World Bank president admits 'deep concern' on evictions

World Bank president Jim Yong KimThe World Bank today admitted broad failures in its policies for resettling people in developing countries who are driven from their homes and their jobs by projects that the bank finances. 

Citing internal studies, the bank acknowledged that it did not know how many people its projects had uprooted, and that it frequently did not do enough oversight of projects that displaced communities. It said that it often did not know whether governments that borrow money from the bank had met their obligation under bank policies to restore displaced communities to equal or better living conditions.

“We took a hard look at ourselves on resettlement and what we found caused me deep concern,” World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim said in a statement.

The bank released an action plan that it said would address these shortcomings.

In the plan, the bank promised to increase oversight of projects that displace people, provide greater support to countries with less capacity for carrying out resettlements, and increase staffing and funding for the enforcement of its “social and environmental safeguards” policies. It said that it was restructuring its organization to provide greater independence to the specialists responsible for enforcing its safeguards.

The announcement came after recent high profile bank projects were accused of sponsoring forced evictions and other human rights violations. In Ethiopia, ICIJ revealed in January, an internal bank watchdog found that the World Bank had repeatedly violated its own rules in failing to consider the connection between a bank-funded health and education initiative and the violent mass evictions of an indigenous group. 

Last week, however, the bank denied blame for the evictions, and declined to press for compensation of the families forced from their homes.

Another recent project in Kenya was found to have violated bank guidelines in failing to protect indigenous people, who said that a bank-sponsored conservation effort was used as a tool to drive them from their ancestral forests.

The bank also denied blame for these evictions and declined to insist on compensation.

World Bank Group President Kim vowed that bank’s action plan would provide the resources necessary to prevent abuses in the future.

“Strong policies like ours require strong execution and it requires properly funding reviews and empowering those who work on safeguards,” he said. “That will change with our action plan.”

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