the discussions on the ecodevelopment project -- which ostensibly proposes to protect core areas of resource-rich forests from human intrusion in a bid to preserve them -- at the recently concluded Global Environmental Facility ( gef ) Council meeting in Washington, clearly brought out the dangers of discriminating between global environmental benefits and local issues. To save globally significant biodiversity in protected areas in India, the gef and its implementing agency, the World Bank ( wb ), will be supporting the eviction of thousands of poor forest dwellers from these protected areas, trampling upon their human rights. It will be also be strengthening the country's forest bureaucracy through money and infrastructure to continue in its dictatorial ways of managing the forests by alienating and harassing the local communities. Projects like these are indications of a gloomy fact -- that in the present international political scenario, local issues are going to get sacrificed for global benefits!
The fact that the three implementing agencies of the gef are the wb , the United Nations Development Programme, and the United Nations Environment Programme does not leave much room for relief. It was clear from the strong reaction against the wb president James Wolfensohn from the non-governmental organisations and local communities during his recent visit to India, that the popular image of these agencies is one of ravaging the enviropnment through funding of mindless development projects. As these multilateral funding agencies are accountable to the gef , one of gef 's objectives was to act as a "Trojan horse" to initiate change and sensitise all three agencies to environmental impacts of their projects. Unfortunately, there is little evidence of this happening.
Perhaps the key issue is that it is nearly five years since the inception of the gef , and already about 200 projects have been funded. Yet there has not been a comprehensive evaluation of the gef activities -- how much of global environmental benefits has it actually manage to achieve? And at what cost? Till now, it did not even have a semblance of a monitoring and evaluation (m&e) system. It is only now, with an eye on the upcoming replenishment of funds, that hectic activity has erupted and at the council meeting a draft of the proposed m&e system was discussed. This is a welcome step, albeit late.
But several important issues are yet to be addressed. There seems to be an over-reliance on the implementing agencies to do the monitoring and evaluation, making the whole exercise suspect. Evaluation of any process has to be done by an independent, transparent and multi-representative body, where effected communities play a vital role in bringing actual feedback from the field. These communities are ultimately the beneficiaries of projects in the field, and their effective participation will also bring in that valuable insight into innovative and experimental approaches that gef seeks to promote. Without such an independent evaluation, a true assessment of the impact of gef will be impossible.
The activities as well as the structure of the gef is extremely complex, and so are the issues it has the mandate to deal with -- biodiversity loss, climate change, ozone layer depletion and cleaning and prevention of depletion of international waters. Perhaps the most sensitive of all the issues is biodiversity, in which the gef is pouring in most of its funds. Then again, developing countries are in the process of fighting for intellectual property rights on biodiversity and recognition of traditional knowledge, and are suspicious of activities of funding agencies in this field
So, can the gef and the implementation agencies be expected to really understand the strong local dynamics of each country? In the case of the ecodevelopment project in India, the Bank has plunged into a field it has little experience or sensitivity to deal with. The project hopes to smoothen the relation between people living around protected areas and the forest department -- a relation that has been extremely conflict ridden through the years.. Unfortunately, without actually attacking the power dynamics between an all powerful bureaucracy and the poor, marginalised forest dependent communities, the project will perhaps only succeed in aggravating the scenario.
The gef was to provide a new global governance to the world. The key objective was also to bring about greater participation of people and ngo s into projects at all levels. However, there are serious indications that with increasing influence of the implementation agencies on the activities of the gef and a domination of donor countries in the decision-making processes of the gef council, it could have lost its way into becoming yet another mechanism for the developed countries to dictate terms to the recipient countries under a green garb. It is imperative that at the time of funds replenishment by the council, some serious evaluation and reflection be done if gef has to achieve its long-term goals. It is also perhaps time that the developing countries took up the lead in demanding that a mechanism like the gef comes back to the right track.
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