Increasingly wealthy Asia poses next big challenge to ADB

TOKYO (AP): Perhaps the Asian Development Bank is doing its job a little too well.

With the vast majority of Asia projected to escape poverty in 15 years, a development bank chartered four decades ago to end poverty is now struggling to stay relevant.

Moreover, the breakneck economic development that the bank helped spur with its loans has unleashed a wave of environmental woes the bank is now trying to reverse.

Overhauling the ADB and addressing environmental problems triggered by development will headline the agenda when the Manilla, Philippines-based bank opens its annual meeting in the western Japanese city of Kyoto on Friday.

Just a decade after the 1997 Asian financial crisis, Asia is standing on its own two feet. But its rapidly increasing wealth is now posing new challenges of its own.

In Kyoto, some 3,000 delegates from the ADB's 67 member governments will review a set of recommendations issued earlier in early April by a blue-ribbon panel of experts on how to updatethe ADB's basic mission from poverty alleviation - given that about 90 percent of the region's people will be "middle income" by 2020.

"In this transformed Asia, the main policy challenges facing most countries will change very fundamentally, from fighting extensive poverty to tackling issues arising from economic success," former Harvard University President and U.S. TreasurySecretary Larry Summers co-wrote in a Wall Street Journal commentary last week.

Summers, who sat on the ADB advisory panel, called for the bank to connect borrowers with regional lenders instead of simply channeling capital into the region from outside. The bank should also focus less on fighting poverty and more on supporting fasterand more inclusive economic growth, he said.

The ADB was established in 1966 with 31 members and gets most of its funding from issuing bonds and from contributions of its members governments. Major borrowers include China, Indonesia, Pakistan and Vietnam, with most of the money traditionally goingtoward agriculture and rural development.

The ADB approved some US$7.4 billion (euro5.44 billion) in loans in 2006, up 28 percent from the year before. (**)

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