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close this bookOvercoming Global Hunger (WB)
close this folderFinal session - commitments to action
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentNeeded: food security in a hungry world
View the documentConcluding statement on behalf of NGOS
View the documentClosing remarks

Closing remarks

Ismail Serageldin

Friends, it is never easy to bring to a close something as rich and enriching as the discussion we have been having together for the last two days. Nor is it easy to try to summarize the vast amount of information, experience, expertise, and insight that was exchanged during these discussions. Yet, as it is my duty, I will try to pull together some of the strands of this dialogue into a coherent whole.

While many points were made, some of the questions raised by our critics deserve to be answered here because this is a dialogue, an enterprise in which we are involved in mutual learning, in which we share experiences and open ourselves up to learning from each other These questions were summarized by Carolyn Long in her statement, in longhand and in person, and by Barbara Bramble earlier.

First was the question about the learning group on participation. It is not just a matter of a learning group anymore The Bank now has a group of people working in a formal division of the Environment Department called the Social Policy Division, who are preparing a handbook for the use of staff dealing with participation issues, similar in outline and format to the handbook on poverty assessments, the Poverty Reduction Handbook.

In addition, we have been piloting a tool kit for participation programs put together by Deepa Narayan and Lyra Srinivasan—who says we use only northern consultants?—excellent professionals who have prepared a superb tool kit on how to engage local communities in participation, and we are hoping to produce this pilot very soon We are trying to move participation beyond the pilot stage toward the mainstream stage. How do we do this dramatically? This year we have quadrupled the number of operations that contain participatory elements and put in place special incentives for staff in the country departments to undertake these kinds of activities.

This leads naturally to the second point about incentives for World Bank staff, which are alleged to be biased toward moving large amounts of money. As I look at my own career in the Bank, I somehow have never been associated with pushing large amounts of money I have been associated with a fairly large number of controversial issues, but I am happy to say that my career did not suffer too much from that. The president of the Bank has repeated time and again that he wants staff to focus on issues of implementation and quality. I do not know how to emphasize more forcefully the Bank's policy to staff and to outsiders alike than to have the president of the Bank declare the policy and have senior managers reiterate it. We can only continue to repeat that we attach great importance to having our staff focus on implementation, participation, and quality and to keep encouraging them to look at these issues.

I want to address another important issue that came up in Barbara Bramble's comments, whether the Bank intends to employ sociologists and anthropologists The answer is yes, we are probably going to double the number of sociologists and anthropologists in the Bank within the next eighteen to twenty-four monks. I am working with Michael Cornea, who is in my vice presidency and who is also the chair of the social science staffing group. That is the group that identifies and screens candidates for potential recruitment at the Bank. Here when we refer to social scientists we mean noneconomists. He has a mandate to go out and find the best, especially from the south.

How about environmental standards and safeguards? Carolyn's third point and Barbara's fourth—it could be called Barbara's first—is to do no harm. The answer is we do have a loan committee structure through which vice presidents express their views on any operation. We do have a review process through which different points of view are expressed But . ultimately what wee want is not a situation in which environmental reviews are the purview of somebody and social reviews belong to somebody else, and if somehow we can obtain the seal of approval from those specialists in environment and sociology, we can go ahead and do whatever we want Rather, experience has shown that this bifurcation of responsibilities is not the best way to bring about profound institutional change in the way day-to-day business is done. Experience shows that this comes about only when each person in the organization internalizes the issues of concern, not when internal inspectors assume responsibility for ensuring that these issues are addressed. When an internal inspectorate is set up, experience shows that people become inward looking and learn how to address the issues to satisfy the inspectors instead of being outward oriented, toward their clients, and focusing on their clients' problems and how to solve them in the field.

What we want is to ensure that the kind of dialogue that has been launched here—which I personally and my colleagues have found so enriching and we have had almost all the senior management of the Bank here—and its content permeates the institution to the staff who are responsible for these operations. That is what we should be shooting for.

