World Bank President Visits Earthquake Zone

YEREVAN (Noyan Tapan)–World Bank President James Wolfensohn and Armenian Prime Minister Armen Darbinian were in the town of Spitak June 3 to visit the facilities reconstructed under the auspices of the World Bank.

In Spitak–Wolfensohn–his wife Elaine and his entourage including World Bank Executive Director Peter Steck–regional director on Armenia and Georgia Judith O’Connor and other officials lay wreaths at the monument to the 1988 earthquake victims.

The delegation visited the seismoinsulator factory built under the World Bank disaster zone rehabilitation program that cost $28 million.

They also visited a school and a recreation park repaired under the World Bank social investment program that cost $20 million.

Armenian Social Investment Fund public relations officer Aram Grigorian said a reconstruction project in Spitak–worth $375,000–is nearing completion under the financial backing of the World Bank. Another twelve projects are under consideration.

Wolfensohn was declared Honorary Citizen of Spitak in appreciation of his services to the town. Mayor of Spitak Souren Avetisian decorated Wolfensohn with a memorial medal and gave him a certificate.

In a return speech–Wolfensohn thanked the local public for such a warm acknowledgment of his work. Wolfensohn was running the New York-based Carnegie Hall when the devastating earthquake hit Spitak. A charity concert was stage at Carnegie Hall to help earthquake victims.

"I would nominate myself for mayor of Spitak," Wolfensohn joked. "But as I know that the incumbent mayor enjoys great popularity–and the 98 percent of the vote he polled in the recent general elections is more proof of this–I vow every kind of assistance".

Wolfensohn announced that programs in Spitak would be related to the World Bank’s second program on social investmen’s whose size will be larger than that of the previous one.

Wolfensohn began a three-day visit to Armenia on Wednesday amid widespread expectations of a government change–following Sunday’s elections–which could lead to a retreat from Yerevan’s policy of economic liberalization.

Upon arrival in Armenia–Wolfensohn noted that the discussion of regional programs depended on proposals of the Armenian government.

Asked to provide his assessment of implementation of World Bank’s programs in Armenia–Wolfensohn said that it was his first time in Armenia and that he d not have "prepared answers."

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