ADB puts fight against poverty at top of agenda
RAY HEATH in Manila
As the Asian Development Bank (ADB) prepares for a tough fight over donations to one of its low-cost loan programmes, officials sent a strong message that attacking poverty must remain a key mission.
While a rising number of Asians enjoyed undreamed of prosperity, most of the poorest people in the world also lived in the region and should be the target of aid, bank officials said yesterday.
The poor should be a focus of action by the bank, its president, Mitsuo Sato, said at the opening of the annual governors' meeting in Manila.
The need to tackle poverty was also stressed by Philippine President Fidel Ramos.
Addressing the bankers, he said despite rapid growth rates, the problem of poverty in the region remained awesome and compelling.
He said development must have a human face, with social and economic reforms.
The extent of the Asian poverty was set out by the bank's chairman, Klaus-Jurgen Hedrich.
He said most of the poorest people in the world - about 750 million out of one billion - were to be found in Asia.
He questioned whether the bank's past policy of promoting economic growth was correct.
'It is well known that a general reliance on the trickle-down effects of economic growth is not enough,' he said, although studies by the bank showed that growth did help to lift poverty.
Mr Sato said external assistance on concessional terms would continue to be essential in Asia.
'This is because savings rates are low when people are poor; low debt servicing capacity inhibits commercial borrowings and markets cannot provide those goods, the benefits of which spill over to the society at large, but are essential for economic development,' he said.
His statement came as the donor countries of the bank prepared for what are expected to be tough talks over contributions to the next round of funding of the Asian Development Fund, which specialises in low-cost loans to developing countries.
The bank is looking for about US$4.5 million before the next four-year round of loans starts next year.
A key to success in raising the money will be the attitude of the United States, which has yet to pay all it promised in the last round of funding.