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  PlanetArk website, 15 Apr 05
NGOs Say World Bank Policies Harm Forests
Story by David Lewis

KINSHASA - World Bank forestry programmes meant to promote sustainable development are threatening rainforests and harming the people who live in them, environmentalists said on Thursday.

In a series of reports detailing problems in forestry programmes from Cambodia to Democratic Republic of Congo, eight non-governmental groups criticised the World Bank and other international donors for reneging on pledges to protect forests. "The World Bank has reverted to the bad old ways of the 1980s when forest destruction and the trampling of local communities was considered the price of development," said the World Rainforest Movement and Forest Peoples Programme in the reports seen by Reuters in Kinshasa.

The two organisations accused the World Bank's private sector arm, the International Finance Corporation, of investing in "dubious projects", and said the World Bank had failed to consult indigenous people properly about its projects.

In 2002, the World Bank adopted a new policy aimed at helping countries manage forests effectively and sustainably. However, activists have criticised the strategy, saying it leads to funding for projects that are destroying tropical forests. The World Bank says its policy aims to harness the potential of forests to reduce poverty and to integrate forests into sustainable economic development.

The World Rainforest Movement and Forest Peoples Programme said promises of transparency and the use of independent advisers, made in 2002, were never honoured. Among the other groups that contributed reports were the Rainforest Foundation and Global Witness.


In its paper, Global Witness criticised the World Bank's Forest Concession Management and Control Pilot Programme in Cambodia, saying it had failed to exclude predatory timber companies or help Cambodians hold loggers to account.

Simon Taylor, a director at Global Witness, told Reuters that the environmentalists hoped to raise awareness ahead of a G8 summit later this year and persuade the international community to underatake a vital rethink of forestry policies.

"On the one hand, the (World) Bank is talking about sustainable development but on the other hand, it talks about promoting concessions and kickstarting forestry" in areas with no transparency, controls or judiciary, he said.

Taylor said the World Bank and other donors seemed to have a "fantasy world belief" that by pushing forestry projects to boost economies, revenue would be generated to spur development.

However, he said, in areas without sufficient controls, this could lead to capital flight and even sometimes fund armed groups, as in Liberia and Democratic Republic of Congo. "The economics of such an approach is a sham," he said.

The Rainforest Foundation UK said in its contribution the World Bank was misguided in believing that a responsible timber industry could be set up in Democratic Republic of Congo now that a five-year civil war in the vast nation had ended.

The Congo basin is home to the world's second-largest rain forest which has remained relatively untouched by industrial logging because of the war, but which is now due to be opened.

Rainforest Foundation said the World Bank and the UN Food and Agricultural Organisation were planning extensive development of former Zaire's forests. "A process has begun which may soon be irreversible and could result in the eventual loss of much of the world's second largest area of rainforest," it said.

It said the Bank and other organisations had failed to take into account the serious weaknesses of Congo's government, and that development of the forests would mainly benefit foreign logging companies.

Related articles on Global issues: biodiversity biodiversity loss, extinction threats, commercial applications of biodiversity

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