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close this bookOvercoming Global Hunger (WB)
close this folderSession one: global challenge
View the documentWelcoming remarks
View the documentPartnership to fight hunger
View the documentA vision for a hunger-free partnership
View the documentParticipation of nongovernmental organizations
View the documentNothing grows from the top down
View the documentConference themes

Conference themes

Ismail Serageldin

It is indeed invigorating to hear the eloquence with which Atherton Martin puts forth his case. I feel comfortable that it is not disagreements on the objectives that ma,, divide us in this group today, but perhaps on fine-tuning the contributions of each of us to establish more firmly the common ground on which we can act. This fine-tuning will be our responsibility in this coming day and a half, to determine how we can keep Congressman Hall's bonfire going to provide us with the necessary heat and vision.

Perhaps I too can share with you the feelings of outrage that so many of us in the World Bank, and in the development community at large, feel about the problem of extreme poverty and its ugly corollary, hunger, in the midst of a plentiful world.

Every day, 40,000 people die from hunger related causes. In the brief forty-five minutes of this opening session, one-and-a-half times as many people as are in this auditorium will have died from hunger-related causes. Those who do not die outright are deprived of the most basic attributes of human existence, and their children are stunted in their growth and unable to realize the full potential of their genes.

From this perspective, hunger is surely the most abhorrent physical expression of absolute poverty, for it is imprinted on human flesh and bones. Furthermore, it is not only the poor who are degraded by that condition. All of humanity is degraded by tolerating that one-sixth or more of the world's population could continue to live, barely, in such conditions. It is shameful for the nations of the world that have achieved so much in so many domains not to be taking the necessary actions to remove this blight from the face of the earth. All the more shameful because so much of the problem is avoidable.

Taking the actions needed to reduce hunger is what this conference is all about. But—and in this I join my colleagues who spoke before me today, including Mr. Martin and Congressman Hall— the goal of this conference is more than that. The abolition of hunger in our lifetime is a task to which all people of good conscience must rededicate themselves.

Mr. Martin mentioned slavery, and I believe that like slavery 150 years ago, hunger today is unconscionable. Let us be the new abolitionists, those who from every location and every forum will go our almost to address this challenge. We must do so because it is a moral imperative. But beyond the ethical issues, from an economic standpoint and from a political standpoint, we have no choice. It makes no sense to leave so many kindred souls living in misery and wretchedness, barely on the brink of survival, when they could be active contributors to the improvement of both self and society.

But wishing the problem away will not make it disappear. It will require the systematic application of sound policies, a sustained commitment to investment in human resources, and the promotion of policies that support the empowerment of the poor. It will require special attention to the needs of women, for the empowerment of women is at the core of any sustained action to deal with poverty and hunger. It will require sustained commitment and partner ship from the international community, including all of us here today.

You may well ask, "What is the World Bank doing to meet this challenge?" The Bank's commitment to fight poverty is grounded in a view of development that sees the ultimate measure of success in the improvement of people's wellbeing. Mr. Preston has said many times that poverty reduction is the benchmark against which our success as a development institution must be measured.

We believe that sound economic management that focuses on broadly based, employment generating growth is a necessary feature of any effective attack on poverty, because real progress occurs when the poor, the weak, and the marginalized become the producers of their own welfare and bounty, not the recipients of charity or the beneficiaries of aid. We also believe that these policies must be accompanied by sound investments, especially in human resources. Currently, the World Bank is lending close to US$ 3.0 billion a year for human resource development, of which US$1.6 billion is going for education, with a special emphasis on the education of girls. In some countries in the poorest regions that are most at risk, such as the Sahel in Africa, fewer than one girl in four goes to school.

But beyond this double-pronged attack of sound macroeconomic policies and investment in human resources, increasingly the Bank has been supporting direct interventions to improve food security and nutrition. Our support for nutrition projects, for example, rose from nearly US$20 million or so five or six years ago to more than US$680 million last year. Many of these projects have brought about sound improvements in people's lives. The Tamil Nadu Nutrition Project in India, for example, managed to reach 20,000 villages and 3 million children, and significantly improved the nutritional status of 50 percent of those children.

