World Bank president says he will bring sense of urgency to efforts to end global poverty in exclusive Guardian interview
The new president of the World Bank is determined to eradicate global poverty through goals, targets and measuring success in the same way that he masterminded an Aids drugs campaign for poor people nearly a decade ago.
Jim Yong Kim, in an exclusive interview with the Guardian, said he was passionately committed to ending absolute poverty, which threatens survival and makes progress impossible for the 1.3 billion people living on less than $1.25 a day.
“I want to eradicate poverty,” he said. “I think that there’s a tremendous passion for that inside the World Bank.”
Kim, who took over at the World Bank three weeks ago and is not only the first doctor and scientist (he is also an anthropologist) to be president but the first with development experience, will set “a clear, simple goal” in the eradication of absolute poverty. Getting there, however, needs progress on multiple, but integrated, fronts.
“The evidence suggests that you’ve got to do a lot of good, good things in unison, to be able to make that happen,” said Kim. “The private sector has to grow, you have to have social protection mechanisms, you have to have a functioning health and education system. The scientific evidence strongly suggests that it has to be green – you have to do it in a way that is sustainable both for the environment and financially. All the great themes that we’ve been dealing with here have to come together to eradicate poverty from the face of the Earth.”
Kim, who was previously head of the Ivy League Dartmouth College, is probably best known for his stint at the World Health Organisation (WHO), where he challenged the system to move faster in making Aids drugs available to people with HIV in the developing world who were dying in large numbers. In 2003, he set a target of 3 million people being on treatment by 2005 – thereafter known as “3 by 5″. The target was not met on time, but it did focus minds and rapidly speed up the pace of the rollout, which included setting up clinics and training healthcare staff.
Now, he says, he thinks he can do the same for poverty. “What 3 by 5 did that we just didn’t expect was to set a tempo to the response; it created a sense of urgency. There was pace and rhythm in the way we did things. We think we can do something similar for poverty,” he said.
Asked if he would set a date this time, he said he was sorely tempted, but would not yet. “We don’t know what they will be yet, but [there will be] goals, and counting. We need to keep up and say where we are making successes and why, and when are we going to be held to account next for the level of poverty. If we can build that kind of pace and rhythm into the movement, we think we can make a lot more progress,” he said in his office at the Bank in Washington.
Kim was seen by many as a surprise choice for president. During the election, critics argued there should be an economist at the helm. Some said that, as a doctor, he would focus too much on health.
But Kim, who co-founded Partners In Health, which pioneered sustainable, high-quality healthcare for poor people, first in Haiti and later in Africa, said his three years at the WHO have been the only ones of his career that were solely devoted to health.
“It’s always been about poverty, so for me, making the switch to being here at the Bank is really not that much of a stretch. I’ve been doing this all my life and we’re in a bit of the spotlight because of the stuff we did in healthcare but it was really always about poverty,” he said.
Partners in Health offered HIV and tuberculosis treatment to poor people in Haiti for the first time. “We were trying to make a point. And the point we were trying to make was that just because people are poor shouldn’t mean that they shouldn’t have access to high quality healthcare. It was always based in social justice, it was always based in the notion that people had a right to live a dignified life. The good news is that this place – the Bank – is just full of people like that.”
Kim, who has spent his first weeks talking to Bank staff with expertise in a huge range of areas, strongly believes in the integration of all aspects of development, and says the staff do too. He cites a new hospital Partners built in Rwanda, which led to the building of a road to get there and then the expansion of mobile phone networks in the area. “In a very real sense, we’ve always believed that investing in health means investing in the wellbeing and development of that entire community,” he said.
Speaking to the International Aids Conference in Washington this week – the first World Bank president to do so – Kim told activists and scientists that the end of Aids no longer looked as far-fetched as the 3 by 5 plan had appeared in 2003. Science has delivered tools, such as drugs that not only treat but prevent infection.
But the cost of drugs for life for 15 million or more people is not sustainable, he says. Donors are unlikely to foot the bill. Hard-hit developing countries have to be helped to grow so they can pay for the drugs and healthcare systems they need.
Kim would like the highly active HIV community to broaden its focus. “We’ve had Aids exceptionalism for a long time and Aids exceptionalism has been incredibly important. It has been so productive for all of us,” he said. “But I think that as we go beyond the emergency response and think about the long-term sustainable response, conversations such as how do we spur growth in the private sector have to be part of the discussion.”
Every country wants economic growth, he says, and people want jobs. “If I care about poverty, I have to care a lot about investments in the private sector. The private sector creates the vast majority of jobs in the world and social protection only goes so far,” he said.
Nevertheless, he is a big proponent of social protection policies. “I’ve always been engaged in social protection programmes. But now it is really a signature of the World Bank. We’re very good at helping people look at their public expenditures and we say to them things like, fuel subsidies really aren’t very helpful to the poor – what you really need is to remove fuel subsidies and focus on things like conditional cash transfer plans. The Bank is great at that.”
New to him are climate change and sustainability, he says. “We are watching things happen with one degree changes in ocean temperature that we thought wouldn’t happen until there were two or three degree changes in ocean temperature. These are facts. These are things that have actually happened … I think we now have plenty of evidence that should push us into thinking that this is disturbing data and should spur us to think ever more seriously about clean energy and how can we move our focus more towards clean energy.”
But poor countries are saying they need more energy and we must respect that, he says. “It’s hard to say to them we still do it but you can’t … I think our role is to say the science suggests strongly to us that we should help you looking for clean energy solutions.”
African countries will be better off with a more activist development strategy than with the failed Washington orthodoxy
‘Industrial policy used to be a four-letter word at the World Bank,” observed Joseph Stiglitz, the Nobel economics laureate, in a recent conference on industrial policy in Africa that I attended. He should know. He used be the chief economist of the World Bank, albeit a very unorthodox one.
