USA: World Bank Lambasted for Ignoring Racial Dimension of Poverty

Publisher Name: 
Inter Press Service

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
divisive by
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
factor in
understanding poverty and there is no such thing as just
poverty,'' says

The World Bank based its annual flagship report this year on
poverty, having
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
within countries.

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
UN World
Conference against Racism and Racial Discrimination in South
Africa. The
conference will review the results of three UN Decades Against
Racism and
spotlight the horrors of slavery, the holocaust, apartheid and

This year's WDR concedes that there is a dearth of information on
race and
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
years of
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
deprivation and
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)
says the
major challenge is obtaining racial data and incorporating it into

''For instance only four out of 26 Latin American countries ask
the racial
question in census questionnaires.'' In some of these countries,
she says
it is
illegal to ask about race and ethnicity.

Next month, the IDB is bringing officials from Latin American
countries to
Columbia to a seminar titled 'Race and Ethnicity in the Censuses
of Latin

''Once the countries agree to include these questions, we have to
find a
way to
ask the questions well, in an inclusive way, without being
offensive,'' says

But other officials within the development banks say the problem
is deeper
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,
you would
probably not find one,'' says an IDB official from a Caribbean
country. ''That
is the problem, but no-one is prepared to talk about it.''

''It has only been 100 years since many of these nations emerged
from colonial
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
is no
substantial information on them.

Some suggestions that emerged from this week's forum on the WDR
included calls
to explore the possibility of making the international financial
adopt new loan conditions that compel governments to directly
target racially
and ethnically excluded groups.

Richard Collier of the World Bank's Development Economics
Department, however,
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.

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