DRC: World Bank slams its own
NAIROBI, 23 January 2008 (IRIN) - World Bank forestry projects in
the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) ignored the rights of
indigenous pygmies and overestimated the benefits of industrial
logging in reducing poverty, the bank itself said in a report that
concluded internal guidelines had been breached.
Activists say the projects left the forestry sector "in anarchy".
The report, compiled by the bank's inspection panel, followed
complaints by indigenous pygmy groups that the reforms had
disregarded the rights of millions of forest-dependent people and
ignored the existence of between 250,000 and 600,000 pygmies whose
lives depend on the forests.
The reforms, the complainants argued, would also lead to
violations of their rights to occupy ancestral lands, and manage
and use their forests according to traditional practices.
"The panel found that there was a failure during project design to
carry out the necessary initial screening to identify risks and
trigger safeguard policies so that crucial steps would be taken to
address the needs of the pygmy peoples and other local people,"
Werner Kiene, panel chairman, said.
The complaints were initially made on 19 November 2005 by an
advocacy group, the Organisations Autochtones Pygmées et
Accompagnant les Autochtones Pygmées en République Démocratique du
Congo. They related to two bank-financed operations: the Emergency
Economic and Social Reunification Support Project and the
Transitional Support for Economic Recovery Grant Operation
development policy loan.
According to the panel, the bank underestimated non-timber values
and uses of the forests to forest-dependent communities and 40
million rural people, when it conceived the projects. "Unless
strong measures are taken to ensure that the benefits reach local
people, the concession system will not make the expected
contribution to poverty alleviation of the local people," it noted.
The report was discussed by the World Bank's board of executive
directors on 10 January.
Lack of controls
Last month, a study by an advocacy group, Global Witness, found a
"complete absence of meaningful controls, legal ambiguity and lack
of standardised practices leaving the sector in anarchy and
providing fertile ground for abuse and fraud".
It recommended a complete moratorium on logging activities until
forest land use zoning is complete. It also called for a
comprehensive legal framework, the development of meaningful
regulatory capacity, and measures to strengthen community rights
"Ultimately, the bank's forest projects promoted the interests of
asset-stripping logging companies over indigenous groups who are
dependent on the forests," Patrick Alley, Global Witness Director,
said in a statement on 18 January.
"NGOs had repeatedly complained that the bank's approach to
forestry in countries with poor governance, such as DRC, would be
socially and environmentally damaging, and these criticisms have
been confirmed by the report," he added. "Bank forest economists
admit that they cannot point to a single example of industrial
logging in the tropics alleviating poverty or delivering durable
economic benefit, so why on earth do they keep promoting it?"
The DRC has great natural resource wealth, yet is one of the
world's poorest countries. Forests cover about 60 percent of the
country (about 134 million hectares) and many of the 200-plus
ethnic groups live close to them.
Years of conflict have, however, left nearly 4 million people dead,
millions more internally displaced, with rural populations forced
to rely greatly on traditional and subsistence uses of forests for
According to the World Bank report, the benefits from the
industrial harvesting of trees, at the core of the policy and
administrative reform, are not going to the people living in and
around the forest. Promised benefits to the communities from the
concessions such as schools, clinics and other facilities, have
also not materialised.
"The bank should ensure that forestry projects elsewhere do not
repeat the same mistakes and failures [and] that future policy is
centred on advancing the rights of forest-dependent peoples,
including improving their livelihoods and ensuring their full
participation in policies that impact [on] them," Alley added.