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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

World Bank Pursues Greater Poor-Country Input




BANGKOK, Thailand -- The president of the World Bank said Wednesday that people in poor nations want the same things as people everywhere - better lives, opportunity and security for their children.


But outside the convention center where James Wolfensohn was speaking to a UN trade conference, about 500 protesters blamed World Bank-funded projects for ruining their lives.


Utai Wongpan, 65, said she had a small fishery on the Moon river in northeastern Thailand before the World Bank financed a Thai government plan to dam it.


After the construction, there were no more fish. Her son and daughter were forced to go to Bangkok to take jobs as laborers, but they were thrown out of work in the recent Asian economic crisis.


"I am here today to tell Mr. Wolfensohn and the World Bank how this money given to the government affected my whole life," Utai said during the peaceful protest. "We have nothing left."


The protesters demanded Wolfensohn, who was inside making an appeal for poor countries to have more say in the World Trade Organization system, come out to meet them and address their concerns.


Speaking to the UN Conference on Trade and Development, which seeks to promote trade in developing countries as a tool for growth, Wolfensohn said the world cannot ignore the aspirations of billions of people.


"Technology and its consequences are increasingly linking us together into one world," Wolfensohn said in a statement. "But this one world cannot remain split along a fault line that separates the lives and aspirations of the rich and poor."


UNCTAD has brought the leaders of international institutions like the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the WTO to Bangkok this week to discuss solutions to the uneven benefits of global trade.


The agencies are seen by many detractors as being run by unaccountable elites whose decisions affect billions of lives without much public input.


The World Bank finances development projects, long favoring huge infrastructure projects like dams. But the failure of many projects to live up to expectations led to the bank curtailing financing for mega-projects in recent years.


Recently, the bank has turned to providing poor countries with access to information-age technology - and Wolfensohn said the bank is introducing measures to keep better tabs on the impact of projects it backs, including input from the people directly affected.


The UN conference has been protested daily by groups representing the poor who blame the international institutions and the Thai government for their plight.


Wolfensohn said 1.2 billion people live on less than $1 a day and are being left behind while technology spurs on a globalized economy, enabling the rich to get even richer.


"People in poverty are like every one of us," said Wolfensohn, whose organization in theory champions the poor. "They are no different."


"They want something for their kids, they want to live in some form of security, they want affection. They want a sense of belonging, they want a voice , they want a chance to speak."


"And let me tell you, they know more about poverty than anyone in this room," Wolfensohn said. "They live it."