Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Taking Power 4 People to the Doorsteps of the World Bank

Taking Power 4 People to the Doorsteps of the World Bank
Peter Bosshard, International Rivers, October 15, 2013

"World Bank President, hear our plea: no more dirty energy! … No more
mega-dams, that's for sure - clean local energy for the poor! … Don't
return to the bad old days - building more dams is not the way!"

These were some of the chants finance ministers heard as they convened
for the World Bank's annual meeting in Washington DC on October 12. Some
60 activists from around the world had gathered at the Bank's doorsteps
on a grey and windy day to call for a shift from destructive fossil fuel
and dam projects to clean local power for poor communities. With
colorful signs, rhythmic chants and impassioned statements, the protest
marked the start of the new Power 4 People campaign.

After two decades of relative caution, the World Bank is plunging back
into funding mega-dams with a vengeance. Since spring, the Bank had
signaled that it planned to return to funding large hydropower and gas
projects particularly in Africa. At the annual meeting, Bank managers
left no doubts that they were serious about this. "We will build dams,
dams, dams and more dams in Africa," one Executive Directors told
environmental activists. In a new paper, the Bank presented the Inga 3
Dam on the Congo River and other mega-dams as examples of what it
intended to fund through IDA 17, its finance window for the poorest
countries. The manager of the Bank's energy department called large
hydropower projects one of the "sweet spots" of future World Bank
lending. Bank staff even nicknamed President Kim "Mr. Hydropower" for
his enthusiasm for large dams.

The Bank's sweet spot will leave a bitter taste in the mouths of the
people who currently don't have access to electricity, and who stand in
the way of the proposed mega-dams. A new paper from Oilchange
International shows that less than 1 percent of the Bank's funding for
large hydropower and gas projects in 2013 expanded access to energy for
the 1.3 billion people who currently lack it. In a country where more
than 90 percent of the population doesn't have access to electricity,
the Inga 3 Dam will generate power for mining companies and the urban
middle classes of South Africa.

At the annual meeting, finance ministers endorsed the World Bank's
official goal of ending extreme poverty by 2030. The new plans for the
energy sector show that this is just public relations. In a meeting with
NGOs, Executive Directors confirmed that the new dams will be built to
benefit private investors, not the rural poor.

Speakers from Chad, Pakistan, Panama and the United States denounced the
World Bank's support for destructive energy projects at the protest on
October 12. Jamil Junejo of the Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum reported that
mega-dams on the Indus River had "destroyed ecosystems and impoverished
millions of people. Energy conservation and decentralized renewable
energy sources", Junejo said, "are the best ways to bring power to the
people." Delphine Djiraibe from Chad's Public Interest Law Center warned
that "the Bank has learned little from its experience and is proposing
to do still more massive projects where the risks are placed squarely on
the most vulnerable populations." The Power 4 People platform calls for
a "fundamental shift" in energy finance from destructive projects to the
clean local sources that expand access for poor communities and protect
the climate.

The protest in Washington DC offered an inspiring start for the Power 4
People campaign. Similar events took place in the DRC, in India and
Malaysia. Yet NGOs and civil society movements need to strengthen their
cooperation and do much more to avert a further abuse of public funds
for destructive energy projects. By December, governments need to pledge
their contributions to the IDA 17 fund, from which the World Bank plans
to finance the Inga 3 Project and other mega-dams. This provides an
opportunity to pressure our governments to shift their support for the
energy sector from the World Bank to institutions that prioritize energy
access for the poor.

If you would like to express your support for the Power 4 People
campaign, you can do so by sending an e-mail message to World Bank
President Kim at
and on Twitter. More than 1000 people have already done so.

A series of images from the protest is available at
www.internationalrivers.org/node/8120, and an audio tape will be posted

Peter Bosshard is the Policy Director of International Rivers. He tweets
at @PeterBosshard and blogs at www.internationalrivers.org/blog/227.

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