The next issue is how to allocate International Development Association resources in proportion to the country's efforts in reducing poverty. We are now systematically addressing this through poverty assessments, and we have set out a new methodology to do this. Interestingly, it is forcing both the statistical staff in the countries and the country staff at the Bank to look for the kinds of data that they may not have locked at before. This has already generated the kind of demand for information and questioning of policy that many of us in this room feel is necessary.

Poverty assessments are the key instrument that the Bank increasingly relies on to deal with these issues. As a result of this conference, I can say that in preparing future poverty assessments we will also try to focus on looking at the question of extreme poverty and hunger, not just the level of poverty, not just how many people or households are below a certain percentile of the income distribution But how can we come to grips with the issue of hunger and extreme poverty? For surely, the eradication of poverty is at the heart of thinking about the problem of development, especially the worst kind of poverty, that which is associated with hunger.

How about southern NGOs opening a representative center in Washington? I think that it would be great. Who would represent them and how they would organize their selection is really up to them, hut we would welcome increased dialogue with southern NGOs. We have, in fact, increasingly engaged in such dialogue through the World Bank NGO Committee, which has a increasingly important proportion of southern NGOs among the NGO representatives. I hope that we will do more of this.

There is more to be said. You talk about putting participation at the center of our work and changing the attitudes of Bank staff and the competencies of the Bank You ask whether the Bank's management is listening to your concerns. You have had in this conference the president of the Bank, who has been here almost continuously In fact, you have seen him coming up on the podium frequently. Even when he was not with us in the hall he was here, because he was up on the balcony waiting for one of the dignitaries, and he was listening. You have had the regional vice presidents here during the various sessions You have had in this forum the chief economist of the Bank and the vice presidents in charge of human resources and of private sector development. We have had among us Alan Berg, our lead nutritionist Michel Petit, the person in charge of agriculture; and so many others from the Bank who have participated in preparing this conference and listening.

All of this I cite not just to prove that we have been listening, but more important, to satisfy you about another important point, namely, is this a one-shot affair? I think not. It not an isolated event. It is not the end of the road. It is the beginning. This large an event is a milestone in what could and should be an enriching and fulfilling dialogue, not for us Bank staff and management to be intellectually enriched, but enriched in our ability to have a real impact on the reduction of poverty. We are all impoverished by the continuation of this scourge, by the complacency that affects governments and the international community alike, and we are all enriched by the reduction in poverty and hunger. We would all, as human beings, be infinitely worthier of the name if the scourge of hunger was abolished from the face of the earth. I have said so earlier in these proceedings, and I say so again. In the last century, some people felt that slavery was unconscionable and unacceptable, that it degraded not just the slaves, but all those who countenanced its continued existence. They believed that the objective should be the abolition of slavery from the face of the earth. They were called the abolitionists. Today, I say that hunger is unconscionable and unacceptable; that it degrades not only the hungry, who are denied the most basic of human needs, but also all who would look upon such a state of affairs with complacency. Let us indeed be the new abolitionists, who will from every platform and in every forum fight for the elimination of hunger from the planet.

So, what about this conference then? Is it just an isolated event? No, this is not an isolated event. It is the beginning. It is an opening. What I can commit myself to right now is an outline of what this process will be. I am not going to tell you that in three months, in six months, or in a year from now something will happen. I will say that next week, December 8, at 2 o'clock, we have a meeting of the steering committee that helped put together this conference. We will meet to see where we go from here. This immediate follow-up reflects the urgency, the sense of commitment, the sense of dedication that has permeated all our preparations for the conference and all our hopes and aspirations for the process that must follow it.

