At the World Bank, can record keeping stay ahead of infrastructure shift?

Households identified for relocation as a result of the World Bank’s Trung Son Hydropower project in Vietnam were given emergency grants. According to a random sampling conducted by the bank, managers did not report how and whether displaced populations were compensated in more than half of its projects from 1990 to 2000. Photo by: Mai Ky / World Bank / CC BY-NC-ND

The World Bank’s renewed embrace of infrastructure projects will likely spur an uptick in community displacement; but will the world’s largest international financial institution do a better job of tracking relocation efforts?

President Jim Yong Kim admitted Wednesday that no one is sure how many people displaced by bank projects between 1990 and 2010 were resettled or compensated fairly. Kim told reporters on Wednesday that “we must and will do better,” adding that “resettlements are likely to grow” as the bank increases its portfolio of infrastructure projects.

In more than half of the bank’s projects from 1990 to 2010, managers did not report how and whether displaced populations were compensated, according to a random sampling conducted by the bank last year and released Wednesday.

In 218 active bank projects, officials estimate that around 500,000 people will require resettlement.

The news comes just as Kim identifies global infrastructure as a critical gap the World Bank can help fill and a key financing arena where the institution will likely compete with emerging financiers from Asia and elsewhere.

Kim cited the need for approximately $1 trillion in infrastructure investment globally to combat extreme poverty, embracing a sector that the bank shied away from in previous decades. The Global Infrastructure Facility, launched at the bank’s annual meetings last year, was created to bridge the gap in declining infrastructure funding worldwide.

“We firmly believe that continued investment in infrastructure is going to be critical to ending extreme poverty by 2030,” Kim said. “And in order for us to do that work, we’re making transparent our failings of the past, and putting forward a plan to correct these weaknesses in the future.”

The bank is currently in the process of overhauling its social and environmental safeguards for the first time in 20 years, including its policies related to land acquisition and resettlement. The safeguards will enter a third round of public consultations in a few months, though a bank representative was unsure whether the new resettlement action plan would be up for debate.

The representative told Devex, “we’re not going to wait until [the consultation process] is through to implement this action plan.”

An infrastructure-related project in Ethiopia drew criticism last week when reports surfaced that local authorities violently removed residents in order to make way for construction projects enabled by bank financing. U.S. nonprofit Inclusive Development International accused the bank of “whitewashing evidence of human rights’ abuses.” The bank denied responsibility for the alleged abuses Monday, citing a ruling by its independent inspection panel.

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About the author

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    Molly Anders

    Molly Anders is a U.K. Correspondent for Devex. Based in London, she reports on development finance trends with a focus on British and European institutions. She is especially interested in evidence-based development and women’s economic empowerment, as well as innovative financing for the protection of migrants and refugees. Molly is a former Fulbright Scholar and studied Arabic in Syria, Jordan, Egypt and Morocco.