The World Bank admitted on Wednesday that it had no idea how many people may have been forced off their land and lost their jobs due to its projects in developing countries, and whether these people were compensated fairly and on time.
The admission comes as the global development lender seeks to ramp up investments in risky infrastructure projects that often lead to forced resettlement, including dams and highways, in an effort to eliminate extreme poverty.
World Bank President Jim Yong Kim pledged that “we must and will do better,” on a call with reporters, and launched an action plan to address shortcomings.
In a recent case, indigenous Anuak people in Ethiopia’s Gambella region said the World Bank contributed to the Ethiopian government’s “vitalization” program that forced about 70,000 people off their land.
The bank’s Inspection Panel found that the forced evictions and the use of intimidation were not linked to the bank’s project, but that the World Bank did not fully assess and mitigate the risks.
Similar issues have arisen in many of the bank’s projects that involve resettlement, according to internal reviews released on Wednesday, which found the lender did a “poor job” monitoring and reporting on the status of affected people.
“The sizable gaps in information point to significant potential failures in the bank’s system for dealing with resettlement,” according to an internal review from last June.
By the bank’s limited data, about half a million people have been affected by resettlement out of a sample of 218 active projects. The World Bank said it did not have a clear idea of how many of those did not receive compensation or new land.
The reviews also found that many countries may not be able to resettle people according to the bank’s own standards or set up proper grievance mechanisms.
The findings could be problematic as the World Bank is considering putting more governments in charge of policing its aid projects, a move that watchdog groups worry could undermine social and environmental safeguards the lender currently has in place.
The proposals, which are still going through revisions, would represent the biggest shake-up in 20 years to the policies governing how the bank’s big development projects are monitored, and are likely to influence other international institutions.