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World Bank Violated Own Rules On Rainforests


Overview & Commentary By Dr. Glen Barry, Ecological Internet

World Bank Found to Have Seriously Violated Own Rules as Sought to Raze Congo's Rainforests

A leaked report by the World Bank's independent inspection panel has found the World Bank gravely broke its own rules in regard to rainforest policies and projects pursued since 2002 in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

The World Bank encouraged foreign companies to destructively log DRC's rainforests, endangering the lives of thousands of Congolese Pygmies; misled Congo's government about the value of their forests, and repeatedly broke their own rules regarding natural habitat and indigenous protections.

Congo's rainforests are the second largest in the world, hold some 8% of the Earth's carbon, and possess critical global ecosystems containing rich biodiversity. These forests provide medicines, shelter, timber and food for 40 million people.

When the World Bank reentered the Congo in 2002, after years of war, it said industrial forestry could contribute to the country's recovery. It rushed through new forestry laws, divided the country's rainforests into logging zones, and along with the British government aimed to create a favorable climate for industrial logging. These efforts have now been discredited.

This revelation of Bank corruption in order to ensure Western access to ancient rainforest timbers is a victory, albeit sad and impartial, as the Pygmies' rights and livelihoods are safe for now from illegally promoted inappropriate development of the country's rainforests by the World Bank.

It is a victory for Rainforest Foundation -- UK, whose persistent efforts to highlight the World Bank's bad faith efforts in the DRC have paid off. And perhaps the mighty Congo rainforest is secure for awhile from more misguided World Bank forest conservation policies and projects that intensify industrial logging.

And lastly, it is a victory for Ecological Internet's action network (you!), who in support of Pygmies filing the inspection panel claim, the Rainforest Foundation, and out of a desire to keep DRC's rainforests intact; launched one of our largest email action protests ever, as tens of thousands of protests emails were sent by thousands of protestors. The protest alert in December of 2005 had such high levels of participation that we crashed our server handling the volume!

The alert just prior to the World Bank Board's consideration of Congo rainforest policy called for an Inspection Panel "investigation into claims by the 'Pygmy' indigenous peoples that you have failed to take into account how your plans would impact people depending on the forest for their survival... The World Bank is laying the basis for the destruction of Congo's rainforests, and it has breached many of its own internal safeguard policies in the process". These allegations have been borne out in their entirety.

It is clear that the World Bank must completely rethink their forest policy in the DRC and the world. Industrial logging must be rejected and replaced with an emphasis upon community development based upon standing, intact rainforests.

Further, it is clear that the World Bank has been discredited, shown to not be a good faith participant in world efforts to protect the world's remaining primary and old-growth forests. As such, they must be disqualified from further administration of GEF and proposed Forest/Carbon protection monies. Expect an alert to this effect shortly...

[RELEASE ENDS]

*** RELAYED TEXT STARTS HERE:

ITEM #1 Title: Country World Bank accused of razing Congo forests Internal report says mass logging threatens Pygmies; Findings are embarrassing for British government Source: Copyright 2007, Guardian, UK Date: October 5, 2007 Byline: John Vidal

The World Bank encouraged foreign companies to destructively log the world's second largest forest, endangering the lives of thousands of Congolese Pygmies, according to a report on an internal investigation by senior bank staff and outside experts. The report by the independent inspection panel, seen by the Guardian, also accuses the bank of misleading Congo's government about the value of its forests and of breaking its own rules.

Congo's rainforests are the second largest in the world after the Amazon, locking nearly 8% of the planet's carbon and having some of its richest biodiversity. Nearly 40 million people depend on the forests for medicines, shelter, timber and food.

The report into the bank's activities in Democratic Republic of Congo since 2002 follows complaints made two years ago by an alliance of 12 Pygmy groups. The groups claimed that the bank-backed system of awarding vast logging concessions to companies to exploit the forests was causing "irreversible harm".

It will be discussed at board level in the World Bank within weeks and may lead to a complete rethink of how forestry in the DRC is practised.

It is particularly embarrassing for the British government, which is a development partner of the bank and its third largest financial contributor. It encouraged the bank to intervene in the Congo forests with export-driven industrial logging and has earmarked £50m for further Congo basin forestry aid.

When the bank moved back into Congo in 2002, after years of war which cost up to 4 million lives, it said industrial forestry could contribute most strongly to the country's recovery. In its rush to reform the economy it devised new forestry laws, divided the county into zones and aimed to create a favourable climate for industrial logging.

But although the bank is legally committed to protecting the environment, and trying to alleviate poverty, the panel found that the policies it imposed on the Congo were having the opposite social and environmental effects:

* An area of 600,000 square kilometres (232,000 square miles) of forest was earmarked for logging companies.

* The bank failed to address critical social and environmental issues.

* It ignored between 250,000 and 600,000 Pygmies believed to be living in the Congolese forests, even though their presence was well known and documented.

* It put the Pygmies in serious potential harm.

