The World Bank's $52 Billion Test
By Peter Bosshard
International Rivers, December 17, 2013
At a meeting with donor governments in Moscow, the World Bank raised a
whopping $52 billion for its fund for the poorest countries today. The
governments ignored critique about the Bank's role in degrading
ecosystems and impoverishing local communities, but their decision can
still be reversed. Civil society groups will have an opportunity to
weigh in on whether the World Bank deserves the public support with
which it just has been entrusted next year.
The World Bank needs to raise funds for the International Development
Association (IDA) every three years. The $52 billion it raised today are
a slightly higher amount in real terms than what it raised in 2010.
While Western governments reduced their support for the IDA fund
somewhat, new donors such as China made up for the shortfall.
President Jim Kim promised today that the World Bank would increase its
efforts in "working toward gender equality, fighting climate change, and
making growth more inclusive and equitable" through its IDA projects.
Other people need to assess whether the fund's health, education and
other projects match this lofty rhetoric. As we have pointed out before,
in the energy sector, the World Bank continues to focus on big dam and
fossil fuel projects, not on renewable energy solutions that expand
energy access for the poor. The biggest energy project under the current
IDA round is a transmission line that will export electricity generated
by the devastating Gibe III Dam from Ethiopia to Kenya. The World Bank
has already identified the Inga 3 Dam, a mega-dam that will supply
electricity to mining companies and export markets but leaves
power-starved rural communities in the dark, as a model project for the
new IDA round.
Through the Power 4 People campaign, civil society groups have called on
governments to shift $1.6 billion - the share of funds that IDA has
traditionally spent on destructive energy projects - from the World Bank
to institutions that support clean local energy solutions for rural
communities. We have sent letters to governments and organized an online
action to support this appeal. When the government delegates arrived for
their meeting in Moscow earlier this week, they were welcomed by a
courageous protester from the Rivers without Boundaries coalition who
asked for donations for mega-dams in a Santa Claus costume. An opinion
piece in the Moscow Times and other activities by partner groups around
the world supported our action.
For now, the civil society call has fallen on deaf ears and the World
Bank has achieved its fundraising goal. Next year, parliaments will have
to approve the financial pledges which their governments made in Moscow.
By then, the World Bank will need to turn its lofty rhetoric into
practice. We will be able to judge whether its new energy projects heed
the lessons of past mistakes or follow a business-as-usual approach,
whether the Bank prioritizes the demands of energy-intensive industries
or the needs of poor rural communities, whether it focuses on mega-dams
and fossil fuels or the clean local energy solutions of the future.
At a time when an exciting range of climate-friendly energy solutions is
available, we can put the World Bank's $52 billion fund to the test.
With every project decision it takes the Bank will tell parliaments and
the public at large whether it deserves the support that governments
have just have pledged. Civil society groups should work with
parliaments to hold the Bank to account.
Peter Bosshard is the Policy Director of International Rivers.
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