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s t h S ;l i r $, `, \\ ‘s \\q : s\\ \\* ssN Then there is the “Building Low-Cost Wheelchairs in Gaza” project. Presumably, the chairs are for those un fortunates who have had their legs shot off by high-cost, long-range tanks and rifles in Gaza. Next to wheelchair stall is the AfriBike idea, which will provide selected colored people with used bicycles at low interest rates. The advocates of this innovation expect to combat poverty with bikes because they conducted a study which proves that people in Africa with bicycles make 50 percent more money than people without them. There may be a mix-up with cause and effect here, the judges wisely point out. After all, people in Africa with airplanes have thousands of times the income of people without them, but this doesn’t mean that we should get everyone a used airplane, now, does it? In general, disabled people seem to be in style this year highly eligible for the grassroots projects awards. They are getting special computers in Guatemala, new investments in Peru, and targeted training for urban livelihoods somewhere else. A creative ufacturing prostheses for land mine victims in Central America is very popular. It wins the “People’s Choice” prize, awarded by the other competitors, who vote for their favorite project by attaching their ration of festive blue and white balloons to the selected project stall. This does not mean that the plastic leg manufacturers get money, however. Instead, the World Bank pays for them to attend the ten-day course of their choice at the Bank. They may choose among course topics such as “Global Integration The New Trade Agenda,” “Controlling Corruption An Integrated Strategy,” “Managing Capital Flows in a Volatile Environment,” and much, much more. As always, poor rural women are very big they get literacy projects and small loans so they can raise pigs or sell empariadas to bus passengers. Village banking schemes for women are also very in, so that the lucky beneficiaries, who are chopping firewood, hauling water, rearing children, raising food, and building houses, can start a small business in their spare time. But that’s not very innovative any more. Actu ally, we’re all kind of bored with that and need to think up something new. Like for example, the “Reduce Mosquito Bites in Rwanda” project, which proposes to distribute better netting to refugee camps. More to the point for Rwanda would be the “Stop Cutting Tutsis in Half” project, but that would probably be more expensive. Expensive. That’s key. Because if you do the math, you will see that the $5 million dropped into the palms of the beggars in the atrium is just about 0.00025 percent of the $20 billion in loans and grants that the Bank hands out each year. So what’s happening with the other 99.99975 percent of the money? To find that out, we will have to go upstairs, away from the microphones, the photographers and the Washington Post, and check in with the task managers and loan officers. But they’re not nearly so happy to see us as the Development Marketplace Team was: they’re not handing out pamphlets or warmly inviting us to sit down and chat. They’re busy, busy, busy. One office is extremely occupied. It is guiding the “Health Sector Reform in El Salvador” project through its pre-implementation stages. This project proposes to downsize and deregulate the Salvadoran public health system with a $26 million loan package. If all goes as planned, the Bank will privatize health care in two pilot regions by introducing an H.M.O. framework so that consumers may choose their favorite form of disease prevention and treatment. The approach seems a bit askew, as more than 60 percent of the residents in these regions are officially poor and will not be able to pay any premiums. Nor can they sort through the competing H.M.O.’s propaganda, or get in their cars to shop around for a preferred provider. In the privatization process, 30,000 public health workers, who have never been consulted about any of this, may lose their jobs. And when Social Security workers went out on strike to protest privatization of medical services there, 211 strikers were summarily fired, most of them labor leaders. Meanwhile, Bank officials, combating poverty with passion and professionalism, took advantage of the strike to forge ahead with the privatization and deregulation package. Throughout the Bank, and its regional franchises like the Inter-American Development Bank, this is the standard practice. The people affected by the big money oper MARCH 31, 2000 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 17