ECONOMY

Aid shifts from Balkans to Asia

TIRANA – The World Bank said on Friday it would cut back aid to the Balkans to focus on central Asia, because extreme poverty there posed more immediate security risks than were present in the historical tinderbox of Europe. «The events of September 11 highlighted the need to address poverty more aggressively in areas where terrorism is an issue,» Eugen Scanteie, the World Bank representative for Albania, told Reuters in an interview. Scanteie said the World Bank’s International Development Agency (IDA) would also reduce its total lending in the next three years, having granted $12 billion to more than 60 needy countries in the last three years in cheap «soft» loans. «The whole Balkan area will get less IDA money because there is a transfer of IDA resources to central Asia,» Scanteie said. Bosnia, Kosovo, Montenegro, Serbia, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Albania all receive soft loans. The region has been highly dependent on aid after a decade of wars, sanctions and economic neglect. But with some Balkan areas making tentative economic progress, international development priorities have shifted elsewhere in the wake of the September 11 airliner attacks on the United States and its resulting war in Afghanistan. Scanteie said countries like Albania whose economies had recovered well should now expect less IDA assistance. Albania has received some $570 million since 1991, and by 2000 per capita earnings there had more than quadrupled to $1094 a year. IDA soft loans are intended for countries in need of the most urgent economic help. Once they are in a position to repay debt, they progress to semi-commercial loans from the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development. The World Bank allocates funds every three years, and the next round will start in June. The volatile Balkans held the world’s attention for much of the war-torn 1990s. But the immediate threat to world peace, as many in the West see it, now comes from the guerrilla networks that Washington blames for the September 11 attacks. Various initiatives in the region have recently lost momentum, such as the European Union’s Stability Pact, a scheme meant to channel funds to help repair shattered Balkan economies, which analysts say has become mired in bureaucracy. The donors, including the World Bank, committed $4 billion in quick-start and mid-term projects for Albania, Bosnia, Bulgaria, Croatia, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Romania and Yugoslavia.