"Development projects can have profound impacts on their societies. There are
many benefits that flow from building new roads and power plants, and from
modernising agricultural practices. But they can also have permanent negative
For example, communities may be involuntarily relocated to make way for roads
or power plants. These projects can change the way natural resources are used
in a particular area, making it difficult or impossible for communities to
continue their traditional agricultural practices. The job opportunities that
they create can challenge traditional values and ways of living.
Historically, many of these projects have been owned or sponsored by
governments, eager to bring the benefits of modernisation to their citizens.
They have often been funded by multilateral institutions like the World Bank,
which was established in 1944 to fund the reconstruction and development of its
These institutions were not unaware of the environmental and social impacts of
the projects they funded. However, they maintained that each state had to
decide for itself how it wished to manage these impacts. They would argue that
they were merely the funders, and so should defer to the government on how to
manage them. It would be an affront to the state’s sovereignty for them to
interfere with the government’s decisions on these aspects of the project.
The World Bank’s confidence in its ability to avoid responsibility for its
project related decisions and actions was bolstered by the fact that it was
immune from being sued in any national court.
The result was that the bank supported some projects that were environmentally
and socially damaging. As a result, during the 1980s the World Bank was the
target of sustained protests by affected communities and their allies around
To its credit, 30 years ago the bank, following an international campaign in
which this author participated, recognised that its position was untenable. In
1993 it established the world’s first citizen driven independent accountability
mechanism, the World Bank Inspection Panel.
This article argues that the panel’s 30th anniversary is a moment to celebrate
its accomplishments. The panel has significant limitations. Nevertheless, its
impact on development and the international development financing institutions
has been profound."
*** Xanni ***
Chief Scientist, Xanadu
Partner, Glass Wings
Manager, Serious Cybernetics