News 2008


DRC: World Bank slams its own forest reforms

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 and participation.

"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?"

Righting wrongs

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 survival.

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.

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