Donors pledge $49.3 billion to World Bank fund for poor nations

By Howard Schneider
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 16, 2010; 12:47 AM

Officials meeting in Brussels this week agreed to contribute nearly $50 billion over the next three years to the World Bank fund dedicated to the globe's poorest countries.

The 18 percent boost marked the arrival of some previous aid recipients as donors. World Bank President Robert Zoellick said he could not provide details on individual donors until the World Bank board approves the funding package early next year.

The United States pledged $3.7 billion in the last funding round, negotiated in 2007. Treasury Department officials would not release the amount of the latest U.S. pledge. Britain, which topped the United States last year as the largest single donor, said it had promised $4.2 billion over the next three years. British officials said that represents a nearly 25 percent increase in local currency at a time when the government in London is pressing painful spending and benefits cuts on its citizens.

The fund, known as the International Development Association, supports health, education, food security and building programs through grants and long-term, interest-free loans to the world's 79 least-developed countries. The fund is replenished every three years at a donors conference. This year it marked a record for giving, with 51 countries agreeing to contribute.

Zoellick said the funding level signaled a recognition that IDA's efforts were important to sustain despite the recent recession and the slow growth in many developed countries. He said the $49.3 billion pledged this week is a "robust" increase over donations negotiated in 2007 before the onset of the recession.

Not all of the money for the fund comes from donations. Some comes from the repayment of IDA's long-term loans and some from the interest earnings generated by other World Bank programs. In the 2007 funding round, donors provided about $25 billion of the roughly $42 billion total. Zoellick said that figure has increased, but he would not provide details. The total donor amount this year represents $31.7 billion of the total, compared with the 2007 round.

The money, Zoellick said, will translate into an estimated 200 million child immunizations, better health and water for tens of millions of people, training for millions of teachers, and the construction of nearly 50,000 miles of roads and train tracks.

"This is a very significant accomplishment at a time of budget cuts in many donor countries," Zoellick said. "Many have stretched at a time of economic difficulty at home. . . . They see that growth and overcoming poverty in the poorest countries also benefits the developed world. . . . They know this is not charity. It is an investment in peace and progress."

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