USA: World Bank Lambasted for Ignoring Racial Dimension of Poverty
WASHINGTON -- Race has become such a scary word to
the World Bank
that its officials found themselves referring to it as the 'R-
word' while responding to charges that the institution had skirted race in its
recent World Development Report.
The Bank came under fire this week at a conference to review the 2000/2001 World Development Report (WDR) for failing to present data and analyses on how
race and ethnicity are a factor in global poverty.
''The issue is not adequately addressed in the WDR yet at the
world conference on racism next year, it is publications such as this, that will be in the spotlight,'' says Lynn Walker Huntly of the Southern Education
Foundation, an Atlanta-based research agency focusing on racial issues in Brazil, South Africa and the United States.
With deprivation based on race and ethnicity so evident around the
world, Walker Huntley asks whether the Bank fears being labelled as
dis-aggregating data on who exactly makes up the bulk of poor
people in the
''Do we seek to hide these realities? Race is a very critical
understanding poverty and there is no such thing as just
The World Bank based its annual flagship report this year on
last dedicated a WDR to the theme a decade ago.
In this year's report, the Bank measures poverty in relation to
education, powerlessness and vulnerability. It also analyses the
dimension of poverty noting that this is one of the key poverty
Although it is not an official policy document approved by the
board, the WDR has a major influence on development thinking and
It will influence some of the deliberations next September at the
Conference against Racism and Racial Discrimination in South
conference will review the results of three UN Decades Against
spotlight the horrors of slavery, the holocaust, apartheid and
This year's WDR concedes that there is a dearth of information on
poverty. It however says income poverty is higher among indigenous
groups in a
sample of Latin American countries for which data is available.
In Guatemala, for instance, indigenous groups have on average 1.8
schooling compared to 4.9 years for non-indigenous groups while in
indigenous people were 40 percent more likely to be poor than non-
Nora Lustig, who lead the WDR team, says the message of
inequality runs throughout the document which points out that
poverty ''may be
related to acts of discrimination that keep certain groups
However, another researcher, Ruthanne Deutch an economist in the
Development Division of the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB)
major challenge is obtaining racial data and incorporating it into
''For instance only four out of 26 Latin American countries ask
question in census questionnaires.'' In some of these countries,
illegal to ask about race and ethnicity.
Next month, the IDB is bringing officials from Latin American
Columbia to a seminar titled 'Race and Ethnicity in the Censuses
''Once the countries agree to include these questions, we have to
ask the questions well, in an inclusive way, without being
But other officials within the development banks say the problem
just acquiring information as it translates to the make-up of the
financial institutions themselves.
''If you were to gather all the workers of the IDB in Washington
and ask how
many of them are of Mayan or Aztec descent or are Afro-Brazilians,
probably not find one,'' says an IDB official from a Caribbean
is the problem, but no-one is prepared to talk about it.''
''It has only been 100 years since many of these nations emerged
rule, and those relationships are still reflected in all
The IDB is mandated to direct 50 percent of its spending toward
the poor, the
majority of whom are made up of racially excluded groups. But IDB
the institution spends far less on the group partly because there
substantial information on them.
Some suggestions that emerged from this week's forum on the WDR
to explore the possibility of making the international financial
adopt new loan conditions that compel governments to directly
and ethnically excluded groups.
Richard Collier of the World Bank's Development Economics
says the World Bank may consider financing programmes that
propose but it would not be appropriate for the institution to
affirmative action programmes on its clients.
- 194 World Financial Institutions