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IN THE NEWS - April 27, 2002: World Bank - 2002-04-26

This is Steve Ember with the VOA Special English Program IN THE NEWS.

The World Bank is not a normal bank. It is not a place where individuals borrow money. The Bank does loan money but not in the exact same way as a local bank.

The World Bank is one of the largest suppliers of development assistance. Its main goal is to improve living conditions for poor people throughout the world. Last year, it provided more than seventeen-thousand-million dollars in loans to developing countries to help end poverty.

The money went to efforts like debt reduction for some of the poorest countries in the world. That program was designed to increase debt assistance and provide it faster than in the past. As a result, twenty-three countries received debt assistance last year as compared to seven countries the year before.

The World Bank does more than just provide loans, however. It believes that continued poverty reduction comes from investing in the people of a country -- especially through education and health programs.

World Bank President James Wolfensohn announced one such program earlier this week at the organization’s yearly spring meeting in Washington. The “Education for All” plan is aimed at getting all children between the ages of five and eleven into early education. The World Bank plans to establish the program soon in ten countries. Bank leaders will choose countries that have strong education reform plans but no money to establish them.

The World Bank uses engineers, economists, public policy experts and social scientists to create these kinds of programs. These professionals also provide developing countries with the necessary technical help to carry out the programs. Ten thousand people work for the World Bank. Eight thousand are based in Washington. The rest are spread around the world.

The World Bank is owned by more than one-hundred-eighty member countries. They hold shares in the Bank. A Board of Governors and Board of Directors represent the positions and interests of the members.

The World Bank began as a much smaller group. It was established at an international conference in the United States in Nineteen-Forty-Four.

The Bank says it has helped to make great progress in developing nations especially in the past twenty or so years. Bank officials say life expectancy in developing nations has increased and baby and child deaths have decreased. They also say more adults now can read than in the past.

However, the World Bank has critics around the world. Protesters have held large demonstrations at recent World Bank meetings. Opponents say Bank programs make industrial nations richer and developing nations poorer. Others say the organization’s activities result in environmental damage.

This VOA Special English program, IN THE NEWS, was written by Caty Weaver. This is Steve Ember.