In a bleaker assessment than those of most private forecasters, the World Bank predicted Sunday that the global economy would shrink in 2009 for the first time since World War II.
The bank did not provide a specific estimate, but bank officials said its economists would be publishing one in the next several weeks.
Until now, even extremely pessimistic forecasters have predicted that the global economy would eke out a tiny expansion but had warned that even a growth rate of 5 percent in China would be a disastrous slowdown, given the enormous pressure there to create jobs for the country’s rural population.
The World Bank also warned that global trade would contract for the first time since 1982, and that the decline would be the biggest since the 1930s.
In a report prepared for a meeting next week of finance ministers from the 20 industrialized and large developing countries, the World Bank said the economic crisis that started with junk mortgages in the United States was causing havoc for poorer countries around the world, not only stifling their growth but also choking off their access to credit as well.
The bank said the financial disruptions were all but certain to overwhelm the ability of institutions like it and the International Monetary Fund to provide a buffer.
The bank, which provides low-cost lending for economic development projects in poorer countries, pleaded for wealthy governments to create a “vulnerability fund” and to set aside a fraction of what they spend on stimulating their own economies for assisting other countries.