John Vidal of the Guardian recently reported on a leaked draft of the World Bank’s proposed new ‘light touch’ lending policies, weakening safeguards put in place after disastrous projects drew global criticism to it in the 1980s and 1990s.
According to Vidal, the new relaxed policies would allow for logging and mining in before protected areas as long as ecological “off-sets” are put in place and would not require consultation with indigenous peoples before projects like tree plantations or mega-dams begin on their land.
Moreover, Vidal writes,
Under the proposed new “light touch” rules, the result of a two year consultation within the bank, borrowers will be allowed to opt out of signing up to employment safeguards, existing protection for biodiversity will be shredded, countries will be allowed to assess themselves, and harmful projects are much more likely to occur…
Most shocking is the opt-out option on indigenous rights:
a proposed loophole for governments to opt out of applying the bank’s policy on indigenous peoples, jeopardising the rights of hunter-gatherer communities such as the pygmies of the Congo rainforest.
Meanwhile, the introduction of “biodiversity offsets” into previous “no-go” areas substantially weakens existing protections for critical natural habitats and protected areas, based on the shaky premise that destruction to these areas can be compensated or “offset” by agreements to preserve habitats elsewhere in perpetuity.
On gutted assessment:
The elimination of clear, predictable rules also appears to be a clear attempt by the Bank to avoid accountability for the negative impacts of projects that it funds.
Finally, the BIC writes:
As the World Bank asks us to trust them, the string of broken promises, the climate of secrecy in preparing the proposal, and an underfunded safeguard staffing structure in utter disarray, provide little reassurance that these policies will be implemented in an effective way to prevent negative impacts to project affected communities and the environment.
Safeguards are only as good as the institution itself: Even with these safeguards in place, the World Bank has backed projects that are ecologically and ethically unsound. The above photo, for example, comes from a story from April on an investigation of the World Bank funding illegal land grabbing. Other such stories can be easily found on Climate Connections.
Rather than ushering in a new period, these policies seem more like the real face of the Bank peeking through.