Will there be new openings in what the Bank does? In his opening address, the president of the Bank said that without prejudging the final out comes of this conference, he was willing to commit himself to the objectives of this conference, to the dialogue that I have reaffirmed now, and he gave us two major openings. These are not merely a continuation of dialogue across the board, but a recognition that grassroots action and targeted intervention to the poorest of the poor are important and necessary complements to the kind of broadly based action that the Bank takes, and that the Bank would be willing to meet with its partners, the international donor community—which, of course, will involve the USAID, the UNDP, and others to explore ways by which we can systematically provide support for such actions.

To show that these were not just empty words, he did something exceptional that the Bank never does, which is to make a gift. Banks make loans but we in this case made a gift to the Grameen Trust as a signal of the value the Bank places on the kinds of micro-credit schemes that were so eloquently presented by Muhammad Yunus here yesterday.

So we have an opening and a serious issue to discuss with the international community Where do we go from here not just using only the instruments that now exist, but amending them, if necessary, to create new ones to ensure that the kind of action that complements the essential macroeconomic and sectoral approaches by directly reaching and empowering the poorest of She poor is maintained, and enforced, and replicated on a grand scale across the world. All the countries of the world should have the support needed to launch actions that enable the poorest of the poor to pull themselves up by their bootstraps.

But I would be remiss in my summation here today and in my response to the many comments and criticism that we heard if I did not also address the question of the substance of what the Bank normally does and what is currently part of the development paradigm.

We started this conference as a dialogue and we said that there are some things on which we will disagree and others on which we can agree Perhaps the time is appropriate to also take stock of how far we have come. Where we still disagree, perhaps it is appropriate for both our critics and our friends to spend more time thinking about the issues and educating us on their points of view.

In terms of substance, we can do a lot right now with the promotion of broad-based economic growth to generate income-earning opportunities for the poor. This was part of Nancy Birdsall's message, although we got tied up with the questions of whether macroeconomic stabilization has a negative impact on the urban poor or the rural poor or specific pockets of poverty, and whether social safety nets are an afterthought or should be an integral part of the design.

These elements in the discussion have really taken us a bit away from the heart of the matter, which is that today, despite the fiscal crises that are affecting the governments of the world, they are the most important source by which hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars can be reallocated toward the services that most benefit the poor. This can be done through fiscal reform and the reorientation of public expenditures toward those who really need it, through removing subsidies from fancy hospitals and university structures, as we have seen in some places, to provide basic textbooks in primary schools or funding for preventive medicine for health care units. The UNDP's Human Development Report has estimated that this kind of realignment is of great importance in meeting the needs of the poor and the disadvantage. There is tremendous room to reallocate within governments' public expenditure frameworks.

To realize this potential, I can say that the Bank will increasingly use the instrument of public expenditure reviews and public investment reviews and emphasize the centrality of the needs of the poor to country decision makers. Education, health care, social services, and nutrition are all essential ingredients of the package that must be emphasized. This reorientation of public expenditures will be away from militarism and fancy prestige projects—the creation of a new capital city, a monument to the party, and other such ways of public spending—because, after all, the money for public spending comes from taxing the people of the country, and most of the time those who get taxed are the poor and the lower-middle class. The elite, we know, most of the time escape taxation, whatever the books say about tax rates.

We also want to say that the resources of the World Bank will be made available for the kinds of priorities that are at the heart of your concerns and ours. 1 know of no country that has come to the World Bank and sought support for a nutrition project and was told that the Bank does not have money for nutrition. I know of no country that has come seeking the support of the World Bank for a population program and was told that we do not have enough resources for that. I know of no country that seeks to improve its health system or its education system and gets turned away.

The willingness is there on our part. I invite you to share the same concerns that you share with us with the governments who are our borrowers, as well as our shareholders. We will do our part in discussion and dialogue. We will do our part when we talk about gender bias, when we talk about the education of girls, when we tell the governments in the Sahel that it is unacceptable that only one girl in four goes to school, that unless this situation is changed rapidly they are preparing a generation in which 75 percent of the women will be illiterate, and that something must be done now to avoid that.

