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Asian slump has pushed millions more into poverty

WASHINGTON -- A world that had been making progress finds itself with 200 million more people in abject poverty than a decade ago.

A new World Bank report blames the Asian financial crisis for increasing poverty across Asia and much of the rest of the world. It calls for bailout programs and preventive measures to provide urgent relief for suffering people, not just suffering economies.In its first detailed look at the impact of the Asian financial crisis on global poverty, the bank estimates 200 million "newly poor," with setbacks in the modestly successful march against poverty in Africa, South Asia, East Asia and Latin America.

"Countries that until recently believed they were turning the tide in the fight against poverty are witnessing its re-emergence," said World Bank President James D. Wolfensohn. "We must now draw on the lessons of recent experience to help us reshape our strategies for the future."

The bank will stress programs that provide social protections, referred to by economists as "safety nets," it said in its annual update on global poverty. Planned measures include programs to provide unemployment insurance, subsidized school fees, job creation and food subsidies.

The bank is responding to data showing poverty rising again in India, continuing to go up in Africa and sharply worsening across Eastern Europe and Central Asia. Among the hardest hit are the poor of Indonesia, whose numbers have increased by 30 million since the crisis began in 1997.

Worldwide, the number of people below the abject poverty level of $1 a day income is estimated at 1.5 billion -- up 200 million from 1993. Final figures for 1999 will not be available for several years, but the estimate is based on trends since 1.2 billion poor were counted in 1987.

Despite the gloomy outlook for global poverty, the bank reported widespread progress in health and education. An exception to the increase in poverty is China, where the number of poor is believed to have declined from 280 million in 1990 to 125 million in 1997.