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Nobel Laureate Pledges To Make Poverty History

Chittagong (Bangladesh)
Strait Times Newspaper

Banking pioneer's plans include health insurance for poor and IT projects.

NOBEL Peace laureate and micro-credit pioneer Muhammad Yunus has vowed to make poverty history as he unveiled new plans to transform the fortunes of Bangladesh's poor.

The former economics professor was given a hero's welcome yesterday as he returned to the birthplace of his pioneering micro-credit scheme. Professor Yunus and his Grameen Bank, which offers tiny loans to very poor borrowers to help them become self-employed, were jointly awarded the prestigious prize last Friday. Thousands of villagers greeted Prof Yunus with flowers as he arrived at Jobra, just outside the southern port city of Chitagong, and where his daring scheme of small loans for the desperately poor began some 30 years ago.

"I got the world's highest honour because of you. Your hard work has put Jobra on the map of the world," Prof Yunus told the villagers. "But the prize does not mean that our job is over. Let us work hard so that we can eradicate poverty from this country. The Nobel prizehas given us renewed impetus to send poverty to the museum," he added.

The bank, which targets women because it believes they are better than men at running family finances, has given small loans to more than 6.6 million people since its inception in 1976. According to the latest data available from Bangladesh Economic review, around 58% or some 3.8 million of the total loan recipients have been able to break out of poverty as February this year.

Prof Yunus also made an impassioned appeal for unity to the country's politicians, saying the eyes of the world were nowon them. "The whole world is looking at us after the Nobel prize. It's now perfect time for the two major parties to reach a consensus so that we have a smooth election," he said.

Bangladesh's main opposition Awami league and its 13 lefties allies have threatened to boycott polls unless the ruling Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) removes "pro-government" election officials and agrees to reforms. Since winning the prize, professor Yunus has unveiled a string of new initiatives - including health insurance for the poor, as well as information technology, solar energy and organic fertiliser projects. "I think it's quite possible to eradicate poverty from this world. i think we can halve the poverty level in Bangladesh by 2015. And in the next 15 years we can rid this land of it, "Prof Yunus said at the weekened, after he was named the country's first ever Nobel winner.

"You change the environment , and we will lift thousands and millions of people out of poverty. "They don't need any grant to change their life. People have this power in them. you remove the lid of the hidden power and poor people will automatically change their lives," said prof Yunus known as the "Banker to the Poor".

Across Bangladesh over the weekend, tens of thousands of people have been out on the streets expressing their prideand delight at the award. Borrowers also paid tribute to the economist, whose unique system has been replicated in more than 40 countries. "Grameen Bank has changed a dirt - poor woman like me into a small businesswoman with a home and good livelihood," said 32 years old Margina, from the northern Mymensingh district, who took out first loan to buy a cow 12 years ago. She now runs a thriving rice business with her once jobless husband.

Grameen Bank began life as a pilot project to prove that lending to the poorest in society was not an "impossible proposition" and to break the cycle of poverty created by middlemen and moneylenders. Agence France-Presse, The Daily Star/Asia News Network