Countries implementing austerity programmes to reduce debt must protect \"the poorest and the most vulnerable\", an International Monetary Fund official said here Sunday. \"Obviously given the very high debts burden for quite a few countries, taking austerity programmes and cutting the debt become very important for long-time growth,\" Zhu Min, a special adviser to the IMF management, said on the sidelines of an economic forum here. But he also stressed the need \"to support the poor and the vulnerable\". \"We need to provide a social safety net for the unemployed people,\" he said while underscoring the \"need to balance growth and austerity programmes\". \"Global recovery is still in the process but downside risks are escalating,\" said Zhu, who served as special adviser to former IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn. \"We are experiencing a two-speed recovery. At this moment unemployment rates are still very high.\" Zhu, a Chinese national, is tipped to become deputy to new IMF chief Christine Lagarde, a promotion that would be aimed at giving more powers to emerging countries. Asked whether he was prepared to accept such a post, Zhu would only say that it was best not to count one\'s chickens before they are hatched. Lagarde, the former French finance minister, took over as IMF managing director on July 5, following the May resignation of Strauss-Kahn, who is fighting charges of sexual assault.