Thursday, February 19, 1998 Published at 18:04 GMT
Banking on good faith
"We're better off trying to work together than fighting each other," the World Bank President James Wolfensohn said after a meeting of bank officials and religious leaders.
The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr George Carey, the leader of the world's 70 million Anglicans, hosted the two-day gathering of World Bank delegates and leaders from the Bahai, Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Jains, Jewish, Muslim, Sikh and Taoist faiths at Lambeth Palace in London.
The meeting follows criticism that the bank is out of touch with its clients and does not ensure that its funds are spent where they are needed most. The World Bank handles £20bn in loans to the world's poorest countries annually.
"There has been in the past, a degree of suspicion of what the World Bank has been getting up to around the world," said Dr Carey.
"I think what has been so helpful about this meeting has been a clearing of the air.
But Dr Carey said the meeting had heard "some very strong expressions of anger". He did not elaborate but added that there had been "a meeting of minds, a realising actually we're not people who are in a confrontational situation but actually working largely to the same end".
Mr Wolfensohn acknowledged that religious leaders in the past had criticised World Bank activities such as dam-building and their impact on local communities, the environment and social conditions.
The development experts and religious leaders agreed to set up a working group that would, within a year, identify five or six projects they could carry out together, Dr Carey said.
World Bank officials said these could be programmes to fight hunger and improve the delivery of education and social services as well as to preserve the cultural heritage of communities, including sacred sites.
Before the meeting, aid agencies expressed concern that development funds should not be too closely tied to individual religions. The Catholic agency Cafod warned that aid should be given independently of religious beliefs especially in areas of conflict.
Aditi Sharma of the World Development Movement expressed some scepticism. "Their rhetoric has changed faster than what has happened in practice," she said of bank officials.
"They are continuing to fund bad projects that destroy the lives of the poorest people."
©Copyright 1998, BBC (UK)