Health Impact Assessment in International Development Assistance: The World Bank Experience. (Perspectives)

By Mercier, Jean-Roger | Bulletin of the World Health Organization, June 2003 | Go to article overview

Health Impact Assessment in International Development Assistance: The World Bank Experience. (Perspectives)


Mercier, Jean-Roger, Bulletin of the World Health Organization


The World Bank Group is an intergovernmental organization of more than 180 member countries that provides financial assistance to borrower governments in accordance with its goal of fighting poverty. It has embraced the United Nations Millennium Development Goals and has developed a strategy for achieving them, based on two main pillars: building the climate for investment, jobs and sustainable growth; and investing in poor people and empowering them to participate in development. The Bank undertakes poverty reduction at both the country and global levels through financial assistance provided by the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD) and the International Development Agency (IDA) and through partnerships with other organizations.

The spectrum of countries eligible for World Bank financial assistance ranges from Ethiopia with a GDP of US$ 100 per capita per annum to Slovenia with a GDP of US$ 9780 per capita per annum. During the period 1 July 2001 to 30 June 2002, IBRD lent US$ 11.5 billion for 96 new operations in 40 countries and IDA lent US$ 8.1 billion for 133 new operations in 62 countries.

The World Bank expects its borrowers to use environmental impact assessment (EIA) and other environmental and social analyses to integrate selected environmental and social aspects into the identification, planning, appraisal and implementation of the investment projects that it supports. Such assessments constitute the safeguards incorporated into ten environmental, social and legal policies issued by the Bank in the late 1980s and the early 1990s. (a)

In an increasing number of borrowing countries, EIA is required by national laws; its scope often includes matters of human health. To date, measurement of health-related impact assessment requirements has been relatively scarce, but existing data on EIA requirements provide a basis to identify opportunities for bringing health impact assessment (HIA) into the mainstream of activities. As of 2002, in a sample of 92 low- and middle-income countries worldwide, 85 had enacted EIA, most of which (75%) had adopted EIA before 1997.

Under World Bank policy, the borrowing governments are responsible for the preparation of the environmental assessments (EA) of the Bank-financed investments and associated components, even those components not financed by the Bank. Each project's preparation includes the environmental and social screening of the investment projects and categorization as follows: A for those with potential for significant environmental impact; B for those whose impact is not considered to be as significant; FI for projects involving Financial Intermediaries; and C for projects presenting no or very few environmental hazards. For the first three categories, an EA report needs to be prepared and disclosed in the country and worldwide, through the World Bank's InfoShop: reports for more than 1000 projects are available at the InfoShop's web site (http:www-wds.worldbank.org).

As part of the EA process, identifying, avoiding, mitigating and compensating for negative impacts on human health is performed routinely. Examples of such integration in the EA preparation process include the Ouagadougou Water Supply project in Burkina Faso and the Chad-Cameroon Petroleum Development and Pipeline project. The Ouagadougou Water Supply project involved the construction of a dam, 60 km away from the capital city. The environmental management plan of the EA for this project contains a comprehensive public health component, focusing on preventing the transmission of waterborne diseases, and this component is being implemented now that the dam has been built. In the Chad-Cameroon Pipeline project, health-related risks were assessed and mitigated, both for the working population and for the population living in the oil field areas and along the pipeline. An Indigenous People's Plan was also developed for the Bakola populations (the report of the Environmental Compliance and Monitoring Group of this project, which contains the latest information on its actual impacts, can be found at: http:// www. …

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