Today we heard Mr. Preston announce that the Bank was willing to consider new ways of supporting complementary actions to reach the poorest of the poor and to join with our partners in exploring how we can systematically provide support to the kinds of micro-credit schemes that empower the poorest of the poor to pull themselves up by their bootstraps, whether it be the National Family Planning Coordination Board in.

Indonesia or Grameen Bank in Bangladesh. My colleagues and I look forward to participating in such discussions with the donor community after this conference.

Mr. Preston spoke of the different comparative advantages of different institutions in the fight against hunger. We fully recognize that ours is only one contribution among many. During this conference we must all seer; the common ground that will enable each of us to make our contribution in a way that creates a whole greater than the sum of its parts. How do we do this? The World Bank certainly does not have all the answers. We are here to listen and to learn from the experience and expertise of others as much as to share whatever we have learned ourselves. This conference was structured so as to allow maximum interaction and cross-fertilization of ideas, which brings me to the mechanics of the program.

The conference was preceded by a participatory workshop at which representatives of international agencies, governments, nongovernmental organization and academic groups discussed the main themes of each of the main plenary sessions to be held today and tomorrow: macroeconomic policies, targeted interventions, and the political economy of hunger. The workshop participants designated rapporteurs from the workshop who will be reporting in the plenary for each session during the conference. The main sessions are structured as panels with an invited speaker, a designated discussant, and the workshop rapporteur as the second discussant. Each set of presentations will be followed by questions and answers from the floor.

On this occasion we hope that all speakers will keep in mind the issues of equity, sustainable development, and popular participation, which are the common threads running through this intricate tapestry. Again, as Mr. Preston mentioned, we know that there will be differences of opinion and disagreements, but that is healthy, because these are differences in means, not in ends. With good will on all sides, we all will leave here enriched by this dialogue.

The World Bank will be represented by many of our staff in the audience, and by four vice presidents in addition to myself, who will be the chairs of the four sessions: Mr. Edward Jaycox, the vice president for Africa; Mr. Caio KochWeser, the vice president for the Middle East and North Africa; Mr. Joseph Wood, the vice president for South Asia; and Mr. Shahid Husain, the vice president for Latin America and the Caribbean.

Thus, in addition to the central vice presidents like myself and Mr. Michael Bruno, our chief economist, who is here in the audience right now, we will actually have listening to this debate the four vice presidents dealing with the four regions of the world that are perhaps most affected by this problem.

I would also add that we are privileged to have distinguished world leaders join us in our deliberations, and by their presence lend their support to the cause of ending global hunger during our lifetimes. We are indeed privileged to have with us.

· His Excellency Ketumile Masire, president of Botswana, winner of The Hunger Prize for 1989, chairman of the Global Coalition for Africa, first vice chairman of the Organization of African Unity, a true spokesperson not just for the people of Botswana, but for all of Africa. His actions have demonstrated what political leadership and a sensible government can do to avoid hunger and famine even in the face of the worst drought in 100 years. President Masire will be addressing us after the first session.

· Secretary-General of the United Nations Dr. Boutros-Ghali, scholar, diplomat, and profound humanist, who is actively working to orient the global United Nations system to balance military and political security considerations with the security that only broadly based development can provide when it brings a decent living to the millions of people currently deprived of it.

· Former United States President Jimmy Carter, who by word and deed, both in and out of the White House, has shown how profoundly a political leader can be committed to the cause of the poor and the hungry in the world. He will be addressing us tomorrow.

All in all, it promises to be quite a gathering and an unrivaled opportunity to build that common ground and keep that bonfire alive, to retain that sense of outrage that is necessary for all or us to go straight into action and not limit ourselves to talk.