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 The ADB: Creating Poverty in Asia

The Asian Development Bank has come under fire in recent years for its support of destructive projects and policies. At the ADB’s last two annual meetings in Thailand and Hawaii, thousands protested in the streets to challenge the social and environmental impacts of Bank–sponsored projects.

Why so much criticism for an institution that recently declared its overarching goal to be poverty reduction? Because, despite the change in rhetoric heralded by the 1999 ADB Poverty Reduction Strategy, very little has changed on the ground. The ADB continues to promote a development model based on rapid economic growth and free market reforms‚ a model which fails to recognize the value of subsistence livelihoods and their contributions to national economies.

As a result of ADB policies and projects, local communities and indigenous peoples have been forcibly evicted from their homes and land; commercial logging has deforested vast areas; people who once relied on their rivers for sustenance and livelihoods now face diminishing fisheries and a future of doubt. The poorest communities have been those most severely affected by development projects‚ often paying the price for, but completely missing out on, benefits accrued from economic development of their countries. Meanwhile, ADB loans have added to the staggering debt burden of borrowing countries, while lining the pockets of project proponents and government officials.

For the last several years, IRN has challenged ADB support for large dams on the Mekong River and its tributaries. Bank–financed studies have identified the potential for over fifty large and medium scale dams on the Mekong River and its tributaries. IRN has focused its attention on the Theun–Hinboun and Nam Leuk Hydropower Projects in Laos to reveal the social and environmental impacts of these developments.

When the ADB–funded Theun–Hinboun Hydropower Project in Laos was completed in 1998, the Bank declared the project a "winner" with "little for the environment lobby to criticize." But after independent studies revealed that thousands have suffered impacts from the dam, the Bank was forced to change its tune. IRN is working to ensure that affected villagers get the compensation that they deserve.

IRN is also working to strengthen the ADB’s safeguard policies and to push the Bank to adopt the guidelines of the World Commission on Dams.

  latest additions  
Nam Theun 2 Trip Report and Project Update (PDF)
Halfway through Nam Theun 2’s construction, livelihood restoration programs for affected villagers are in jeopardy. IRN visited the area in March 2007 and gathered first-hand information from communities about how the project is affecting their lives. Read the full report (PDF). Read the executive summary (PDF). Read detailed notes from village visits (PDF).
History Repeats Itself in Laos: ADB’s Flagship Hydro Project Goes Awry
An article by IRN’s Aviva Imhof in Bankwatch, published by the NGO Forum on the ADB, examines Nam Theun 2’s failings and draws parallels to other ADB-funded dams in Laos: Theun-Hinboun, Nam Song and Nam Leuk. The article also highlights the ADB’s role in promoting a regional power grid and electricity trading system in the Mekong subregion.
Mekong Under Threat: New Strategy Promotes Dams and Diversions (PDF)
This IRN fact sheet discusses a new wave of large-scale water infrastructure projects threatening the Mekong River, supported by the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank’s (ADB) latest plan, the Mekong Water Resources Assistance Strategy (MWRAS). The MWRAS aggressively supports the construction of controversial dam, irrigation, and water diversion projects on the Mekong River and its tributaries. MWRAS misleadingly claims that the river’s ecological balance will not be adversely affected and that community-based programs can mitigate the impacts of large infrastructure projects.
Trading Away the Future: The Mekong Power Grid
IRN’s briefing paper outlines threats arising from the Mekong Power Grid scheme, proposed by the ADB, that would facilitate the construction of numerous hydropower schemes in Laos, Burma, and China’s Yunnan province to feed the power–hungry cities of Thailand and Vietnam. The briefing paper identifies alternative sustainable solutions that would satisfy the region’s energy needs, including the promotion of renewable energy technologies and the adoption of energy efficiency measures. (PDF)
Mekong Leaders to Sign Risky Power Trade Agreement
Read an analysis, press release and petition to ADB.
Dams in Laos: On the Record (PDF)
Contains selected quotes from official ADB documents and consultants’ reports pointing to some of the ongoing problems with hydropower development in Laos.
The Legacy of Hydro in Laos (PDF)
Hydropower projects developed over the past decade in Laos have left a legacy of destroyed livelihoods and damaged ecosystems. This paper documents the unresolved social and environmental impacts of five different dam projects in Laos.
Sizing Up the Grid: How the Mekong Power Grid Compares Against the Policies of the Asian Development Bank
Report reveals how the Mekong Power Grid violates ADB policies. Click here for press release.
NGOs Urge Asian Development Bank to Reject Support for Hydropower Projects in Burma
Groups concerned with inclusion of Tasang Dam in power grid master plan
ADB Plan Supports a Dozen More Dams for the Mekong
IRN press release on Power Grid Master Plan
Whose Mekong Is It?  Communities tell Greater Mekong Subregion leaders:
Enough broken promises! Listen to the people, not the ADB! Press release from the Oxfam Mekong Initiative's Partners' Forum on the ADB's Greater Mekong Subregion program
River of Controversy: Damming and Blasting the Mekong Briefing Kit
Development of the Mekong basin threatens to undermine the livelihoods of millions in Southeast Asia.
Read IRN's submission to the ADB
encouraging them to adopt World Commission on Dams Recommendations
Petition presented to ADB
President Chino at the 2001 Asian Development Bank Annual Meeting in Holulu, Hawai’i.