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World Bank Safeguard Policies

Environmental Assessment
Natural Habitats
Pest Management
Indigenous Peoples
Physical Cultural Resources
Safety of Dams
Involuntary Resettlement
International Waterways
Disputed Areas

The Environmental and Social Safeguard Policies (Safeguard Policies), as a subset of the operational policies of the Bank, are vital to the Bank’s efforts to promote poverty reduction and sustainable development. As such, the Safeguard Policies require that potentially adverse environmental impacts and selected social impacts of Bank investment projects should be identified, minimized, and mitigated.  To that end, the Safeguard Policies provide a mechanism for integrating environmental and social concerns into development decision-making. In addition to providing guidance on measures to improve and sustain operations in specific areas, most safeguard policies provide that (a) potentially adverse environmental impacts affecting the physical environment, ecosystem functions and human health, and physical cultural resources, as well as specific social impacts, should be identified and assessed early in the project cycle; (b) unavoidable adverse impacts should be minimized or mitigated to the extent feasible; and (c) timely information should be provided to stakeholders, who should have the opportunity to comment on both the nature and significance of impacts and the proposed mitigation measures. For a project to qualify for Bank’s financing it must comport with, among other things, the requirements of the Safeguard Policies. With respect to roles and responsibilities, the Borrower is generally responsible for selecting, preparing, and implementing projects that are assisted by the Bank.  The Bank is responsible for the supervision of implementation of projects, and advises and supports Borrowers in carrying out their responsibilities.

Today, the institutions of the Bank Group share a set of similar safeguard policies, and they have institutional arrangements for implementation and oversight, with modifications as necessary to address their specific lines of business and organizational structures. Moreover, although the Safeguard Policies are not meant to set objective international standards, for a number of reasons, the impact of these policies is not confined to the Bank itself. As such, the Safeguard Policies provide important benchmarks for the environmental and social performance of other international financial institutions as well as the private sector. For example, the Bank requires that its policies be complied with even in operations where it is not the only financier. Thus, in practice, in projects jointly financed with the Bank, all the components of a project must comply with applicable policies; not only those actually financed by the Bank, but also those components finance by other agencies, whether from the public or private sector. The “leveraging” effect is therefore substantial. Furthermore, the private sector also uses these policies for its own purposes, oftentimes referring to the Safeguard Policies as the “World Bank standards”, although, to be clear, the Bank has consistently refused to certify that non-Bank-financed projects are in compliance with the Safeguard Policies. Having recognized that many of the other development agencies also have policies on many of the same issues, the Bank over the last few years has been actively involved in a discussion process with other international financial institutions with a view to identifying common principles for, among other things, environmental assessment. Lastly, albeit the Safeguard Policies are internal Bank policies, the process by which they are developed, or later revised, is highly census-based, with a substantial consultation exercise conducted prior to the finalization of the texts. 

The environmental assessment (EA) policy (OP/BP 4.01) facilitates the coordination between the Bank and the Borrower in the assessment of the impacts of proposed projects and activities on the environment. The consideration of the applicable safeguard policies and procedures occurs during the preparation of, and/or as part of, the environmental assessment report required by the Bank and prepared by the Borrower. Therefore, OP/BP 4.01 operates as an umbrella safeguard policy and the application of other Bank safeguard policies and procedures may also be required, such as those concerning natural habitats (OP/BP 4.04); pest management (OP 4.09); indigenous peoples (OP/BP 4.10); physical cultural resources (OP/BP 4.11); involuntary resettlement (OP/BP 4.12); forests (OP/BP 4.36); safety of dams (OP/BP 4.37); international waterways (OP/BP 7.50);and disputed areas (OP/BP 7.60). 

In order to ensure compliance, the Bank’s Quality Assurance Group (QAG) reviews compliance with Safeguard Policies in its quality-at-entry and quality-of-supervision reports; and the Operations Evaluation Department (OED), an independent unit within the Bank, evaluates the Bank’s work, the Borrower’s performance in implementing projects, and the Bank’s contribution to the country’s long-term development. In addition, the Bank created the Inspection Panel in 1993, to serve as an independent mechanism to ensure accountability in Bank operations. The Inspection Panel is empowered to review compliance with all Bank policies other than those related to procurement.  It is functionally independent of Bank Management and reports solely to the Executive Directors.

