The South American republic of Guyana, too often the poster-child for poverty in the English-speaking Caribbean, has become the biggest beneficiary of a popular Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) program designed to end a state of grinding poverty for large segments of the region’s population.

During 2010, Guyana was front-runner for projects within the “Basic Needs” program, first begun by the United States and the CDB in 1982 with an initial U.S. loan of $10 million. Washington lent $12 million more in 1996. Both have to be repaid by the end of 2014.

The U.S. set the early pace but withdrew in recent years. The program was continued and expanded with financing from the CDB and contributions from Canada and several other governments.

The purpose of the program is to grant-finance projects in neediest CDB member-countries. It employs the jobless, preserves and expands poverty-reducing social infrastructure and supports long-term growth in mostly rural areas.

The focus is on health, education, drinking water, drainage, footpaths, farm roads, day-care centers, community markets, environmental improvement, self-help endeavors and intensive training.

Of 62 Basic Needs projects approved for eight countries during 2010, 26 are in Guyana, nine in St. Lucia, seven in Belize, six in Dominica, four each in Montserrat, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Vincent and the Grenadines and two in Jamaica.

Notable features of the Guyana activity include projects in communities of the native South American Indians – or Amerindians – and in an overwhelmingly black village on the East Coast of Demerara which has been a political hotspot in recent years. The 83,000-square-mile republic of under 800,000 people has an estimated 55,000 Amerindians most living far from its Atlantic coast.

Another interesting feature of the Basic Needs activity is an evident attempt to step up the process of taking new technology into village communities, with nine of the projects having this focus in different areas.

Guyana has been marching a perilous journey on the borders of economic collapse during the past three decades. Indeed, the country verged so dangerously on that cliff that, by the late 1990s, infant mortality rates were exceeding the birth rate.

After it was assessed among the world’s Highly Indebted Poor Countries, Guyana benefited from significant debt write-off by some of the leading donor agencies.

Current CDB figures show some recent improvement in economic performance — but only slight — with growth in 2010 of just about three percent.

The country’s per capita gross domestic product (GDP) still borders the equivalent of  only $1,000, as compared to The Bahamas with around $20,000, Barbados, $11,000, and Trinidad and Tobago $10,000.

Guyana’s figures are also out of comparison with tiny territories such as Anguilla, Bermuda, the British Virgin Islands, the Cayman Islands, Montserrat, and Turks and Caicos Islands. All of those retain colonial links with Britain and are called British Overseas Territories.

Guyana’s Basic Needs projects are also financially supported by the administration in Georgetown, the capital, and, apart from information and technology training, they include bridges, road improvements, farmers market upgrade, training in marketing, community capacity building and water supply systems.