Human Rights versus Development
Knickerbocker, Brad, The Christian Science Monitor
THE recent Earth Summit in Brazil illustrated as never before the split between North and South, between the richer industrialized countries and those still struggling to develop their full economic potential.
Second only to the United States as a symbol of inequality and just about everything else that's wrong with the world (at least in the eyes of many critics from poorer countries) were the international financial institutions distributing aid for development projects. It's not that such countries don't want the aid, but that too often the projects aren't necessarily in the best interests of those they are meant to help.
The most extreme view was expressed by the head of the "Third World Network," Martin Khor of Malaysia, who called the World Bank "one of the greatest promoters of poverty and environmental destruction in the world."
Andrew Steer, who directs the World Bank's annual development report, acknowledged in meeting with Mr. Khor and other nongovernment representatives that the bank "should listen more closely to the people."
That point was made most graphically last week with the release of a special World Bank-commissioned report on one of its most controversial undertakings, the Narmada Valley Project in India. After 10 months of study, this independent review identified "serious deficiencies in the measures taken to safeguard the human rights of thousands of people and to ameliorate the environmental impacts of the world's largest hydroelectric and irrigation complexes."
"It seems clear that engineering and economic imperatives have driven the projects to the exclusion of human and environmental concerns," says the report, whose lead author was Bradford Morse, a former US congressman who once headed the United Nations Development Program.
The project, which has been in the works for three decades, includes 30 large dams, 135 medium-sized dams, and another 3,000 smaller dams along the Narmada River. The largest of these is the Sardar Sarovar project, which will create one of the world's largest artificial lakes by flooding 33,947 acres.
The project is supposed to bring irrigation and drinking water to millions of Indians. …