In the meantime, the implementation of the Safeguard Policies seeks to increase the ability of Borrower countries to apply environmental performance and monitoring, and to involve and consult with stakeholders, such as the general public, NGOs, government departments not directly involved, and other interested organizations. However, as Safeguard Policies implementation is a highly complex activity, much effort is needed to build capacity in developing countries at various levels ranging from government agencies to civil society.

The mandate of the Legal Vice Presidency, through its Environmental and International Law Unit, is to review the initial project concept papers and help identify as early as possible legal issues relating to the Bank's policies and procedures, as well as issues emerging under national and international law. Our team provides legal assistance to the Bank’s operational staff and the Borrower on how to manage environmental and social aspects of the project; how to develop environmental covenants; and how to ensure that prevention and mitigation measures for the identified risks are implemented. We also help address claims made by stakeholders to the Inspection Panel for potential non-compliance of the Bank with its operation policies.

Finally, in accordance with its commitment to ensuring transparency about its activities, the Bank follows a Policy on Disclosure of Information.

DISCLAIMER: Please note that the description of the Safeguard Policies contained on this web page is not a complete treatment. 


The World Bank safeguard policies are:

Environmental Assessment

The Bank requires environmental assessment (EA) of projects proposed for Bank financing to help ensure that they are environmentally sound and sustainable, and thus to improve decision making. EA takes into account the natural environment (air, water, and land); human health and safety; social aspects (involuntary resettlement, indigenous peoples, and physical cultural resources); and transboundary and global environmental aspects. EA evaluates a project's potential environmental risks and impacts in its area of influence; examines project alternatives; identifies ways of improving project selection, siting, planning, design, and implementation by preventing, minimizing, mitigating, or compensating for adverse environmental impacts and enhancing positive impacts; and includes the process of mitigating and managing adverse environmental impacts throughout project implementation. The Bank favors preventive measures over mitigatory or compensatory measures, whenever feasible. 

Natural Habitats

The conservation of natural habitats is essential for long-term sustainable development. The Bank therefore supports the protection, maintenance, and rehabilitation of natural habitats and their functions in its economic and sector work, project financing, and policy dialogue. The Bank supports, and expects borrowers to apply, a precautionary approach to natural resource management to ensure opportunities for environmentally sustainable development. The Bank does not support projects that, in the Bank's opinion, involve the significant conversion or degradation of critical natural habitats.

Pest Management

In assisting borrowers to manage pests that affect either agriculture or public health, the Bank supports a strategy that promotes the use of biological or environmental control methods and reduces reliance on synthetic chemical pesticides.  In Bank-financed projects, the borrower addresses pest management issues in the context of the project's environmental assessment.

Indigenous Peoples

This policy contributes to the Bank's mission of poverty reduction and sustainable development by ensuring that the development process fully respects the dignity, human rights, economies, and cultures of Indigenous Peoples. For all projects that are proposed for Bank financing and affect Indigenous Peoples, the Bank requires the borrower to engage in a process of free, prior, and informed consultation. The Bank provides project financing only where free, prior, and informed consultation results in broad community support to the project by the affected Indigenous Peoples.

  • OP 4.10
    • Annex A Social Assessment 
    • Annex B Indigenous Peoples Plan 
    • Annex C Indigenous Peoples Planning Framework 
  • BP 4.10 

Physical Cultural Resources

This policy addresses physical cultural resources, which are defined as movable or immovable objects, sites, structures, groups of structures, and natural features and landscapes that have archaeological, paleontological, historical, architectural, religious, aesthetic, or other cultural significance. Physical cultural resources are important as sources of valuable scientific and historical information, as assets for economic and social development, and as integral parts of a people’s cultural identity and practices. The Bank assists countries to avoid or mitigate adverse impacts on physical cultural resources from development projects that it finances.


The management, conservation, and sustainable development of forest ecosystems and their associated resources are essential for lasting poverty reduction and sustainable development, whether located in countries with abundant forests or in those with depleted or naturally limited forest resources. The objective of this policy is to assist borrowers to harness the potential of forests to reduce poverty in a sustainable manner, integrate forests effectively into sustainable economic development, and protect the vital local and global environmental services and values of forests.

