Poverty should be at the top of the agenda at the International Monetary Fund and World Bank meetings in Washington this weekend, said international agency Oxfam. With the global economy facing a crisis, Oxfam said the emphasis on the rich world must not eclipse action in developing countries, where rapidly rising food prices and increasingly erratic weather linked to climate change are wreaking havoc. Elizabeth Stuart, senior policy advisor at Oxfam said: "Global economic uncertainty, high food prices, more frequent floods, drought and other impacts of climate change all pose a serious threat to vulnerable people in developing countries. The situation requires urgent action and more money from rich countries and yet, aid levels have fallen for a second straight year."
Oxfam is calling for immediate action from donors and national governments to ensure that the poorest consumers are protected against high food prices and price volatility on food markets worldwide. "The New Deal on targeting world hunger from President Zoellick (>>> Zoellick's Newest Blueprint) is welcome. Past policies prescribed by the World Bank which fast-tracked liberalisation, including in the agriculture sector, have left many countries more vulnerable. Poor countries need the flexibility to support and protect small-scale farmers," said Stuart. While rising prices pose a serious threat to poor people, they may also be an opportunity. Efforts must be made by all actors to ensure that poor rural producers and farm workers can access the potential benefits of higher prices. The crisis should spur much-needed reform and increased investment in small-scale agriculture.
The World Bank has also a vital role to play in fighting climate change and helping poor nations adapt to its impacts, said Oxfam. But any new climate funds that Bank manages need to be linked to the UN climate process. "It's very encouraging that donors want to give more money to redress the devastating problem of climate change. But in doing so, they mustn't undermine the ongoing UN negotiating process," Stuart said.
The new Managing Director of the IMF, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, will be looking to give a facelift to the institution this week. But Oxfam says the governance reform that will be rubber-stamped is a long way from what is actually needed. "This reform would be perfect if the Fund wanted to become completely irrelevant," said Stuart. "By continuing to suppress the voices of so many countries IMF bosses are ensuring that more stakeholders will walk away. You can't talk of real reform when the seven richest members hold more than 40% of the vote."