It is well known that the World Bank has been a major force in the destruction of the rainforests of the world by financing destructive projects. The decison taken yesterday of approving a controversial forestry project seems to show that the Bank is still far from truly embracing participatory forest conservation and management.
According to the information posted in its web site, yesterday the Bank approved a loan for a Forestry and Conservation Project in Papua New Guinea that is supposed “to strengthen the capacity of local people, government and non-governmental entities to more sustainably manage and conserve PNG's forest resources.” In spite of the nice wording, during the last days NGO’s from all over the world have been campaigning against the approval of this project.
The reasons por NGO opposition stem in the first place from the fact that when Papua New Guinea’s government accepted the first Structural Adjustment Loan from the World Bank, it agreed to a moratorium on new logging concessions until the entire forestry sector was reviewed and properly reformed. The Government has not fulfilled their obligation under the first loan conditions and several logging operations commenced during the moratorium, violating the conditions established by the World Bank.
In response, PNG landowners filed an Inspection Panel grievance with the World Bank, claiming they have lost their land and forests while the government was contractually bound to the World Bank to improve forest governance and not commence new logging. The Centre of Environmental Law and Community Rights Inc. has lodged the claim on behalf of landowners along the Kiunga Aiambak Road in the Western Province. The area is one of several areas that have been illegally logged during the period that the PNG government committed itself to the moratorium in exchange for loans. Illegal logging along the Kiunga Aiambak Road has caused severe environmental damage as logs worth millions of kina are unlawfully removed. Protesting landowners have been unlawfully imprisoned, beaten and tortured.
On the other hand, NGOs oppose the recently approved World Bank project because by disbursing the final loan payment without maintaining the moratorium the World Bank is in violation of the contractual provisions of the loan, as well as in conflict with their own operational directives. Their failure to follow their own policies comes as they propose a forest sector reform project. The proposed Forestry and Conservation Project includes an important trust fund to support community-based projects that protect biodiversity, but does nothing to ensure their legal status. The project does not support policy-making for community based eco-forestry efforts that strive for ecological sustainability, local ownership and community development. NGOs have therefore stressed the need to strengthen those aspects in the project as a pre-condition to support it. The moratorium must be maintained and the forest project amended to include support for other types of forest management other than industrial logging for export.
To date there is no information available on whether the Bank has amended the project to include those issues or on whether if it will or will not insist on the compliance with the logging moratorium agreed upon.