Rights groups slam World Bank's "vague" new guidelines to protect communities

Peruvian workers and activist sprotest holding a sign that reads ' World Bank Universal terror' against the 2015 IMF/World Bank Annual Meetings in Lima, Peru, October 9, 2015. REUTERS/Paco Chuquiure

"If the World Bank is serious about protecting communities against harm from its projects, it needs to make sure borrowers have a detailed and practical blueprint on how to do that"

MUMBAI, Dec 6 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - New World Bank guidelines aimed at giving environmental and social protection to communities affected by its projects are too weak and vague to be effective, some 30 rights groups said.

Guidance for World Bank-funded development projects, due to be finalised early next year, is not mandatory and allows borrowers to police themselves, according to the groups including Human Rights Watch and Oxfam.

"If the World Bank is serious about protecting communities against harm from its projects, it needs to make sure borrowers have a detailed and practical blueprint on how to do that," said Jessica Evans, a senior researcher at Human Rights Watch.

"But the draft Guidance Notes are so vague and offer woefully little help to borrowers on how to implement the new Environmental and Social Framework," she said in a statement this week, also signed by the Bretton Woods Project.

The campaigners said they are worried the World Bank will not have effective oversight over borrowers implementing the new framework.

Projects funded by the World Bank in developing countries have come under greater scrutiny recently, as communities have protested the loss of land and livelihoods, and the environmental impact of power plants and dams.

Farmers and fishermen in India's Gujarat state sued the International Finance Corporation, an arm of the World Bank, over its $450-million loan for a coal-fired plant they say has hurt their livelihoods and damaged the environment.

Rights groups have also questioned the funding of large land deals for agriculture in Africa which they say have forcefully displaced rural communities.

The World Bank said the draft guidance notes, published last month, are open for public comment and "the bank welcomes comments that aim to improve their usefulness".

"We are receiving comments on many different issues. We will consider all of them," a World Bank spokeswoman Lucie Blyth told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in emailed commments.

Final guidelines aiming to mitigate potential environmental and social harm from development projects will be issued in the next few months, and address biodiversity conservation, pollution, land acquisition and involuntary resettlement.

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