We will do our part, but we invite you to do yours, so that collectively we can really build the broad national consensus that translates into action. I do not mean merely the direct action of a project here and a project there by this NGO or that NGO, important as that may be, or this loan or that loan that may be funded by the World Bank or by the Inter-American Development Bank or by the African Development Bank or by some bilateral agency, but to bring about profound change in governments' spending patterns, which is the key by which broad-based changes occur.

Why did Botswana succeed? Because it had revenues from mineral resources? So do many other countries. It was the use to which the government put those resources that made all the difference achieving universal primary education, avoiding hunger and famine despite the droughts that hit that country with regular severity Since 1966 when the country gained its independence it has been hit by these severe droughts. Botswana succeeded because its government adopted a pattern of spending, a pattern of priorities, that others could support.

I was teasing former President Carter when we were outside and he was talking about choosing Ethiopia or some other country for this more harmonized approach to assistance I said, "I wish you would choose Botswana. The president is right here and we could agree and I am sure he would have no difficulty implementing the program." President Carter said, "Yes but the problem is that Botswana is not the one that needs our help.”

Most important, much common ground was identified between the Bank and its critics. The following points were the basis of an emerging consensus:

· The problem of hunger was closely identified with extreme poverty rather than with the production of food, although it was largely understood that we could not be complacent about the necessary support to agricultural research, a sine qua non to maintain the high level of food production in the future. Thus the attack on hunger is an integral part of an and poverty strategy.

· fine promotion of broad-based development is recognized as the essential condition for reducing poverty on a large scale. This reaffirmed the importance of sound macroeconomic management, labor-intensive growth, and sound investments in human resource development, with a special emphasis on addressing issues of gender equity.

· In addition, there is a recognition that complementary action at the grassroots level to reach the poorest of the poor is essential. Such targeted interventions, however, should be channeled toward production and not just consumption. Micro credit schemes were identified as one of the key elements in such interventions.

· The link between health and hunger is now better understood (a point that was well articulated in our World Development Report 1993), and accordingly, certain types of interventions, including vitamin A, iodine, and iron supplementation programs, which cost very little and have a profound impact, should be promoted.

· Policies that increase the access of the poor to assets and to the factors such as credit and extension, which increase the returns to assets held by the poor, should be promoted This will, in certain cases, involve the issue of land reform.

All these points are within the Bank's current framework for poverty reduction, and therefore do not constitute departures from the existing policies and practices of the Bank, although there is a clear expectation that our work in these areas will be intensified.

Nevertheless, differences still abound, especially on the issues of structural adjustment, trade, and exports. But most important, differences still exist in the link between the macro and the micro, the role of governments, and the appropriate balance between regulation and incentives.

Indeed, this is part of what I am talking about. The government's attitude is at the center of how public spending is configured and how priorities are set in the country. Where the government is responsive to its people's needs and is accountable to them, the priorities are likely to be the right ones, and we should all be working in support of them.

Having said that, I do not deny that the Bank has a role to play, through its advocacy and analytical functions, in influencing government decisions and influencing the attitude of the world about where the priorities lie. And I can assure you, all of you here today, that we will take these responsibilities very seriously, that we will be engaged in promoting income earning opportunities for the poor and in removing anti employment biases in trade policy or market regulations, in looking at tax regimes and at financial sector policies. We will be involved in all these things and stake out our positions with a view to bringing about changes in the lives of the poor and the destitute, the vulnerable and the hungry.

A friend in Africa told me that "over the last ten years the World Bank has made the private sector respectable in Africa, because ten years ago we used to consider them as pirates, and now we think of them as business people. We used to think of them as exploiters, but now we think of them as investors." That has taken ten years of discussion.

I think that we have a similar task in changing the priorities and the focus, not just on poverty, but on extreme poverty and the issue of hunger, and I sincerely hope that, with your help, it will not take ten years to change those attitudes.

