Bank forest policy process crash

6 February 2001

In early January a meeting was held in Washington to discuss the latest World Bank forest strategy. The meeting was of the Technical Advisory Group (TAG), a body which includes representatives of NGOs, governments and research institutes, to conduct in-depth discussion of what the new forest strategy and policy should contain. TAG members set out a number of concerns with the process and with the content of the documentation.

A letter sent after the meeting to the World Bank and the World Conservation Union (IUCN) – contracted by the Bank to facilitate consultations around this process – condemned “a failure of transparency” in the review process. It pointed out that the Bank had gone back on its assurance that the draft strategy document “will be widely disseminated and discussed with key stakeholders”. Apparently because of difficult internal discussions the Bank decided not to make the draft documents available. Even TAG members were sent them only late on Christmas Eve, leaving just a few days at the beginning of January to discuss them.

The letter and other interventions appeared to have rapid results: the materials were posted on the Bank’s website and it was announced that external comments would be accepted until 15 February. These comments will then be fed into the final documentation which goes to the Bank’s Operations Policy Committee and then Board in March and April. Forest Peoples’ Programme (a TAG member) is encouraging groups to take advantage of this opportunity.

The Bank’s new policy framework has some good analysis and suggestions, for example, to assess the negative impacts of some structural adjustment loans on forests. However the proposals for dealing with these are widely seen as inadequate. Among identified concerns are:

  • a lack of budgets to carry out studies on forests, and no detailed language on what the new operational policy will contain;
  • a lack of clarity about how to do prior impact assessments for adjustment operations;
  • a failure to confront the Bank’s incentives which prioritize loan volume over loan quality;
  • the unworkable concept of demarcating “High Conservation Value Forests”;

The World Bank’s resettlement policy recently suffered from a similar breakdown in the agreed process. The Bank again promised that it would make available “a summary of the comments received, the actions taken in light of the comments, and the reasons for taking these actions”. This did not materialize in time for two Bank Board discussions of the proposed new policy, prompting letters of complaint from the Forest Peoples’ Programme and the Center for International Environmental Law.

Because of these recent process breakdowns, and signs that the Bank is trying to claim that safeguard policies are too expensive to implement, FPP and others have taken action. A letter has been prepared stressing that strong, unambiguous and mandatory safeguard policies are the only mechanism available to citizens and project beneficiaries to hold the World Bank and its clients accountable for their operations.

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