Wanted: an independent appeals institution

If the World Bank does not withdraw from the Narmada dam, it will undermine the credibility it gained from setting up the review team. US NGOs now want a permanent mechanism to investigate appeals by affected people

By Lori Udall
Published: Friday 31 July 1992

Vindicated: an anti-Narmada da (Credit: Ashish Kothari)IT IS IRONIC that during the same week in June in which the World Bank emerged from Rio as the major funding mechanism to clean up the world's environment and implement Agenda 21, the Morse report revealed to the world the chronic institutional failures of the bank to promote environmentally and socially sustainable development.

For anyone who has monitored the performance of the World Bank in environment and human rights, the results of the Morse report come as no surprise. It is clear from the findings and recommendations of the report, combined with the bank's failure to address the problems over the last seven years and its poor performance in large-scale irrigation projects in India over the last 20 years -- that the Sardar Sarovar Project (SSP) can never be implemented according to the bank's standards. The bank should withdraw from the SSP completely.

If the bank does not -- at the very least -- stop funding for the project, call for a halt to construction and "step back" as the team has recommended, it will undermine any credibility and good faith it gained from establishing the review in the first place. Any future attempts of the bank to distinguish itself as an international leader on environment through the Global Environment Facility and the "earth increment" can only be considered a joke.

Yet, if one looks at the bank's initial response, it appears to be "business as usual". The 13-page response of the bank management to the Morse Report, detailed in a memorandum to the executive directors on June 23, 1992, is irresponsible and unacceptable.

The Environment Defence Fund (EDF) believes the Morse report has far-reaching implications and revelations about bank operations overall, poor project quality and lack of public accountability. At this juncture, we are convinced that the bank is institutionally incapable of taking measures necessary to mitigate the excessive environmental and social disruption caused by its projects.

The EDF and other US-based NGOs are calling for the creation of a permanent independent mechanism to investigate appeals from affected people regarding violations of World Bank loan agreements and policies. The appeals mechanism would have access to all bank documents, it would receive and investigate appeals from individuals and NGOs in developing countries, and have enforcement capabilities.

---Lori Udall is a member of the Environment Defence Fund, which has been actively involved in anti-Narmada lobbying in Washington.

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