WASHINGTON, January 15, 2008 — The World Bank independent Inspection Panel said that it appreciates the World Bank Group’s efforts to tackle difficult and risky problems under trying circumstances in the forest sector in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). While pointing to a series of significant policy compliance failures in Bank-supported forest-sector reforms, the Panel noted the view of many stakeholders, including critics of the Bank’s actions, that the Bank should stay engaged in DRC forest work and strengthen efforts to address problems and correct policy shortcomings.
The World Bank’s Board of Executive Directors met on January 10 to discuss the Inspection Panel Report and the Management Response and Action Plan. Pygmy communities in the DRC had approached the Inspection Panel claiming that ongoing forest sector reforms supported by the World Bank were taking place without consultation and would lead to violations of their rights to occupy ancestral lands and manage and use their forests according to their traditional practices.
The Panel found that the Bank failed to comply with its policies, including on Environmental Assessment and Indigenous Peoples. Werner Kiene, Chairperson of the Inspection Panel, said: “The Panel values the Bank efforts in this critical sector, and highlights the importance of its continued engagement. The Panel found, however, that there was a failure during project design to carry out the necessary initial screening to identify risks and trigger the safeguard policies so that crucial steps would be taken to address needs of the Pygmy peoples and other local people.”
The Managing Director of the World Bank Group, Ngozi N. Okonjo-Iweala, welcomed the report of the Inspection Panel and supported the steps outlined in the Bank’s Action Plan as important contributions to promoting the improved management of Congolese forests and protecting the rights of forest-dependent people, including Pygmies.
“The World Bank has done a lot but can do more to protect forests, reduce poverty, support Indigenous Peoples’ rights and promote global environmental stability through its work in the DRC . We will take on board the Panel’s findings, apply lessons learned and stay engaged in cooperation with our development partners and the DRC Government, which is leading this important effort.”Okonjo-Iweala said.
The Action Plan approved by the Board emphasizes staying engaged in the DRC forest sector, continuing to monitor a moratorium on future logging concessions, and strengthening forest law enforcement. The Plan aims to integrate forest-dependent communities, including Pygmies, more widely into the Bank’s activities in DRC, and support critical activities such as capacity building, participatory zoning, customary rights, law enforcement and independent monitoring in forthcoming forest-related operations.
“We are committed to learning from this experience,” said Obiageli Ezekwesili, World Bank Vice President for Africa Region. “We will continue to work closely with the DRC Government and development partners to help poor, forest-dependent people, including Pygmies, have a greater voice in decisions that affect them.”
The Bank will also continue to foster public debate on alternative innovative models of managing forests. As part of the Plan, the Bank is preparing three complementary operations with a total estimated value of $64 million.
The Panel further found that in conceiving the projects, the Bank underestimated non-timber values and uses of the forests to the livelihoods of forest-dependent people and the rural population of 40 million. With respect to the proposed Action Plan, Kiene noted that “It contains important elements but requires specificity, particularly on actions called for under Bank policies to fully address the land tenure and other rights of the Pygmy peoples in DRC forests, and to deal with problems in the logging concession review process, including major reported breaches of the Moratorium on new concessions.”
At the Board meeting, there was wide agreement with the findings of the Panel, the measures outlined in the Action Plan, and an emphasis on the need to take and further develop specific steps to correct shortcomings and apply lessons learned. Management will provide a progress report on implementation of the Action Plan to the Board within 12 months.
The meeting noted that since 2002, the DRC Government had embraced an ambitious and fundamental forest reform agenda which deals with the legacy of the past, and sets the stage for more sustainable and equitable forest management models. There was recognition that the challenges facing post-conflict DRC are immense and present significant risks, but that inaction poses an even greater threat to its forests.