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22 May 2012 – 10:35
By OOSKAnews Correspondent

WASHINGTON DC — International environmental group International Rivers, in a report released last week, called on the new World Bank president and the Group of 20 (G20) nations to do more to ensure that their large-scale infrastructure projects benefit the world’s poorest populations, rather than “entrench[ing] the power of privileged groups.”

“There can be no prosperity without infrastructure, but infrastructure projects don’t necessarily benefit the poor. Past energy, water and transport strategies have neglected the poorest population groups, and taken a heavy toll on affected people and the environment,” according to the report.

The World Bank and G20 announced new strategies for infrastructure development in November 2011, citing the Inga hydropower project on the Congo River as an example of their targeted approach.

International Rivers, which has opposed numerous dam projects worldwide, reviewed this strategy and found “that large dams — and particularly the complex multipurpose schemes once again being promoted by the World Bank — have a history of big cost overruns and questionable economics. They have typically been built without public participation and have increased societies’ vulnerability to corruption and climate change.”

The group says the rural poor may face massive social impacts from these projects, but the benefits often bypass them. In the case of the Inga Dam, the report says, “in spite of the billions of dollars that have been poured into dams … over the past five decades, 94 percent of the population of the Democratic Republic of Congo still has no access to electricity.”

International Rivers proposes what it considers to be a better approach. It finds that most rural poor have more access to smaller, more localized water and energy sources. Therefore, the report’s lead author and policy director of International Rivers Peter Bosshard argues for decentralized and small-scale projects, which he says have a better track record of reducing poverty.

Others in the development community agree with International Rivers’ assessment. Andy White, a coordinator with the Washington, DC-based Rights and
Resources Initiative was quoted by IPS as saying that while many communities want investment in infrastructure and development, “top-down approaches are no longer being tolerated. Unfortunately, many projects already underway are being planned without due consideration of local peoples' rights or the environmental consequences."

The Municipal Services Project, a research organization that explores alternatives to privatization of water, sanitation, electricity and health services, says that if public funds such as pensions and sovereign wealth funds were redirected, they could greatly improve access to water, energy and health services for the world’s poor.

The International Rivers report can be found here, while the Municipal Services report can be found here.
Location of Dams at the Inga Hydropower Complex, Congo River

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