Ismail Serageldin


Conference on Hunger and Poverty: Popular Coalition for Action

 20/11/1995 | Salle de la Madeleine, Brussels, Belgium

Mr. Chairman,


Ladies and Gentlemen:

I am honored to deliver this message on behalf of Mr. James D. Wolfensohn, President of the World Bank, who deeply regrets not being with us today.

Two years ago, many of us met in Washington at the International Conference on Overcoming Global Hunger, where we reaffirmed our commitment to the abolition of hunger in our lifetime. That conference came after many others had identified the issue and mapped the course. But the political will to translate words into action was missing. We set about reaffirming the issue and strengthening our coalition of the caring to ensure more action.

We promised to meet again in Europe, under the aegis of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), not just to keep the issue of hunger on the forefront of global issues, but also to measure the extent of our actions.

This, then, is a brief progress report to this concerned and dedicated community about what we have done in two years and what remains before us. It is a also an occasion to reaffirm, on behalf of Jim Wolfensohn, the promise made by the late Lew Preston, of the World Bank’s commitment to stretch out our hands to each and everyone to work for the poorest on this planet.

So, let me say at the outset, we are fully convinced that the future of the developing countries will be primarily determined by the people of those countries. It is their determination, their commitment and their vision that must create the new world order where poverty will retreat and hunger will be abolished. Yet, this call for empowering the poor should not be an excuse for the rich to reduce international development assistance. This assistance, more than ever, must be to support those programs that are truly "owned" by the developing countries, for only they have a chance of sustained success.

For the World Bank, the host of that 1993 conference, it has been an active two years, which saw many changes. We can point to three specific outcomes that we committed ourselves to do.

First, to review and, as appropriate, reaffirm and/or modify the Bank’s work on poverty and hunger. Hunger is the product of extreme poverty. Empowering the poor, especially women, is the key to reducing poverty and hunger. A review has been done and was published, but more importantly, the volume of Bank lending for education, especially for women grew to $2 billion and will increase. Lending for health and nutrition went up considerably. Our current lending for nutrition stands at $200 million annually: this means an additional one billion dollars for the nutrition of the poor before the end of this decade.

Empowerment is more than access to education and health services, important as these are. It means addressing all the issues that prevent the rural poor from owning productive land: land reform, environmental degradation and the presence of land mines. The Bank is now working on all these. We are also addressing issues of urban poverty, water rights, and most importantly of access to micro-credit, especially for women.

Second, In-Country Consultations: the idea of joint reviews by government and the NGOs as well as the Bank and international development agencies of the best ways to develop a country-wide strategy to combat hunger. This has been piloted in Mali, and is leading to a joint preparation of a project to be financed by the Bank and others. We expect to replicate this effort in Bolivia and the Philippines over the coming few months.

Third, promoting micro-finance as a way of reaching the very poor. Here the creation of the Consultative Group to Assist the Poorest (CGAP) is the result. After extensive discussions with many parties, and strong support from IFAD, this initiative was launched June 26, 1995, through an open forum of discussions with the practitioners of micro-finance, which led to the formal creation of CGAP on June 27-28, 1995. Subsequently almost all donors have agreed to join, pledging some $200 million dollars for this pilot enterprise, funds which are to go to NGOs providing micro-loans to the poorest, especially women. It is our intention to evaluate this effort, and modify, fortify, or change it as appropriate in the light of experience.

Since this is the most far reaching of the outcomes of the last conference, I should say a few words about it. It does not go through governments. It is the first time that the Bank will be actively funding NGOs directly. It will be against rigorous criteria, which are being prepared by the Secretariat and the Policy Advisory Group. This is a group of distinguished practitioners, chaired by Dr. Yunus of Grameen Bank, and includes such luminaries as Ela Bhatt of SEWA, Nancy Barry of Women’s World Banking, Kimanthi Mutua of K-REP, and Maria Otero of Accion. Eleven in all, who met for the first time in early November to draft these recommended guidelines of eligibility. It is our hope to move promptly on their recommendations and to agree on the first disbursements from CGAP as early as the first week of February, when our next meeting will be hosted by IFAD in Rome, and it too will be preceded by a one-day open workshop.

We now expect that the CGAP will become the locus of learning and dissemination of best practices in the domain of micro-finance for the very poor. It will allow donors to streamline their support in ways that remove the obstacles for practitioners to reach larger numbers of poor people, especially women, and reaching even poorer people than those currently served. It will allow governments to learn what is the enabling environment that they must create so that such enterprises working with the very poor would flourish. It would facilitate networking among the practitioners to share their experiences.

We also hope that the private sector will be willing to join in financing these activities. For the private sector has become a very significant if uneven financier of development: 7 years ago, ODA was 3 times as large as the private sector flows to the developing countries. Today private sector flows are 4 times as large as ODA. These flows must be harnessed to be a force for socially responsible and environmentally sustainable development. This will not happen without some imagination and effort on our parts.

It is, therefore, important to engage in a constructive multi-party dialogue between: (i) the governments, both national and local; (ii) the civil society; (iii) the private sector; and (iv) the World Bank and other international agencies.

From the fruitful exchange of ideas and experiences will evolve the new paradigm of the 1990s and beyond into the next century. In that sense, we are by our thoughts and actions inventing the future right here and now, in the crucible of our minds.

By an unfortunate irony, however, while the centrality of dealing with poverty and hunger as keys to development has been strongly affirmed, the development enterprise itself is now under attack. The very idea of development cooperation between North and South, is being assailed so many of the rich are turning their backs on the poor. We must redouble our efforts on behalf of all the dedicated and successful efforts of so many in the development community. If we fail, the worst hit victims of these budget cuts will be the weakest in human society – the poor, the hungry, the unemployed and the marginalized. Even more, the future generations that will inherit polluted waters, unhealthy air, parched fields and eroded soils. We must not fail. This is more than ever a time for a coalition, a united front of the caring.

The Action Plan you will prepare must help guide our actions in this continuing fight against poverty and hunger, for we have an enormous agenda ahead of us:

In the 47 "least developed" countries of the world, 10 percent of the world’s population subsists on less than 0.5 percent of the world’s income. Some 40,000 people die from hunger related causes every day. Many of the poor who survive lack access to the fundamental needs of a decent existence. Over a billion people are compelled to live on less than a dollar a day. A sixth or more of the human family lives a marginalized existence.

Therein, lies the challenge before us. Will we accept such human degradation as inevitable? Or will we strive to help – in Franz Fanon’s evocative phrase – "The Wretched of the Earth?" I have no doubt of what your response will be. Together, let us bring forth a coalition of the caring, that will think of the unborn, remember the forgotten, give hope to the forlorn, and reach out to the unreached, and by wise actions today lay the foundation for better tomorrows.

Thank you.

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