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Data dive: How to mine World Bank resettlement documents

ICIJ spent 11 months going through World Bank reports. Here's what we learned, and some tips for getting your head around the documents and data.

ICIJ's interactive Evicted and Abandoned World Bank database

The World Bank says that “transparency and accountability are essential to the development process” and central to achieving its mission to reduce poverty. The bank posts a wealth of information and resources on its website, and thousands of documents just waiting to be downloaded.

That doesn’t mean it is easy to find the information you’re looking for, particularly when it comes to exploring cases of displacement caused by World Bank-funded projects.

ICIJ reviewed tens of thousands of pages of documents in four different languages to come up with an estimate of the number of people physically and economically displaced by World Bank-financed projects. It took months to understand how to navigate the resettlement documents our analysis is based on. 

Information on the number of people affected by bank-funded projects is technically public but it is not searchable on the bank’s websites. In order to find those estimates ICIJ had to go through what are called “Resettlement Action Plans,” which are PDFs produced by the bank’s clients that usually include a census. 

Those documents vary from one project to another.  Inconsistency in how displacement issues are reported makes it difficult to come up with an exact number of affected people by project or by country. 

The World Bank recently acknowledged “major problems” in its handling of resettlement, admitting that projects involving physical or economic displacement “often had poor or no documentation.”

ICIJ spent 11 months going through more than 6,000 documents to come up with the 3.4 million figure for the number of people physically or economically displaced for the decade 2004-2013. You can, of course, find our estimates and sift through the rest of the data in our interactive. But if you’re interested in exploring a particular case in more detail, or diving into the documents yourself, here’s a rough guide with a few tips that might help.

First step: Finding the right documents

Screenshot of a search for resettlement plans on the World Bank websiteThe World Bank is supposed to upload all resettlement documents produced for projects it funds. A project’s documents can be searched online thanks to a unique identifier the World Bank attach to each project. On the bank’s website, files are tagged by type of documents, and documentation on displacement can be found under the tag “resettlement plan.” 

There are three types of documents listed on that page:

  • Resettlement Policy Frameworks indicating the resettlement policy has been triggered and there is a risk of displacement;
  • Process Framework, produced if there is a potential restriction of access to protected areas and designated parks;
  • Resettlement Action Plan (or Abbreviated Resettlement Plans), which are more detailed and will include a census of the people affected by the project.

ICIJ’s analysis focused on resettlement plans for its count of the number of people displaced by bank-funded projects. Resettlement plans were available for 42 percent of all World Bank projects for the decade 2004-2013. Except for a few exceptions, all resettlement plans included some form of estimate of the number of people affected (this was the focus of ICIJ's analysis; see more on this below).

Projects can have one resettlement plan, or many (from updates, or different plans for different parts of the project). If there are multiple plans, you can’t just add the numbers up – you have to read the documents to figure out whether there is crossover, or whether they refer to unique sets of displaced people. Often you can identify sets of displaced people by references to the same city, province or subproject. 

If one project is divided into several subprojects, it could have one resettlement plan per subproject or a consolidated resettlement plan summarizing the number of people affected by each subproject. The only way to find out? Read the documents.

Second step: Finding the number of people displaced

Inside the documents, ICIJ looked for what the bank most-commonly calls “Project-Affected People (PAP)” or “displaced people.” 

A resettlement plan.Estimates of the number of project-affected people can be found by searching within the document for the term “affected,” “PAP” or “displaced.” Such censuses can also usually be found under “project impacts” or “socio-economic survey.” 

It sounds straightforward, but a lack of consistency in how the project impacts are reported makes it a challenge to figure out just how many people were affected. Here are some variables, and examples of how ICIJ dealt with them:

  • Households versus individuals: Some documents will count the number of individuals affected, others will only count the number of households. In that case, it is necessary to look for the average number of family members by household, which can be found in the socio-economic survey. 
  • Temporary versus permanent: Some documents distinguish temporary impacts for permanent impacts. Given this distinction is not made in all documents, we decided to include all impacts. 
  • Type of impacts: Affected individuals can lose residential or agricultural properties. Listed impacts also include the loss of commercial properties. In that case, documents are supposed to list all employees affected by income loss but this is not always the case. ICIJ included all those impacts, as well as people who didn’t lose homes, businesses or land but whose livelihoods were impacted
  • Overall number of affected individuals: This number is often accurate but is sometimes misused to identify all individuals affected positively or negatively by a project. This is why it is important to make sure the number is under “project impacts” or “resettlement impacts.”

Similarly, the range of resettlement impacts stated in World Bank documents can be wide and incoherent. Some individuals will have to move to a whole new house or area,  but for some the impact can be as modest as losing less than 1 percent of their land or income. 

Some projects document these differences in detail, others skim over it in brief – but all people are counted as physically or economically displaced. In a 2012 internal report, the World Bank acknowledged that resettlement plans “often use the term ‘project-affected people’ (PAPs), but without disaggregating the type of impacts those people faced.”

For these reasons, ICIJ focused on the broader category of project-affected people, which was the most commonly used term across projects.

You can explore the results of our work in our interactive database, and read more about the data here.

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