San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

World Bank president: We can eliminate extreme poverty by 2030

World Bank President Jim Yong Kim is calling on the world’s nations to end extreme poverty by 2030 and improve incomes for the poorest 40 percent of the world’s population.

“We are at an auspicious moment in history when the successes of past decades and an increasingly favorable economic outlook combine to give developing countries a chance, for the first time ever, to end extreme poverty within a generation,” Kim said during a discussion on Tuesday at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.

“Our duty now must be to ensure that these favorable circumstances are matched with deliberate decisions to realize this historic opportunity,” said Kim, who once protested against the bank he now heads.

According to the World Bank, the number of people living on less than $1.25 a day – the bank’s measure of extreme poverty – decreased from 43 percent in 1990 to 22 percent in 2008. Southern Asia and sub-Saharan Africa register the highest rates of poverty, with more than 35 percent of the population living on less than $1.25 a day.

Kim said that developing economies rapidly recovered from the global economic crisis and are faring well, thanks to better economic stability, strengthening of the state of law and increasing investments in human capital and infrastructure.

A first target by the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goal to reduce extreme poverty was achieved in 2010 – five years ahead of schedule – thanks to investment in social-protection networks by developing countries, Kim said.

The World Bank president highlighted several factors needed to meet the 2030 goal: speeding up economic growth rates, increasing social inclusion, moderating economic inequality through job creation, avoiding food, fuel and financial shortages, and mitigating climate disasters.

Although many world leaders have talked about eliminating poverty, Kim said, more commitment is needed from the international community – especially developed countries.

“Recently a number of courageous politicians have committed to ending poverty in their countries, including Dilma Rousseff in Brazil and Joyce Banda in Malawi,” Kim said. “Similarly, U.S. President Barack Obama and U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron endorsed the vision of ending extreme poverty globally. These bold calls demand action.”

Kim acknowledged the goal is ambitious: “To reach the 2030 goal, we must halve poverty once, then halve it again, and then nearly halve it a third time, all in less than one generation.”

He promised World Bank assistance in four areas: identifying high-impact projects, monitoring progress, reporting annually and using advocacy to “continually remind policy makers and the international community what it will take to realize these goals.”

Fernando Marín, president of the Mixed Institute for Social Aid (IMAS), which fights poverty in Costa Rica, told The Tico Times that while Kim’s proposal is difficult to achieve, putting poverty on the global agenda is a welcome advancement.

“The fact that the president of the World Bank has put forth a proposal [to eliminate extreme poverty worldwide] means that it has a lot of merit,” he said.

Marín also pointed out that the definition of extreme poverty varies throughout the world. Costa Rica sets the bar at the basic consumer basket, while organizations in other countries use the $1.25 per day standard.   

While he considered Kim’s proposals “a little too broad,” Marín said investment in human capital is an important issue. Educating people and giving them the tools to escape poverty should be a priority for the region’s governments, he said.

Investment in social capital also is important by providing greater access to basic services like potable water, electricity and health care.

Investment in environmental protection is another key element to avoid food crises and water scarcity. Fair trade and paying producers a livable wage are other important steps, Marín said.

Social programs implemented by IMAS and other agencies already have nearly eliminated extreme poverty in Costa Rica. According to Marín, about 6 percent of Costa Ricans live in extreme poverty – down from 15 percent in 1980.

IMAS focuses on education and training through programs like “Avancemos” and “Ideas Productivas,” rather than providing direct financial aid to families.

“The effort that we make is geared toward addressing the causes that keep people in poverty,” Marín said. “Kim’s discussion supports this effort.”

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