Safety of Dams

For the life of any dam, the owner is responsible for ensuring that appropriate measures are taken and sufficient resources provided for the safety of the dam, irrespective of its funding sources or construction status. Because there are serious consequences if a dam does not function properly or fails, the Bank is concerned about the safety of new dams it finances and existing dams on which a Bank-financed project is directly dependent.

Involuntary Resettlement

Bank experience indicates that involuntary resettlement under development projects, if unmitigated, often gives rise to severe economic, social, and environmental risks: production systems are dismantled; people face impoverishment when their productive assets or income sources are lost; people are relocated to environments where their productive skills may be less applicable and the competition for resources greater; community institutions and social networks are weakened; kin groups are dispersed; and cultural identity, traditional authority, and the potential for mutual help are diminished or lost. This policy includes safeguards to address and mitigate these impoverishment risks.

International Waterways

Projects on international waterways may affect relations between the Bank and its borrowers and between states (whether members of the Bank or not). The Bank recognizes that the cooperation and goodwill of riparians is essential for the efficient use and protection of the waterway. Therefore, it attaches great importance to riparians' making appropriate agreements or arrangements for these purposes for the entire waterway or any part thereof. The Bank stands ready to assist riparians in achieving this end. In cases where differences remain unresolved between the state proposing the project (beneficiary state) and the other riparians, prior to financing the project the Bank normally urges the beneficiary state to offer to negotiate in good faith with the other riparians to reach appropriate agreements or arrangements.

Disputed Areas

Projects in disputed areas may raise a number of delicate problems affecting relations not only between the Bank and its member countries, but also between the country in which the project is carried out and one or more neighboring countries. In order not to prejudice the position of either the Bank or the countries concerned, any dispute over an area in which a proposed project is located is dealt with at the earliest possible stage.

Useful Links

 World Bank – Safeguard Policies 
• World Bank - Environmental Assessment 
• World Bank - Water Resources Management 
• Inspection Panel (IBRD/IDA) 
• International Association for Impact Assessment 
• International Finance Corporation – Sustainability 
• UN Division for Ocean Affairs and Law of the Sea 
• European Bank for Reconstruction and Development - Environmental Policy 
• Inter-American Development Bank Environment and Natural Resources – Policies and Strategies 
• Asian Development Bank – Safeguards 
• European Commission - Environmental Assessment 
• Netherlands Commission for Environmental Assessment 
• South Asian Regional Environmental Assessment Association 
• Espoo Convention on Environmental Assessment in a Transboundary Context 
• International Commission on Large Dams 
• The World Commission on Dams 
• United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples 
• Statement of Principles for the Sustainable Management of Forests 
• United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change 
• Declaration of the United Nations Conference of the Human Environment (Stockholm Declaration) 
• Rio Declaration on Environment and Development
• Commission on Sustainable Development 
• Rome Declaration on World Food Security and World Plan of Action
• Convention on Biological Diversity 

Use of country systems 

Experience has shown that by supporting efforts to strengthen legal systems and institutions in countries, the Bank can enhance operational performance, the country ownership of safeguard practices, and long-term sustainability. This means that instead of using its own policies, the Bank examines the existing policies in the country, draws the parallel with the requirements of the Bank policies and advises countries on how to improve their systems to meet the Bank’s standards.

Along this line, the Bank started using country systems in fiduciary areas, such as financial management and procurement. In March 2005 a pilot program was launched to explore using a country’s own environmental and social safeguard systems where they are assessed as being equivalent to the Bank’s systems, in Bank-supported operations. The approach has the potential to promote a move away from the traditional model in which safeguard and fiduciary policies are applied to only Bank-financed activities toward supporting the development and application of effective policies for all government expenditures. The program is governed by the OP/BP 4.00 on Piloting the Use of Borrower Systems to Address Environmental and Social Safeguard Issues in Bank-Supported projects.

Central to the use of country systems in safeguard policies is the input of the Environmental and International Law Unit of the World Bank’s Legal Vice Presidency taking the lead in examining the country legislation and implementation practices of relevant country institutions, determining whether they are equivalent to the Bank’s safeguards system, and eventually advising on how to improve their quality to achieve the objectives of OP 4.00.

Useful Links

Last updated: 2012-02-08

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