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World Bank
president says West must deal with African AIDS crisis

World Bank
president says West must deal with African AIDS crisis

Wealthy nations must make Africa their top poverty-fighting priority, World Bank president Paul Wolfowitz said Tuesday in Singapore, urging wealthy countries to follow through on promised aid.

"The international community is at risk of falling short on its commitments to increase aid to Africa," Wolfowitz told delegates attending the annual meeting of the bank and its sister institution, the International Monetary Fund. Africa is the one region that has been "conspicuously left behind," Wolfowitz said. "I remain convinced that Africa has to be our number 1 priority."

According to the World Bank, 1 billion of the world's population live on less than $1 a day, almost a third of them in sub-Saharan Africa.

Wolfowitz said that international aid donors should move quickly to support African countries that have recently emerged from crises, such as Sierra Leone, Liberia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Central African Republic. The number of countries in conflict in Africa has fallen to five from 13 in the past three years, he noted.

"Their leaders need to move swiftly to improve the lives of their citizens and stabilize a fragile peace," Wolfowitz said. "We, the international development community, must move more swiftly to support them."

Countries emerging from conflict need special help as well as debt relief, said John Benjamin, finance minister of war-ravaged Sierra Leone, where one out of three children dies before the age of 5, the world's deadliest ratio. "For 11 years we have seen destruction," Benjamin said. "For a country coming out of conflicts, we need a lot of support."

Wolfowitz said that key priorities include boosting aid for education that could help 70 million children go to school and funding programs needed to reach the 80% of Africans infected with HIV/AIDS who still lack access to treatment. "To do that takes resources," he said.

African delegates urged both the IMF and World Bank to adapt their policies to the myriad realities of their countries, some of which are experiencing oil export booms while others are mired in civil chaos.

"There are countries [in Africa] which are cash-strapped, and they are rationed out of the international market," said Charles Soludo, governor of Nigeria's central bank. Aid from the World Bank "is not expanding as much as it should," he added.

At the same time, the bank, whose mission is to alleviate poverty and promote development, said it must also attend to the needs of the two thirds of the world's poor living in Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East.

Both the IMF and World Bank, founded in 1945, face pressure to adapt their policies and structures to reflect the growing influence of developing nations in the world economy.

On Monday, the 184-nation IMF approved reforms increasing the voting shares of China, South Korea, Turkey, and Mexico to reflect their growing stature in the global economy. In a second phase, the IMF plans to rework the voting rights of all member countries within two years.

The poor countries that are the institutions' main clients want a greater say, said Abdoulaye Diop, Senegal's economy minister. "We feel we have a duty to say what we need to say and to be a part of the decision making," Diop said.

During the meeting the World Bank agreed to require that its 24-member executive board have oversight over the bank's anticorruption strategy.

Wolfowitz has blocked more than $1 billion for projects in Africa and Asia because of allegations of corruption, drawing criticism from both donor and recipient countries that say such decisions penalize poor people for the abuses of their governments. (Elaine Kurtenbach/AP)

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