Report Finds World Bank Displaced 3.4 Million People

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As basic services get privatized, there’s a rising tide of sanitation worker strikes in the Pearl River Delta. But this one was unusual: the striking workers are mostly former villagers, displaced from their homes here a decade ago when the university “Mega Center” took over the island. Photo: Zheng Churan. 

SHARMINI PEIRES, EXEC. PRODUCER, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore.

Wednesday was Earth Day, but here on The Real News it’s Earth Week. Despite the World Bank’s promises to protect the rights of indigenous people over the years, a new investigative report by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, including the Guardian and the Huffington Post, has found that since 2004, the World Bank funded projects including dams and power plants that has displaced 3.4 million people from their homes, off their lands, or threatened their livelihood around the globe. That is roughly the population of an entire city such as Berlin or Cape Town, or even Madrid.

The 2015 meetings of the World Bank Group and the International Monetary Fund that just ended past weekend concluded with a free concert of Earth Day on the Washington Mall. With us to discuss the recent expose of World Bank development activities and issues around sustainable development is Alnoor Ladha. He is joining us from Cape Town, South Africa. Alnoor is the executive director of The Rules, a global network of activists, organizers, designers, coders, researchers and writers focused on changing the rules that create inequality and poverty around the world. He is also a board member of Greenpeace International.

Thank you so much for joining us, Alnoor.

ALNOOR LADHA, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, THE RULES: Thank you for having me, Sharmini.

PERIES: So let’s take this up, the recent report that was released by a consortium of journalists. It was a report on the World Bank and its projects and how it’s fueling land grabs, displacement of the global poor. Tell us more about the report and what came out of it.

LADHA: To most the report really doesn’t come as a surprise. You know, these are standard policies by the World Bank. Mass displacement, forced removals. They’re in many ways central to the World Bank model. I think what’s interesting about the ICIJ research is how well-researched and well-documented it is, and the fact that it synthesized a lot of these land grabs over the past 10 to 15 years.

PERIES: So there was also, following this report, and open letter circulated to the World Bank published last week. The signatories included NGOs including Human Rights Watch, Oxfam, and African Law Foundation, and several others. Tell us more about the letter.

LADHA: Yeah. The letter is, has been put together by over 260 civil society organizations, social movements, indigenous groups, farmer and peasant movements. And it asks three critical questions of the World Bank on the eve of its spring board meetings. One related to the model of farming and development that they’re pushing onto the world. Another around their lack of discussion and discourse with civil society. There’s a lot of sort of sham engagement, where for example they held a meeting in London where they had seven days’ notice. You know, and of course no Ethiopian farmer group or Indian farmer groups or whatever are going to be able tog et there. And the third is really around the sort of type of growth, and the type of model that they’re pushing onto poor people around the world, which includes GMOs and big agricultural, industrial farming projects.

PERIES: Now although the most atrocious act of the IMF and the World Bank is that through various development-type projects it builds around the world using the private sector corporations, they use the private sector corporations to secure public lands and exploit them for profit. What is in place to stop them right now? And here I’m looking at the institution itself, because it’s been advocating forever that it is conscious of these egregious acts that they’re perpetrating throughout the world, and they’re trying to correct it within their schemes.

So what is in place, let’s look at the institution first, to stop this kind of activity? And obviously they’re not acting on it, according to this report, but what is in place?

LADHA: I think we have to really go back to the sort of mandate of the World Bank. There’s this belief, and even the ICIJ report has this sort of belief embedded, which is the World Bank is somehow there to alleviate poverty. And I think we have to look beyond the sort of Orwellian logic behind the bank and look at the difference between what their sort of stated intent is and what their true intent is.

These displacements, these are not some externality. You know, these are core to the logic of the bank’s model of development, which is the neoliberal model of development. And this has always been the case. You know, if you look at the history of the bank, it’s one historical oppression after another. This famous structural–or infamous, we should say, structural adjustment programs of the 1980s and 1990s.

For those who don’t know what they are, they were essentially a set of policies that strong-armed poor countries into cutting corporate tax, reducing labor standards, reducing environmental standards. And research that came out of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst has shown that the global South, poor countries, developing countries lost about $500 billion dollars a year for the 20 years of the structural adjustment programs. So that’s roughly $20 trillion dollars. You compare that to an annual aid budget of $120 billion dollars. This is five times aid.

And so you really have to look at the scale of the type of extraction that the World Bank helps to facilitate, and you can see very clearly what their role is. Their role is a pro-Western, pro-corporate extraction role. They’re essentially a handmaiden. So I think to try to appeal to what their stated intent is is just naive.

PERIES: And this is an organization who’s had so much–both of them, the IMF and the World Bank–has had so much resources to try to prevent this kind of activity, and plenty of time in its life to actually try to correct its system.

So the system as it stands has failed the people, as we know from various projects around the world. What do you think should happen now? Lots of people are advocating that the IMF and the World Bank should be dissolved at this point, given their track record.

LADHA: You know, definitely. I think that’s a very viable solution that’s on the table. I don’t think the IMF or the World Bank have failed. They’re highly successful in what they were created and intend to do, which is trickle-up economics. This is really the central role of the bank, is to sort of serve a a facilitator for Western corporate interests. And this is not a conspiracy theory by any means. The track record speaks for itself.

After the bank was almost on its death knells, and totally discredited for the structural adjustment programs of the ’80s and ’90s, a couple of years later they rolled out the Doing Business rankings. These rankings are very interesting in the sense that they’re basically the same thing as the structural adjustment programs, but they’re sort of branded as a ranking instead of a strong-arm. And what they do is they essentially create a race to the bottom between countries. They reward countries for cutting corporate taxes, for reducing their labor standards and minimum wages, for reducing their environmental standards, and then that’s attached to aid money and development–so-called development money.

So what that does is it triggers a race to the bottom between poor countries to try to attract that capital. And that’s essentially the role of the bank. This is their flagship program. And they actually take credit for, you know, over a quarter of reforms on the African continent. This is not something they hide.

So I think the question for us as citizens, as people on the other side, is to say why does this organization exist in the first place? And I think the idea of abolition should very much be on the table. It should be a discussion within the UN and the other Bretton Woods institutions. But also, really, people’s tribunals, and having some historical retribution for the devastation that was brought on to the African continent, into Latin America, into massive parts of Asia through IMF and World Bank Policy.

PERIES: Alnoor Ladha, thank you so much for joining us today. And we hope to have more conversations with you over the next little while, in terms of what you are uncovering and changing the rules and reconstructing new ones for years to come.

LADHA: Thank you. Likewise, yeah. Thank you for your time.

PERIES: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.