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World Bank seeks to "modernise" environment safeguards, NGOs say it is "reversing generation of gains"

By Our Representative
Amid widespread objections from civil society activists across the world, including India, a World Bank board has cleared its policy draft to “modernize” policies seeking to “safeguard people and the environment in the investment projects Bank finances.” Taking strong objection to the clearance, the Bank Information Centre (BIC), an independent apex body of NGOs advocating with the World Bank, said, the board has cleared “a weak new set of rules to replace its existing environmental and social safeguard policies.” The policies, it adds, “Reverse a generation of gains by weakening protections from harm for the poor and the environment in Bank-funded projects.”
A World Bank spokesperson claimed, “The proposal aims to maintain and build on existing protections, including the enhanced protection of disadvantaged and vulnerable people, Indigenous peoples, communities and the environment, including provisions for pest management, dam and road safety, natural habitats, and cultural heritage. It also highlights the importance of non-discrimination.” He added, “We are proposing to extend the existing protections for Indigenous Peoples and introduce Free, Prior and Informed Consent of Indigenous Peoples.”
However, civil society has refused to buy this argument. “By eliminating clear rules and gutting key requirements, the Bank is breaking President Kim’s repeated promises not to dilute the safeguards,” says Sasanka Thilakasiri, Policy Advisor at Oxfam International. “The Bank’s promises that this new ‘flexible approach’ will be made up for by closer supervision fall flat because the Bank is notoriously bad at it and lacks the capacity to monitor impacts on the ground,” adds Cesar Gamboa, a long-time Bank-watcher from Derecho Ambiente y Recursos Naturales in Peru.
BIC said, “Consistent with its mantra on flexibility, the Bank is proposing a new loophole that allows governments to ‘opt out’ of previously guaranteed protections for indigenous peoples, citing discomfort among certain African governments with the term ‘indigenous peoples’ and the rights it confers. This would be a major blow to indigenous peoples, particularly in Africa, who have counted on the Bank to recognize their rights when their own governments refuse.” Final approval of the Bank’s draft will come in 2015.
“Despite repeated promises by the World Bank that the revised safeguard policies would include stronger protections for poor communities and those it terms ‘disadvantaged’ or ‘vulnerable’ groups, the leaked draft contains only general mentions of the need to consider impacts of projects on those who may be ‘disadvantaged’ due to age, disability, gender, and sexual orientation or gender identity”, BIC added.
Objection to the approval of the draft has also come from Adrien Sinafasi, a prominent indigenous “pygmy” activist in the Democratic Republic of Congo, who argues that “the World Bank’s intention to allow our governments, which have marginalized our communities for decades, to decide whether we are indigenous would severely undermine our fundamental human rights and weaken the limited protections we currently have.”
Mohammed Loutfy, Disabled People’s International, Arab Region Advisory Body Chair said, “It is imperative that the World Bank looks at the unique impacts on each ‘disadvantaged’ or ‘vulnerable’ group given their specific rights and needs. Only this will enable all persons to benefit from and not be harmed by Bank projects.”
“Despite the Bank’s warning of the dangers that a warming world poses to development, there is only sporadic mention of climate change in the safeguard proposal. Nowhere does it lay out what governments have to do to assess if their projects will exacerbate climate change or how climate change will affect the viability of their projects,” said Soumya Dutta, Convener of Beyond Copenhagen collective and other climate justice groups in India.
Makoma Lekalakala from Earthlife Africa in Johannesburg, South Africa says, “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.”
Ultimately, the policies not only fail to protect communities impacted by Bank projects, they will also lower the bar for development finance institutions that look to the World Bank as a trend-setter. Vince McElhinny, the Bank Information Center’s Senior Policy Advisor, notes, “the World Bank has fallen far short of its goal of setting a new global standard when it comes to protecting the poor and the planet. Instead, it is setting off a race to the bottom.”

Comments

Gaiafrique said…
There is a petition in this regard...
http://www.thepetitionsite.com/986/515/257/tell-world-bank-dont-scrap-environmental-protections/

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