The World Bank is due to vote April 9 on whether to lend $3 billion to South Africa’s state-owned utility to build a giant new coal plant over the objections of environmentalists and South African trade unions who say the money should be spent on renewable energy projects. Approval appears likely after World Bank President Robert Zoellick wrote a letter to members of Congress defending the project, the Washington Post reports. He asserted that even after making provisions for the social costs, coal was still “the least-cost, most viable, and technically feasible option” for meeting South Africa’s needs. But one executive director, speaking on condition of anonymity, said some board members were torn between the bank’s commitment to slow climate change and the desire to help people in sub-Saharan Africa gain the access to electricity that is needed to lift them out of poverty. The vote of the U.S. executive director could be decisive, the newspaper said.

World Bank Group financial commitments since July 2008, just before the full fury of the financial crisis hit, reached $100 billion April 7 as the institution helped countries respond to and recover from the global downturn. This support is an all-time high for the global development Bank and includes safety nets for the poor, infrastructure to create jobs and build a foundation for recovery, agriculture to support small farmers, and microfinance to help small and micro enterprises. After the worst crisis in 50 years, the world economy faces an uncertain and uneven recovery with new risks to jobs and growth. The World Bank Group is playing a historically large role in protecting the poor and laying the foundation of recovery. The speed and scale of the Bank’s response since July 2008 is unprecedented. World Bank (IBRD and IDA) lending to health and social services increased significantly from $1.6 billion in FY08 to $6.3 billion in FY 09 and to $5.1 billion in just the first nine months of FY 10. Bank commitments supporting social safety net programs for the poorest and most vulnerable citizens in the poorest countries increased exponentially from $253m in FY08 to $3.1 billion in FY09 and to $2.1 billion to date in FY10.

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