World Bank careless about MDGs

Several developing countries are not reaching sustainable development targets fast enough despite numerous international agreements, says a report, launched here in Singapore amidst criticism that World Bank energy and mining projects were not doing enough to protect the environment and improve the plight of the poor.

The Sustainability Watch 2006 Report, launched by civil service organisations at the annual meetings of the bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), stressed that sustainable development was crucial as about three billion people — almost 50 per cent of the world population — now live on less than two dollars a day. This figure was expected to rise by 100 million by 2015 unless implementation of internationally agreed commitments was substantially improved.

“The most critical factor is the market-oriented development frameworks, which promote trade liberalisation and privatisation,” said Roy Cabonegro, regional facilitator for Asia of Sustainability Watch, a civil society network in 15 southern countries monitoring promises to improve sustainability. These frameworks do not pay serious attention to environmental constraints, especially in the case of planning for land and natural resource use.

The report also identified four other key barriers to sustainable development. Weak governance failed to produce sufficient economic development and social services to catch up with population growth and led to reluctance to challenge unfair trade liberalisation regimes.

Institutional constraints led to failures in strategies, in proper monitoring of the interaction between poverty, environment and governance, and in civil society participation. Reacting to the report, the bank’s chief scientist, Robert Watson, said he largely agreed with the findings but implementing the recommendations to overcome the barriers would be difficult. Finance and other ministers needed to be convinced, he said, adding that it was also a major job to convince the private sector.

“We really have to develop the importance of the poverty-environment-economy link,” he stressed. “I am not convinced we can meet the UN prescribed MDGs even with political will,” he warned. Meanwhile, a couple of activists privately complained that the small and closely supervised designated protest area at the foyer of the official venue was a joke. As the annual meetings drew to a close, bank group president Paul Wolfowitz paid a courtesy call on activists in the civil society room near the protest area.

One of those who had protested in the area earlier, Sandy Krawitz of ActionAid International, took the opportunity to let Wolfowitz know how she felt. “I told him how deeply upset we were that our economist, Maria Clara Soares, was detained by Singapore for about 30 hours in a room treated like a criminal and then deported back to Brazil,” Krawitz said. “This is a woman who is a brilliant economist who had been a consultant to Brazil and her treatment was absolutely unacceptable.”

Wolfowitz, listening intently, expressed deep regret and said he did not have much of a say over the choice of Singapore as the venue. But he did give an assurance that things would be different in Turkey in three years’ time, said Krawitz. “We will have to wait and see,” she said. — IPS