World Bank’s New President Should Address its Dam Past, Change its Future Path

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

As World Bank President Robert Zoellick prepares for his first meeting with the Bank’s shareholders this weekend, an International Rivers' report reveals that the Bank approved more than US$ 800 million for nine hydropower projects in fiscal year 2007. This is more than it provided for renewable energy and efficiency projects combined. As the Bank jumps back into the big dam business and neglects better energy and water solutions, the legacy of its past dam projects tragically lives on.

This Bank-funded dam legacy includes the displacement of at least 10 million people, lost livelihoods, damaged ecosystems, corruption, massive debt burdens and, in some cases, serious human rights violations. People from Argentina to Zambia are still waiting for past promises to be met and for damages to be repaired.

International Rivers' October 2007 briefing paper, The World Bank's Big Dam Legacy, sums up some of the low-lights of the World Bank's dam history. "The World Bank defends its renewed zeal for large dams with assertions that it has learned from past mistakes. This claim is not credible as long as the legacy of the Bank's dam projects remains unresolved," asserts Shannon Lawrence of International Rivers.

International Rivers' report, Shattered Lives, Broken Promises, which was launched in Washington, D.C. on October 17th, describes the heartbreaking case of the Bank's water-project legacy in southern Pakistan. Ann-Kathrin Schneider of International Rivers, who is working with communities in Pakistan, explains: "The Bank-funded canals and drainage systems have contributed to the destruction of lakes and wetlands upon which coastal communities depend for fishing and animal-grazing. The Bank has failed to ensure that these communities receive adequate compensation or that these critical wetlands are restored."

International Rivers, the Bank Information Center, the Center for International Environmental Law and the Heinrich Böll Foundation today hosted a high-level panel discussion on the need to improve the World Bank’s tools for addressing its legacy of harmful projects. "The new presidency offers a chance for the World Bank to address the unresolved legacy of its past," said Schneider at this event. "The Bank should develop remedial action plans with the people who have been harmed by its past projects, and pay reparations to compensate for their suffering. The mandate of the Inspection Panel should be extended to monitor the implementation of such action plans."