Criticism is made of the forestry reforms that the bank imposed in return for loans of more than $450m. Initially, said the panel, "the bank provided [to the government] estimates of export revenue from logging concessions that turned out to be far too high. This encouraged a focus on reform of the forestry system at the expense of pursuing sustainable uses of forests, the potential for community forests and for conservation.

For the most part foreign companies, or local companies controlled by foreigners, have been the beneficiaries of this," the report said.

In a scathing analysis of the bank's economic reasoning, the panel said the bank had "distorted the real economic value of the country's forests" by looking solely at the tax and revenue that increased industrial logging might generate. "There seems to have been little action to support alternative uses of the forest resources," it said.

The panel travelled deep into the forest to take evidence from the Pygmy communities, who told it they were not consulted before the bank launched its wide-ranging forestry reforms.

One Pygmy leader told the panel: "We are being made poor in every aspect ... the [logging] company prevents us from going into the forests." Another said that the company had bought the land so that people could no longer live in the forests.

"Roads are going ever deeper into the forests, opening it up. We are increasingly deprived of our foods and drugs. We have never seen anything from the bank except promises," said a third.

Research by non-government groups last year showed that 12 foreign-owned or foreign-controlled companies were encouraged by the bank to dominate the entire industry. Some had concessions of more than 5m hectares, and all included Pygmy communities in their holdings. The bank is reviewing the legality of many of these concessions.

Yesterday international groups that have worked with Congolese communities said they were shocked by the panel's findings.

"The Pygmies must be fully involved in developing any future plans for the forest, and the bank need to find ways of helping them uphold their rights, rather than helping logging companies to destroy them," said Simon Counsell, director of the Rainforest Foundation.

"The World Bank must change drastically its forest policies. Industrial logging is not contributing to poverty reduction, while its expansion undermines future financial benefits for environmental services," said Staphan van Praet, the Africa forest campaigner for Greenpeace International.

ITEM #2 Title: Congo's Pygmies vindicated as official watchdog condemns World Bank's role in Africa's great rainforest Source: Press Release, Rainforest Foundation -- UK Date: October 4, 2007

PRESS RELEASE EMBARGO: 4th October 2007. 00.01 hrs Congo's Pygmies vindicated as official watchdog condemns World Bank's role in Africa's great rainforest

An unreleased report of the World Bank Inspection Panel obtained today by the Rainforest Foundation shows that the World Bank has committed grave errors in its projects in the rainforests of the Democratic Republic of Congo, which are the second largest on Earth after the Amazon [1]. The Panel's investigation was undertaken after a formal complaint was submitted by a number of organisation's working with Congo's indigenous Pygmy people, who expressed their concern about the impact of Bank-funded activities in the forests which they inhabit [2]. An area of rainforest the size of France is at risk.

The report finds that two projects funded by the Bank since 2002 would have promoted massive industrial exploitation of Congo's rainforests for timber production, potentially turning the country into 'Africa's premier timber producer'. However, the Inspection Panel also finds that there was inadequate consideration of the "many important socio-economic and environmental issues of forest us" at the time that the Bank projects were prepared and started; that the Bank had not even identified the fact that Congo's forests were inhabited by indigenous people, and had only given 'limited attention' to the fact that some 40 million other people (mostly subsistence farmers) also depend on Congo's forests for their survival. As well as threatening the environment, the projects would also probably not serve to help alleviate poverty; the Panel has found that the Bank misled the Congolese government into believing that the revenues from logging its rainforests would be much higher than were likely in reality.

Most damningly for the Bank, the Panel has found that Bank staff broke many of the agency's own internal 'safeguard' policies, which are designed to protect the environment, natural habitats, and the rights of people living in the areas affected by Bank projects. Bank staff 'downgraded' projects to lower levels of potential environmental risk, thus reducing the level of environmental assessment required, and then anyway failed to carry out environmental and social impacts before the projects started.

The Panel also finds that, whilst the Bank has repeatedly claimed that it is helping to bring Congo's existing and mostly illegal logging operations under control, especially by reviewing the legality of all the existing 150 or so logging companies, there had been serious flaws in this process, with inadequate management of it by the Bank. The fate of around 15 million hectares of rainforest (about the size of England), some of it inhabited by Pygmies, could be determined by this flawed 'review' of logging concessions.

Simon Counsell, Director of the Rainforest Foundation, said;

"The Panel's report is a major victory for the 'Pygmy' peoples of the Congo whose rights and livelihoods would be seriously harmed by inappropriate development of the country's rainforests. We are now calling on governments to put pressure on the World Bank Board to realise the gravity of the report and ddemand immediate action to safeguard the Congo forests and the 40 million people depending on them."

Notes

[1] The report results from a year-long investigation by the Panel, which serves as an official but independent 'watchdog' over the activities of the Bank, the world's largest development funding agency. The Panel's report on the Congolese rainforests would probably be made publicly available at the end of October.

[2] The Request for Inspection submitted by 12 Congolese activists can be found on the Inspection Panel website: http://siteresources.worldbank.org/EXTINSPECTIONPANEL/Resource s/RequestforInspectionEnglish.pdf.

For further information www.rainforestuk.com

ENDS

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