The Asian Development Bank is hosting an international conference on helping the developing world make better use of money sent home by foreign workers - whose remittances form a substantial part of a number of economies in Asia and other parts of the world.

A Filipino nurse in the United States sends part of her salary home to help her family; a Pakistani working in Dubai sends funds back to support his village. Workers living abroad and sending money home are becoming a substantial part of the economy in the developing world through what is know as foreign remittances.

International economists estimate these payments total more than $200 billion a year. Four out of the five nations with the largest remittances from foreign workers are in Asia - India, the Philippines, China and Pakistan.

Here at the Asian Development Bank's conference on foreign remittances, officials say money from foreign workers touches the lives of about 500 million people - whether they send or receive the funds, or benefit indirectly.

Robert Bestani, the director-general of the Asian Development Bank's Private Sector Operations Department, says foreign remittances are a direct avenue to alleviate poverty.

"The monies are going directly to the people who most need them, usually the family members of the workers living abroad. So we know that they are being effectively channeled to where they're needed," said Mr. Bestani. "The other thing too is that there is no international bureaucracy or bureaucracy of any sort associated with the flow of these funds so they're about as effective as they can possibly be."

Much of the money goes to meeting daily subsistence needs. But the conference is looking into ways to better capitalize on the funds, and focus them into areas such as housing, medical care and education. Officials also want to promote competition among companies that handle such payments, and drive down costs for foreign workers.

The Philippines, with an estimated eight million people working abroad - which is almost 10 percent of the population - is a leader in the field of foreign remittances. Mr. Bestani of the ADB says the country has pioneered a method of payment transfers through telephone companies.

"There are 30 million cell phones in the Philippines. And so Smart [phone company] followed by Globe [phone company] started pioneering the use of cell phones to actually pioneer money transfers," added Mr. Bestani. "And this was one of the best ideas I have ever seen."

Foreign remittances are a growing source of national income in Asia. Donald Terry, a conference official from the Inter-American Development Bank, says if trends continue these payments will overtake foreign investment and international aid as a financial force.

"In a few years... for most developing countries in Asia, remittances will exceed all of the foreign direct investment and all of the ODA [Overseas Development Assistance] combined, $100, $200, $300 at time."

The Asian Development Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank and the United Nations Development Program have organized the conference here. It brings together more than 300 delegates from at least 53 nations across Asia, North America, Latin America, Europe, Africa and Australia.