Beyond these two key points, the follow-up in terms of substance is really just to intensify some areas of current Bank work that are part of the emerging consensus I described. This would include the following points;.

· Poverty assessments should address hunger issues more explicitly in relation to the ultra poor and the vulnerable, especially during periods of transition.

· The Bank should support some actions that are of immediate applicability and proven effectiveness. Such support may be just by insisting on their importance in the context of public expenditure reviews, consultative groups, and other forums, and does not necessarily imply that we should finance such activities ourselves. These actions include:

· Cheap direct actions: vitamin A and iodine supplements, immunization against cholera and other childhood diseases, and treatment of parasites. All of these are simple, low-cost, and affordable, even in the most constrained budget situations

· Other direct actions: give food coupons to children and mothers at health clinics, monetize food aid and use the revenue for targeted feeding programs, and introduce food-for-work schemes.

· Protecting the poor during structural adjustment Maintain social expenditures, improve the composition of social expenditures to target the poor and the very poor better, and introduce public works job programs {for example, such as the Maharashtra Employment Guarantee Scheme).
· Targeted schemes to raise incomes: reduce regulatory constraints to the activities of the informal sector, promote better access to micro credit, promote better natural resources management, and promote agricultural research targeted on the needs of small farmers.

All these points are already being tackled successfully in various Bank-financed operations, and should be more recognized as the best practices that should be mainstreamed.

Some of these are very simple, basic things, and there is no excuse today why they should not be done immediately. I can tell you that the Bank will systematically look at that in every country with which we speak. And when a country submits a program for us to fund, we will ask, "What are you doing about these interventions?" I think I can vouch for the fact that none of my colleagues will accept an answer, "We haven't got enough money for it." For the basic, simple actions money is not an acceptable excuse.

But beyond the simple, basic, and cheap things that must be done, some of the more complicated schemes I just mentioned, some of the more expensive and direct actions, are also needed to reach those who are in most severe need, especially in hunger and food insecurity situations. Many methods are in place, and we have heard about many of them today. Some are more effective and some are less costly than others. Here, we need to find the most cost-effective schemes possible. We need to explore such schemes and apply them wherever they are needed.

We need to make better use of food aid, an important source of support from many countries but one that, where inappropriately used, brings about very sad results in undermining local food production and local farmer production. We need to make sure that, in addition to food aid, the Bank supports ways of improving incomes for the poor, including the targeting of incomes for the poor.

We know that improving incomes for the poor and hungry works in a number of ways, the most categorical and direct of which is that those who have no assets should have access to assets. Where there is a land distribution problem, as exists in many countries, we should be collectively willing to tackle the issue of land reform. It is not an easy issue. Politically it has proven extremely difficult to do. Most of us here are active in the United States. We know that where rent control has been imposed it has been very difficult to remove. Where strong, politically vested interests support existing legislation, it stays in place. In the same way land reform is a difficult task, but I believe the time has come for all of us to tackle it.

Access to assets for those who have no assets also means access to the factors that increase the return on assets that are held by the poor. In the case of rural farmers, or even of farm labor, as we discussed with Muhammad Yunus in connection with Grameen Bank, it means access to credit. But access to assets is also access to extension services, and we need to address that as well We need to address access to fertilizers and seeds and make sure that all these activities are possible to increase the return on assets.

For most of the poor, the biggest asset they have is their own labor, and therefore, the returns on labor have to he maximized. These returns are maximized by investment in nutrition; in reduction of hunger; in improvement of health, education, and training; and in the opening of opportunities for self-employment though the respect that must be given to the informal sector that functions in most countries, and is unfortunately criminalized by the legislation of most countries. We need to tackle this set of issues as well.

