The World Bank should shift its attention from encouraging broad economic development in the Third World toward more substantial progress in eliminating or reducing the "shameful" poverty among its one billion persons--one fourth of the global populat)ou.
Moreover, as East-West tensions ease, the World Bank, and other agencies offering economic aid to developing countries, should concentrate on those recipients committed to fighting poverty.
Those are the main messages contained in a 260-page report by the bank's staff, delivered today (Monday) to President Barber Conable and the rest of the operational structure of the Bank.
It also forecast that Third World countries would show a better economic growth record in the 1990s, at 5.1 percent, than the 4.3 per cent record of the 1980s, and also top a 3 per cent growth potential for the industrialized world.
The document--the 13th World World Development Report--said bluntly that concentration on a goal of lifting 400 million out of poverty by the year 2,000 would require a "tradeoff, especially in the short run...between the interests of the poor and the non-poor."
But the report asserted that emphasizing reduction of poverty would not be at the expense of economic growth, because "switching to an efficient, labor-intensive pattern of development, and investing more in the human capital of the poor are not only consistent with faster long-term growth, they contribute to it."
John Sewell, president of the Overseas Development Council, described the report as an "important salvo putting poverty back on the political agenda", which he said has been ignored over the past decade. He said that prior policies have focussed on adjustment, and the development of the right economic policies, "but no one has paid attention to the effect of those policies on the poor."
Sewell acknowledged that it remains to be seen whether the Bank will follow through.
"Will the operational side of the bank follow the ideological advice given here?" Sewell asked. The ODC is a local think tank devoted to examination of Third World and development issues.
The WDR report offered no new schemes to cope with poverty, saying that the appropriate policies are all well known. In a foreword to the report Conable ssid: "The main obstacle is not the availability of resources but the willingness of governments in both the developing and developed countries to commit themselves to these goals."
Where progress had been achieved in reducing poverty, it had resulted from a strategy blending two elements, according to the report: making productive use of the labor of the poor, coupled with provision of basic social services, including primary health care, family planning, nutrition, and primary education.
The report cited the close association of high fertility rates with an increase in the number of poor persons. For example, it said that in sub-Saharan Africa, even though the annual economic growth rate is expected to average 3.7 per cent in the 1990s, there will be a rapid rise in poverty because of high birth rates.
Yet, although family planning was listed among the key social services that must be provided, there seemed to be a degree of ambivalence in the WDR recommendations on the politically touchy question of birth control.
The report notes that "poverty and rapid population growth reinforce each other in a number of ways. Low wages (especially for women), inadequate education, and high infant mortality--all linked to poverty--contribute to high fertility rates and thus to rapid population growth."
But the report carefully cited the traditional defense for large families among the poor: "The decision to have many children can be a sensible response to poverty. Mortality is high for childrem in destitute families, but it is essential to ensure that some children survive to support the household in the parents' old age, if not sooner. Even before they can earn income, children can free adults from various domestic tasks."
On the question of economic aid, the report said that such assistance has not always been an effective instrument in reducing poverty, because donors "sometimes have other objectives." For example, it estimated that in 1988, 41 per cent of aid money went to middle- or high-income countries, largely for political reasons.
But referring to the newly peaceful relationships between the West and the Soviet Union, the report says there is the opportunity to cut military spending, and to concentrate international assistance to the poorest countries that make serious efforts to reduce poverty.