updated 4/18/2006 1:36:31 PM ET 2006-04-18T17:36:31

World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz, working with poor countries on programs to thwart bird flu, said Tuesday that an outbreak of the disease would disrupt the global economy besides costing a devastating loss of life.

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"If you had that kind of pandemic, I don't think there is any question it could happen, the costs both in human life and in disruption of world economic activity would be very high," Wolfowitz said in a wide-ranging interview with The Associated Press.

The worrisome strain of flu called H5N1 is spreading through wild birds and poultry in numerous countries — and raising fears of a global epidemic if it mutates to become easily spread among people.

The World Bank, an international lending institution, has set up a $500 million pool to help poor countries combat the bird flu. Kyrgyzstan was the first nation to draw from the pool.

Wolfowitz's comments came as finance officials from the world's richest countries plan to meet in Washington on Friday to talk about pressing global economic matters, which probably will include lofty energy prices. Risks posed by the bird flu also could surface in those discussions, which will carry over into the weekend meetings of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

Given the potential risks posed by a worldwide outbreak of the flu, "common sense would say it's worth a reasonable investment at the front end, if you can prevent that from happening," Wolfowitz said.

Rich countries are in a position to bankroll their own prevention plans, but poorer countries aren't, he noted.

"When you are in a poor country that is challenged just to meet kind of basic needs, compensating farmers adequately and having a framework for doing that gets to be an expensive proposition," Wolfowitz said.

President Bush is expected to soon approve a detailed action plan for how the United States would deal with any major spread of the disease in this country.

The World Bank is working with various world health groups the bird flu matter.

Wolfowitz, the former No. 2 at the Defense Department and an architect of the Iraq war, took the helm of the World Bank last June. Its stated mission is to fight poverty and improve the living standards of people in developing countries, and it lends about $20 billion a year for various projects.

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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