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By Robert Seward

TOKYO, Japan (November 9, 2001 – PIDP/CPIS)---As the World Bank ( reengages with the Pacific, Laurie Dunn, World Bank Senior Country Officer, stated at a seminar in Tokyo Friday that poverty reduction will be a primary focus of World Bank lending in the Pacific.

As he embarks on his first fact-finding trip to the Marshall Islands and the Federated States of Micronesia, Dunn said, in a play on words, that there is a "poverty of opportunity in Pacific Island states." He expressed concern that "informal safety nets" are stretched thin.

Education and health are central to the poverty-reduction programs of the World Bank, whose worldwide projects for health, nutrition, education, and social protection represent 25 percent of lending.

World Bank President James D. Wolfensohn wants the Bank to assist developing countries in their efforts to reach Education For All (EFA). The goal is universal primary education for all children by 2015.

Dunn indicated that the World Bank regional office is also looking at sectoral issues of geographic "isolation and dispersion" both within and among Pacific Island states. As a result, the Bank is looking at transportation as well as information and communication technology (ICT).

Another Bank priority area includes economic restructuring with a strong focus on the private sector.

"Non-lending" is also a task of the World Bank’s regional office, Dunn revealed. He said that being a "knowledge bank" is part of this effort, as it draws on the Bank’s experience from around the world. The regional office also aims to respond to member countries requests for short-term analytical work.

"Only one or two new projects per year are expected to be funded," Dunn told the Tokyo seminar.

This figure was at slight odds with a printed summary of Dunn’s remarks provided before the talk stating that "an indicative benchmark of 2-3 new lending activities per fiscal year" could be anticipated. That project level will call on resources of up to US$ 30-40 million over the next three years.

Dunn did not explain the discrepancy in the number of projected projects reported in his talk and in the summary.

The World Bank’s Pacific Island current lending portfolio stands at US$ 40 million. Bank projects are located in the Solomon Islands, Samoa, Vanuatu, and Tonga.

Dunn characterized the Bank’s history in lending to Pacific Member Countries as "mixed." Consequently, "the Bank’s role in the transfer of resources to the PMCs has been and is likely to remain limited," he said.

Dunn stressed that the Bank would closely coordinate its efforts in the Pacific with national governments -- Australia, Japan, New Zealand, and the United States -- as well as UN agencies, donors, nongovernmental organizations, and other partners such as the Commonwealth Secretariat.

The Bank’s focus has been on regional projects. That will continue. Dunn indicated that the Bank would also begin to look at country-specific conditions.

The Pacific Member Countries of the World Bank comprise the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Fiji, Samoa, Tonga, Kiribati, Palau, the Federated States of Micronesia, and the Marshall Islands. Papua New Guinea and East Timor come under separate Bank jurisdictions.

Dunn, formerly with AUSAID, is stationed in the World Bank’s Sydney Offices as part of the Bank’s decentralization efforts. The Sydney office is responsible for East Timor, Papua New Guinea, and Pacific Island Operations. This is Dunn’s first trip to the North Pacific.

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