africa Lags Behind Asia And Eastern Europe In New World Bank Report - 2003-04-11

A new World Bank report says global poverty “can still be cut in half by 2015, if rich countries lower trade barriers and boost foreign aid – and poor countries invest more in health and education. However, the report also warns that Africa and the Middle East may not be among the regions that benefit.

The new report – World Development Indicators 2003 – says, “If worldwide economic growth stays on track, global poverty rates will fall to less than half their 1990 level within 12 years. That means about 360-million people would be pulled out of what the World Bank calls “grinding poverty.” The report says, “The driving force behind this progress is rapid growth in Asia and improvements in Eastern Europe.”

However, when it comes to Africa, it says these gains “will do little to reduce crushing poverty.” In fact, the report says the number of poor on the continent is likely to climb from the 1999 level of 315-million to 404-million in 2015.

Eric Swanson, program manager of the World Bank’s development data group, says there are some bright spots in Africa – just not enough.

He says, "Well, you know, there is hope in Africa. We’re seeing a lot of countries picking up their growth rates. I think something like twenty countries or so in the Africa region had growth over four percent over the last five or six years. And there are about fourteen of them that had growth over five percent. But it’s really going to take a lot more effort in Africa. They’re just starting farther behind. We just shouldn’t think about income poverty here. We should think about all those other dimensions, like health and education. It’s going to take a big effort to bring all African children into primary school. It’s going to take a big effort to deliver the health services needed to deal with those kinds of fundamental problems."

The report says the projected economic growth for the Middle East and North Africa is also too low “to stem the rising number in poverty.” Extreme poverty is defined by the World Bank as the number of people living on less than one dollar a day.

The report calls on rich nations to lower trade barriers and expand markets for developing country exports. But it also says developing countries, in turn, should lower their own trade barriers and integrate themselves more in the “world trade system.”

Developing countries are also encouraged to spend more on health and education. The World Bank says, “Trade enables poor countries to export their way out of poverty.” But it is “strong health and education services that give people the tools they need to take advantage of opportunities in the global marketplace.”

However, many African countries have health budgets that only range from six to eight dollars per person per year - too low to deal with many of the health issues facing the continent.

He says, "I agree. I think that’s the real showstopper on this. We know that many of these countries cannot out of what they currently have bring enough resources to solve just the basic problems to ensure that children can live past their fist year, for example. Let alone to deal with the AIDS epidemic. There’s kind of a rough rule of thumb that says somewhere around thirty-five dollars per person per year is needed to provide a basic package of services. I’m not talking about anything very advanced. And for countries that don’t have that and can’t get there, this is where we need to come to grips with the additional that they’ll need – and they’ll need for some time."

The World Bank report recommends that rich nations boost their economic aid. And at the Monterrey Summit a year ago, those countries did pledge to increase assistance to developing countries.