We need equally to recognize that technology is critical, and I was happy to hear Brian Atwood affirm support for agricultural research. Because while we cannot be and should not be complacent about the problem and the presence of hunger and poverty, we should also not be complacent about the continued trends in agricultural research that have made food abundant in the world today. What we need to do is to continue the kind of preventive investment—investment in research that is sustained, nonpolitical, not subject to fads, not subject to year in/year out changes that has been the key to the success of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research, which was able to pursue increases in production systematically, receiving support year in and year out for many years. So there is a set of actions that must be carried out, and again it will be difficult to mobilize the political support for them, but that is one of the things that we need to do.

Let me then go back from these actions to the most controversial of all, and I will not duck it, which is the issue of structural adjustment Clearly we have a disagreement There are different views of what happens under adjustment, and I suspect that part of that difference arises because while things may—I emphasize the word may—be improving in the aggregate, it is quite possible that they are getting worse for some people, and getting much worse for some people in particular locations. This in and of itself should be inadmissible.

It is not enough to say that, on average, conditions are getting better It is important that we say that conditions are getting better for everybody, and that particularly they are getting better for those who are the poorest of the poor. That has to be the stand of the new abolitionist! It makes sense from an ethical point of view, as well as from a welfare point of view. Strangely enough, for some people here, I will even mention something that was done in the World Bank almost twenty years ago, the Bank's much attacked methodology of benefit cost analysis, explored and worked with the idea of social weights, which was in fact to say that a dollar earned by the poorest person is not equal to a dollar earned by the richest person.

That, my friends, was twenty years ago, not now, not in response to criticism from the outside, but in the Bank's continuing efforts always to explore the most rigorous ways of dealing with the most difficult problems.

So social weights were intended to treat income to the poor as more important than income to the rich. It is not equal, and it should not be equal, and in our view, both twenty years ago and today, we have to take the income distribution aspect into account Therefore, I would be willing on behalf of the Bank to say that yes, we believe that sound macroeconomic policies are essential, we believe that, on balance, things are improving in the aggregate, but I also accept the point of view—the experience of the NGOs—that despite that fact, conditions in some, possibly many, places are not only not improving, but they may even be getting worse.

The question then becomes how we can work together to maintain the gain to the aggregate and remove the loss to the specific This is a real challenge It is a challenge that we will have to address together to find ways of integrating the microeconomic and the macroeconomic In this sense we have much to learn from everybody, and I hope that we will learn that in the coming parts of this dialogue.

Outside this conference and in parallel with it, we had a separate panel composed of Monsignor Jorge Mejia, a representative of the Holy See and the vice president of the Commission or. Justice and Peace of the Vatican; David Beckmann, president of Bread for the World; myself; and initially, Ibrahima Fall, the United Nations assistant secretary general for human rights, who, although he was detained at the last minute and could not come personally, sent a text The title of that panel was "The Ethical Dimensions of Global Hunger," because we wanted to address hunger not just as a technical issue, but as a human rights issue, as an issue of ethics, as ail issue of public morality (see Associated Event section).

Frankly, I feel so strongly about this that I will add the papers from that panel to the proceedings we will have of this conference Even though the proceedings are not the main outcome of this conference, I think it is important to integrate the papers of the ethical dimensions panel with those from this conference, of which you will all be receiving a copy.

In the end, if we are to be the new abolitionists, we need to reinforce ourselves with the right degree of outreach, the right degree of anger, the right degree of commitment that it is inadmissible that we should allow hunger to persist amidst plenty in a changing world.

For this to be more than a slogan, I commit myself before you here today that I will create a focal point for follow-up of this discussion within my vice presidency at the World Bank, that the dialogue that we have started here today will not end here today, that we will start again in a new and reinforced fashion, in an enriched fashion immediately as of next week when we meet with the steering committee.

Let this conference be a milestone from which we all start to respond to the fears and the aspiration expressed by former President Carter when he asked, will there be actions to suit the words? I am willing to say that for my colleagues and me at the Bank-and I am sure I can say the for all of you here—there will be follow-up. How fast it will come we cannot predict, but I can say that it will not be for lack of trying.