World Bank Borrowers Accused Of Funding Unfair Evictions
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
The World Bank Group funded almost $65 billion in development last year, all in the name of ending poverty. A giant in the development business, the lender has policies designed to protect communities forced to move to make way for projects. However, the World Bank recently acknowledged, quote, "serious shortcomings" in its resettlement practices. The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists spent a year investigating these practices and found policies often go ignored, resulting in eviction or damage to livelihoods for millions of people. Jeanne Baron has this report from Uganda.
JEANNE BARON, BYLINE: At his most prosperous, William Bakeshisha presided over a 30-acre farmstead in central Uganda's lush Mubende district. He obtained the land, he says, through a now defunct government program for families of World War II veterans. He named it Paradise and spent 14 years there cultivating coffee and bananas for market and so much more for his family.
WILLIAM BAKESHISHA: (Through interpreter) Maize, beans, vegetables, and I had the fish ponds - two fish ponds. But when I remember, I may even cry.
BARON: The tears are easy to explain. Bakeshisha, speaking through an interpreter, is standing under a canopy of eucalyptus trees, a commercial plantation that now covers his land. His farm had provided food and the money for the school fees for 18 children in his extended family. But in 2003, Uganda intensified restrictions on the use of its wooded reserves. Bakeshisha was told that he and everyone in the area were now squatters on national forest land. Michael Mugisa is the executive director of Uganda's national forest authority.
MICHAEL MUGISA: Even if people have rights to survive, to live as human beings, they should not infringe on the rights of everybody who benefits from the forests.
BARON: Ten years ago, the national forest authority licensed thousands of acres of forest land to the British-based New Forests Company. With funding from the World Bank Group and others, the company planned to make timber products, including utility poles intended to deliver electricity to unserved parts of the country. Tens of thousands of people were ordered to vacate. Many refused to leave, and finally, in 2010, the forest authorities sent in armed agents. Michael Mugisa.
MUGISA: What I know, people were forcefully evicted from forests. That's what I have on my record.
BARON: Forcefully evicted could mean tear gas, could mean burning.
MUGISA: Yeah, it could mean anything.
BARON: Residents claim that soldiers burned down houses and crops, beat people and butchered livestock. William Bakeshisha's family scattered in search of a living. But he remained with two children in his care. His neighbor, Jane Bazirete, says the worst days came afterwards, when she had trouble feeding her family.
JANE BAZIRETE: (Through interpreter) After the eviction from the forest land, we really suffered. By that time, I felt like I hated myself - said, why wouldn't these people just kill us?
BARON: Bazirete and Bakeshisha became renters and day laborers in the area. The World Bank Group requires its borrowers to follow approved plans to restore lost livelihood and provide housing to affected people before evictions occur. But humanitarian organizations like the Bank Information Center and Oxfam say it's tough to find a single case where these goals were met.
KATE GEARY: It's almost like this is the bank's hidden secret.
BARON: Kate Geary is an adviser on land policy for Oxfam. She published a report in 2011 on the failure to compensate the farmers. Some Ugandan officials denied the evictions were unfair and threatened to expel Oxfam from the country. Meanwhile, the World Bank Group began mediation between the farmers and the forestry company. Oxfam won't comment on the Uganda case. But Geary points to the lender's internal audits, showing resettlement policies are often not implemented.
GEARY: All around the world, the bank's own watchdog keeps pointing out that every single standard keeps being broken. We're seeing case after case where people have ended up much worse off, in some cases being simply left destitute by the side of the street.
BARON: The World Bank Group reports that its loans benefited an estimated 858 million people last year. Bank officials declined interviews for this story. A few weeks ago, bank president Jim Yong Kim expressed deep concern over resettlement practices and released a plan to improve them. The farmers of Mubende came out of the World Bank mediation process able to buy new land in a remote location. There are no good roads or markets and little access to water or schools. But Bazirete says she's relieved.
BAZIRETE: (Through interpreter) We used to look very bad, but now we're OK. We have land. We've planted our crop. Our children can eat.
BARON: For the first time, Bazirete has clear title to her land. But the plot is much smaller, and her shelter doesn't keep out the rain. She says it may be years before she has enough money to build a house again. For NPR News, I'm Jeanne Baron in Mubende, Uganda.
MARTIN: Funding for this story came from the Fund for Investigative Journalism. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.