People’s assembly demands justice from World Bank

10 April 2005 | Guest comment

Comment by Mustafa Talpur, ActionAid Pakistan

Villagers of Badin district in southeastern Pakistan are demanding compensation from the World Bank for a drainage infrastructure project that has wrought environmental devastation and led to the loss of lives.

The National Drainage Programme (NDP) is a massive plan to transport excess saline water generated upstream of the Indus basin through a network of surface drains for disposal into the Arabian Sea. The World Bank’s International Development Association (IDA) has provided $285 million for the programme, with co-financing coming from the Asian Development Bank and the Japanese Bank for International Cooperation.

the human and material costs of the project are huge

The communities affected by the drainage projects organised a people’s assembly in March. They have filed a claim with the World Bank’s inspection panel for investigation of multiple safeguard policy violations. The panel members were supposed to attend the assembly to listen to the project-related problems of the people, but postponed their visit after receiving a letter from the regional government in Sindh.

More than five hundred men, women and children attended the assembly including a local member of parliament, civil society groups and journalists. After four hours of discussion the assembly passed the following judgments:

  • Both projects have violated economic, social and cultural rights. The human and material costs of the projects are huge:
    • 32 people were killed during the rains and flooding in 2003;
    • 50,000 acres of crops have been damaged;
    • more than 100,000 people were displaced for three months;
    • 12,000 fishermen have lost their livelihoods;
    • more than 10,000 acres of land has been encroached by sea water and
    • diseases are common due to unsafe drinking water and improper food, and children have been pulled out of schools as a result.
  • The drains have made local people more vulnerable during the rainy season. Frequent flooding in the last seven years has led to malnutrition and disease.
  • The World Bank and Asian Development Bank provided over $1 billion to finance the projects. Not only do the poor people of Pakistan have to pay back the loan with interest, but they must also bear the economic, social and environmental costs resulting from bad project design. These institutions and the government must take responsibility.

Members of the people’s assembly are demanding steps be taken to solve the failings of the drains. This includes diversion and closure of offending effluent drains; de-linking the tidal link canal which is the main cause of salt water intrusion and wetland destruction; restoration of damaged wetland ecology; and the cancellation of any further plans for extension of the drains.

Short-term measures are urgently required including: compensation of families of people drowned in drains and of those who have lost crops, livestock, houses and land; creation of emergency employment programmes to protect the right to life and food; and the provision of equipment and inputs for those whose livelihoods have been threatened.

Villagers have vowed never to allow the World Bank and Asian Development Bank to provide another loan in the name of development in this area. They demand that existing loans for the project be written off and money diverted to the implementation of the suggested rehabilitation plan with the full participation of affected communities. There is no justification for paying back a loan for a faulty project.

If the above demands are not met in the next three months or appropriate measures are not taken which indicate the seriousness of the World Bank and the regional government, affected peoples plan to take the following measures:

  • Dismantle the offending drains;
  • Observe a hunger strike in front of the World Bank office in Islamabad;
  • Refuse to pay either provincial or federal taxes;
  • Submit the case to human rights commission/international court of justice.