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Thursday, December 02, 1999, updated at 14:48(GMT+8)
World Coalitions for Change

Following is an article by by James D. Wolfensohn, President of the World Bank Group, Washington., D.C. The Chinese Version of this article is published on Page Seven of People's Daily, December 2.

A year ago, as the Asian crisis took a wrecking ball to many of the region's 30-year gains in dynamic growth and lower poverty, I felt strongly that the international community needed to do a better job of protecting the poor during times of crisis, and take a more 'holistic' view of development: a view that goes beyond simply adopting financial solutions to crises, and development more broadly, but also takes equally urgent account of social and institutional priorities that safeguard the health and well-being of people as they lay the judicial, regulatory, and governance foundations of modern market economies.

Twelve months later, it is tempting to think that the Asian crisis is finally over, and to put off the reforms needed to make the recovery more solid and lasting. It is tempting to talk of safe passage for the region, though for millions of poor and unemployed there is still no sight of harbor.

The truth is that today, as we stand on the threshold of a new millennium, we must ask ourselves some fundamental questions. Will we seize the moment to raise our sights for a better world? Will we begin to judge our efforts not by the prosperity of the few but by the needs of the many?

This millennial world we face is a place where over the last 40 years, life expectancy has risen more than in the past 4,000 years; where the communications revolution holds out the promise of universal access to knowledge; and where democratic culture has opened up opportunities for many.

But if we look more closely, we see something else. Per capita incomes will stagnate or decline this year in all regions except East and South Asia. And in the developing world, with the exception of China, 100 million more people are living in poverty today than a decade ago.

Look at the state of our environment, and we see 1.5 billion people still lacking access to safe water and 2.4 million children who die each year of waterborne diseases. 1.8 million people who die annually from indoor air pollution.

These figures, in the millions and billions, can be overwhelming. My colleagues and I decided that in order to map our own course for the World Bank's future, we needed to know more about our sovereign clients as individuals. So last year we launched a study entitled "Voices of the Poor" and spoke to 60,000 men and women in 60 countries about their hopes, aspirations, and realities.

When asked what might make the greatest difference to their lives, these voices gave many different answers. An old woman in Africa: "A better life for me is to be healthy, peaceful, and to live in love without hunger." A young man in the Middle East: "Nobody is able to communicate our problems. Who represents us? Nobody." A woman in Latin America: "I do not know whom to trust, the police or the criminals. Our public safety is ourselves. We work and hide indoors." A mother in South Asia: "When my child asks for something to eat, I say the rice is cooking until he falls asleep from hunger because there is no rice."

These are strong voices, voices of dignity. These people are assets, not objects of charity. They can build their future if given opportunity and hope. They are talking about security, a better life for their children, peace, and freedom from fear. We must hear their aspirations, for they are no different from our own.

As we go forward we need to reflect on what the past has taught us about development. We have learned that development is possible but not inevitable. That growth is essential but not sufficient to ensure poverty reduction.

In the course of the last 18 months, I believe we have also learned something else?that the causes of financial crises and poverty are one and the same. Countries may come up with sound fiscal and monetary policy, but if they do not have sound governance, strong anti-corruption measures, and a comprehensive legal system which protects human rights, property rights, and contracts, their development is fundamentally flawed and will not last.

To move from powerlessness to a democratic culture, from weakness to capacity for action, and from violence to peace and equity, it will take real commitment from the leadership of each country, as well as a willingness to reform systems of government, regulations, and institutions. It will also take empowering local people to design and implement their own programs because far less is lost in corruption when a community manages its own resources. With poverty reduction front and center of our agenda, our work at the rock face must be governance, institutions, and capacity building.

But we must go further. Given that nations today depend on one another, it is clear to me that we need global rules and global behavior in devising effective and lasting solutions to these problems. We need a new international development architecture to parallel the new global financial architecture.

A new development regime like this would need the earnest involvement of a true worldwide coalition built on the cooperation of all the players?the United Nations, governments, development organizations such as the World Bank, the private sector, and civil society.

It must be a coalition in which we break the chains of debt, but also have the resources to go much further and break the chains of poverty. The HIPC debt forgiveness plan which we have announced is the beginning of our challenge, not the end.

This coalition will recognize that we must have a trade system that works, with rules and norms that are fair, comprehensive, and inclusive.

Moreover, it must be a coalition that recognizes that environment knows no borders. We need to implement international agreements on climate change and biological diversity. This coalition must recognize the power of modern research to democratize health to harness new vaccines to eradicate AIDS, malaria, TB, and polio.

And lastly it must be a coalition to make the information revolution truly universal: to bridge the growing knowledge gap, and to connect all developing and transitional economies to the world and to each other via satellite, e-mail, and the Internet.

We must reaffirm our commitment to development--a real commitment to act on the generous statements made by so many of the leaders of industrialized countries toward developing countries. And leaders of developing and transition economies must reaffirm their commitments to carry out their promises for good governance, equality, and growth.

These commitments need a human and moral aspect as well. There needs to be a passionate rededication to each other as we enter the next century. How can one not be moved by the comments of the poor to which I referred earlier?

For example, the voice of Bashiranbibi from South Asia: "At first I was afraid of everyone and everything: my husband, the village, the police. Today I fear no one. I have my own bank account. I am the leader of my village's savings group. I tell my sisters about our movement."

We must look forward. We must commit ourselves to bring about the day when the poor of the world, the hopeful youth, the aged, the street children, the disabled, the rural workers, the slum dwellers, will all be able to cry out: "Today I fear no one. Today I fear no one."

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