The statement itself, if a little exaggerated, was nothing extraordinary, as the World Bank’s extreme aversion to industrial policy had been well known. What was extraordinary, however, was where the statement was made – a conference that was partly sponsored by
A one-sided justice sees weaker states punished as rich nations and giant corporations project their power across the world
The conviction of Charles Taylor, the former president of Liberia, is said to have sent an unequivocal message to current leaders: that great office confers no immunity. In fact it sent two messages: if you run a small, weak nation, you may be subject to the full force of international law; if you run a powerful nation, you have nothing to fear.
While anyone with an interest in human rights should welcome the verdict, it reminds us that no one has faced legal consequences for launching the illegal war against Iraq. This fits the Nuremberg tribunal’s definition of a “crime of aggression”, which it called “the supreme international crime”. The charges on which, in an impartial system, George Bush, Tony Blair and their associates should have been investigated are far graver than those for which Taylor was found guilty.
The foreign secretary, William Hague, claims that Taylor’s conviction “demonstrates that those who have committed the most serious of crimes can and will be held to account for their actions”. But
Andrew Mitchell, Development secretary said the UK would help more than 60 million people get access to cleaner water over the course of the this parliament
Higher global food prices are hampering attempts to hit targets for food and nutrition, the World Bank said today.
The Bank’s Global Monitoring Report said rates of child and maternal mortality were still “unacceptably high” – partly as a result of surging commodity prices.
Justin Yifu Lin, the Bank’s chief economist, said high and volatile food prices did not bode well for achieving the millennium development goals, targets for reducing poverty that are supposed to be hit by 2015.
“They erode consumer purchasing power and prevent millions of people from escaping poverty and hunger, besides having long-term adverse impacts on health and education,” Lin said.
“Dealing with food price volatility must be a high priority, especially as nutrition has been one of the forgotten MDGs.”
The Bank’s snapshot of progress towards meeting the millennium development goals came as the development secretary Andrew Mitchell announced a doubling of the UK’s effort to provide clean water and sanitation to the world’s poorest countries.
Mitchell said the UK would help more than 60 million people get access to cleaner water over the course of the current parliament.
“Waterborne diseases are a leading cause of death in children under five in Africa and girls are less likely to go to school and receive the education to pull them and their communities out of abject poverty if there are no sanitation facilities,” Mitchell said.
“For too long, water and sanitation has not received the priority it deserves from the international community. But we know that without clean water supplies and proper sanitation, we will never help developing countries stand independently and thrive.”
Fresh fears emerge that eruption of financial crisis will leave International Monetary Fund short of emergency cash
Christine Lagarde is involved in a struggle to raise funds for the International Monetary Fund amid fears that a fresh eruption of the global financial crisis will leave the organisation short of emergency cash.
The fund’s managing director was lobbying hard for Britain and other developed nations that have yet to pledge money to build a bigger firewall to provide more than $400bn (£250bn) in fresh resources.
George Osborne, who arrived in Washington on Thursday night for the spring meetings of the IMF and the World Bank, has yet to say whether the UK will participate in the fundraising exercise, insisting that the eurozone must show a willingness to sort out its own problems first.
With the US refusing to participate in the fundraising exercise, the IMF has already scaled down its target from the $600bn it was looking for when the eurozone crisis was at its height in late 2011.
But the upward pressure on Italian and Spanish borrowing costs has raised the prospect that the eurozone’s third and fourth-biggest economies might need financial support, providing extra ammunition for Lagarde as she asks for loans both from developed nations and the leading emerging economies.
IMF sources said that they did not expect the US to respond to the call in an election year, since any loan made would have to be passed by both houses of Congress. Lagarde said she wanted the US to play its part in the international effort to combat future crises. “The leading economic power in the world clearly has to have a leadership role,” she said.
Lagarde added that Europe needed to keep up the pace of reform and should aim for a “deepening integration of the eurozone”.
She expressed concern about five “dark clouds” – high unemployment, slow growth, over-rapid deleveraging by banks, strains in the eurozone and higher oil prices – gathering over the global economy. She said she was looking for further support from “our broader membership” to ensure that it could tackle crises and ensure global financial stability.
“The fund needs to participate in building additional firepower to the global firewall we have been advocating. I expect our own firepower to be significantly increased.”
So far, the eurozone has pledged $200bn to the IMF, Japan $60bn and Switzerland $26bn. Four other European countries – Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Poland – have between them agreed to contribute $35bn.
With concern growing about the health of Spain’s banks, Lagarde said she wanted the European authorities to be able to invest directly in financial institutions rather than through governments.
Robert Zoellick, the president of the World Bank, said the impact of the European debt crisis was rippling out to poorer countries in the Balkans, south-east Europe and north Africa. “The eurozone is going to be walking a very fine line,” he said, adding that the European Central Bank (ECB) had only bought time by providing cheap three-year money to eurozone banks. “That time has to be used. There needs to be a focus, not just on austerity and macro-economic stability, but on growth.”
Zoellick said the phase in which banks were able to use the low-cost funds from the ECB to purchase government bonds was coming to an end. “Italy and Spain are vital,” he added. “We are not out of this mess yet. It is still a fragile economy.”
The World Bank president said that the outcome for the eurozone would depend on actions taken in individual countries and the structural reforms they implemented. “It is very difficult to take these steps in a no-growth environment.”
Zoellick, who will be leaving the World Bank in the summer at the end of his five-year term, expressed concern that the new rules for banking regulation drawn up under the Basel III agreement were too tough and would choke off lending. “Basel III is too strict in my view,” he said.