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World Bank admits ignoring own rules on fighting poverty



• Moves to tackle involuntary resettlement

THE World Bank may have reneged on its commitment to fighting poverty when it reportedly admitted that it had failed to follow its own rules, according to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ). 

In specific terms, the bank, which bankrolls dams, roads and other big projects in Africa and other developing countries admitted failure in protecting the poor people who are negatively affected by the dams. ICIJ’s Sasha Chavkin and Mike Hudson, in conjunction with The Huffington Post, reported that   the World Bank’s recent announcement amounts to “a reversal of its previous efforts to downplay concerns raised by human rights activists and others working on behalf of the dispossessed –people evicted from their land, sometimes in violent ways, to make way for World Bank-financed initiatives.” 

Both the ICIJ and The Huffington Post had also informed bank officials that they had found “systemic gaps in the bank’s protections for people who lose homes or jobs because of development projects.” 

The media outlets alleged that the World Bank “failed to respond to the news organisations’ repeated requests over the past several weeks for an interview with Jim Yong Kim, the president of the World Bank Group, the parent institution. The news outlets have been pressing the bank for months for answers to questions about how well it enforces its own social and environmental safeguards.”

But the World Bank, in a press statement, reportedly hinted that its conclusions followed internal audits conducted over the past two years.

Kim said: “We took a hard look at ourselves on resettlement and what we found caused me deep concern.”

In conjunction with its borrowers, the bank currently implement safeguards rules that supposedly ensures that physically or economically displaced people  (as a result of its projects) are “identified, consulted and provided new homes, jobs or other help that restores them to living conditions that are equal to or better than before.”

The World Bank, however, said it did not know how many people its projects had uprooted, and that it did not do enough to keep track of projects that push communities off their land or cost people their livelihoods. 

Incidentally, the ICIJ, The Huffington Post and other media partners reportedly found that projects backed by the World Bank have displaced millions of people over the last decade; even as the bank said it is taking steps to fix the problems with its oversight of projects that cause “involuntary resettlement.”              

“The bank will increase the number of staffers, who oversee social and environmental protections, and will build a new database to track people displaced by bank projects,’’ it said in a press release.

The announcement came, just as the bank embarks on a multiyear revision of its safeguard policies, including policy on resettlement. The bank’s guidelines set a global standard for social and environmental protections in development aid that is often followed by regional development banks and private lenders worldwide. 

Human rights experts and civil society groups previously alleged that an initial draft of the revision, released in July 2014, was “a dramatic rollback” of the bank’s “standards,” saying “the proposed rules would reduce borrowers’ obligations to plan in advance for displacement and other harms to local people and the environment, and instead allow borrowers to ignore problems until the harm is already done.” 

Ted Downing, the president of the International Network on Displacement and Resettlement, was quoted as saying that the World Bank’s statement was meant, “to divert attention from the larger issues at stake.

“The purpose is to distract people… The big question is which policy all this staff that are being rearranged are enforcing.”

In the same vein, Executive Director of the Ulu Foundation, an advocacy group for forest communities, Stephanie Fried, reportedly said the World Bank’s pledge of doing better job of enforcing its safeguards would not do much good “if its safeguards are going to be radically diluted.”

The bank is also expected to publish the second draft of the safeguards revision later in the year.

But reports quoted a spokesman of the bank as denying that its release of action plan last week had anything to do with the questions being asked by media organisations. Instead, the banks reportedly claimed that its action plan on resettlement was meant, “to address the urgent issues identified in its reviews without the additional delay of waiting for a new policy.

The spokesman said: “We’re not going to wait until that process is through to implement this action plan…This work needs to happen now.” 

In the months prior to the release of the action plan, the bank had been working to distance itself from abuses carried out by the governments it backs.

In Ethiopia, ICIJ revealed in January, the bank’s internal Inspection Panel found that the World Bank had repeatedly violated its own rules in failing to acknowledge the link between a bank-funded health and education initiative and violent evictions targeting indigenous peoples. 

Last week, the bank denied blame for the evictions. Many of the people forced out of their villages now live in refugee camps in South Sudan.

The Inspection Panel also found that the World Bank violated its safeguards policies in Kenya by failing to protect indigenous people who said that a bank-funded conservation effort had been used to force them from their ancestral forests.

In both Kenya and Ethiopia, the World Bank declined to insist that its client governments compensate the people who lost their homes.

The international media also quoted Natalie Fields, the executive director of the Accountability Counsel, a legal group that represents indigenous peoples in disputes with the World Bank and IFC, said the plan to address the problems seemed “slapped together.’’

‘‘The reforms, as announced, do not include measures to hold bank staff accountable for not doing a better job of identifying and helping displaced people,’’ she said. 

“It’s positive that the bank is acknowledging problems, but in many respects this is the same old story,” Fields said. “They have come up with their own plan for how to address the issues, without consulting people who have spent years of their lives on resettlement, and without consulting with the communities themselves.”

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