Welcome to I R N   International Rivers Network
  int’l finance campaign
  int’l finance
mailing list
International Financial Institutions: World Bank
The World Bank


People submerged by the World Bank’s Kedung Ombo dam in Indonesia

Created in 1944, the World Bank is the largest international financial institution. It is also the world’s most important financier of large dams. In the course of its history, the World Bank has supported more than 550 dams with a total amount of more than $86 billion (in 2004 dollars). These projects have displaced at least 10 million people.

The World Bank’s approach to large dams has changed over time. The Bank financed many dam projects in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s. Due to strong public pressure and after a humiliating defeat in India’s Narmada Valley, the World Bank largely withdrew from financing dams after1993. Pressured by conservative governments, the Bank decided to re-engage in large dams as part of a new high-risk strategy in 2003.

This site presents major reports and documents on the World Bank and dams, and other news and updates about relevant World Bank projects and policy changes.


news & updates

World Bank Energy Framework Sells Climate and Poor People Short
As the World Bank unveiled its new Investment Framework on Clean Energy and Development at its annual meeting in Singapore in September, a coalition of environment and development organizations charge that the strategy will not be effective at combating climate change and expanding energy access for the poor. The World Bank proposed raising $10 billion for conventional energy technologies such as fossil fuels, while selling renewable sources of energy short. The strategy will do little to slow global climate change or bring energy services to the 1.6 billion people that currently lack them. Download the full report.
Singapore Government Bans Activists from Attending World Bank/IMF Annual Meeting
While "good governance" tops the agenda of the World Bank and IMF’s upcoming Annual Meetings in Singapore, authorities in Singapore are attempting to silence civil society. The government of Singapore has "blacklisted" more than 20 civil society representatives who will be denied entry into the country despite having accreditation from the Bank and Fund to participate in the Meetings. Read a joint press release from civil society groups on this issue. Read a letter from IRN to the World Bank and IMF protesting the Singapore government’s decision. Read an IRN press release in German about this issue.
Business as Usual Will Not Achieve Climate and Development Goals
In April 2006, the World Bank published a new strategy on climate change, energy and development. Read IRN’s critique of this report.
IRN Critique of the World Bank’s Infrastructure Strategy
In September 2005, the World Bank prepared a report on its new infrastructure strategy. An IRN critique finds that the strategy will fail to reduce poverty and protect the environment.
World Bank Recommends Weakening of Environmental Standards
A confidential World Bank strategy paper proposes to weaken social and environmental safeguard policies by relying on national policies rather than the Bank’s own safeguard policies. Before agreeing on the new strategy, the Bank already approved a pilot project in Mexico that is based on this strategy. IRN prepared a critique of the strategy paper in September 2004. In January 2005, some 200 NGOs from around the world sent a letter to the World Bank expressing concerns about the new strategy.

While weakening its safeguard policies, the World Bank also proposes to expand its lending to middle-income countries (MICs). In May 2004, IRN also prepared a critique of the Bank’s new MIC strategy.

Nam Theun 2 violates the World Bank’s procurement guidelines
In violation of the World Bank’s procurement guidelines, the investors in the Nam Theun 2 project have awarded key project contracts to themselves without any competitive bidding. Electricity consumers and the Lao people will ultimately pay the price for this shady deal. See the IRN memo that elaborates the procurement problems of Nam Theun 2.
IRN Response to Sebastian Mallaby’s Attacks on NGOs
Sebastian Mallaby, a Washington Post journalist, has recently published a book and several articles attacking IRN and other NGOs critical of the World Bank’s record in funding infrastructure projects. Mallaby seems to have done little if any detailed analysis of the projects he describes and his assertions are riddled with errors and mischaracterizations. Read IRN’s letter to Mallaby, and IRN’s response to his article in Foreign Policy. Read a letter from the former head of the World Bank Inspection Panel to Foreign Policy. Read IRN’s review of The World’s Banker. Update: Read IRN’s interview with a Ugandan NGO in response to Mallaby.
World Bank Approves India Dam Against Wishes of Local People
On October 12, the World Bank’s private sector arm, the International Finance Corporation, approved a loan for the controversial Allain Duhangan hydropower project in India. The affected people oppose the project. Recommendations by an independent observer to adress outstanding issues related to environmental and social impacts of the project have not been implemented. Read the independent observer’s letter to the World Bank president. Also, read a critique of the project’s flawed Environmental and Social Impact Analysis (PDF). The critique was prepared by the South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People (SANDRP). IRN has prepared this press release. Update: The affected people have launched a complaint against the project with IFC’s Compliance Advisor Ombudsman.
Indian NGOs Reject New World Bank Strategy (PDF)
An NGO position statement by Indian NGOs, rejecting the new World Bank Country Assistance Strategy (CAS) for India, has been endorsed by more than 50 NGOs worldwide. Read the letter (PDF) to the World Bank Board of Directors. Also, Read Michael F. Carter’s response (PDF) to the letter to the World Bank Board of Directors. For more background, read the World Bank’s draft Country Assistance Strategy (PDF), IRN’s press release and critique of the CAS (PDF), and a press release prepared by Indian NGOs.
Letter to World Bank from WCD Commissioners
July 2002 letter from WCD Commissioners to World Bank President James Wolfensohn criticizing the Bank’s Water Resources Sector Strategy and its response to the WCD report. (Adobe PDF Document)
When the Rivers Run Dry
The World Bank, Dams and the Quest for Reparations, IRN Briefing Paper.

reports & documents

Dam Wrong: The World Bank & Large Dams
An IRN factsheet summarizes the experiences of the World Bank in promoting large dams around the world.


Lesotho Corruption Case Breakthrough
The World Bank has finally debarred one of the multinational companies convicted of corruption on the Lesotho Highlands Water Project. Acres International will not be eligible for Bank contracts for three years. Read IRN’s press release.  
World Bank Investigation Confirms Serious Problems at Yacyretá Dam 05-10-04
"The World Bank at 60: A Case of Institutional Amnesia?"
International Rivers Network reports on how the World Bank is implementing its Infrastructure Action Plan, and concludes that the new high-risk strategy "has not incorporated the lessons of past experience, will exacerbate conflicts, and will not help to reach the Millenium Development Goals".

Gambling with People’s Lives
Big is beautiful again at the World Bank, and megaprojects are back in style. A new report published by Environmental Defense, Friends of the Earth and International Rivers Network examines the track record of the World Bank’s high-risk projects. The report analyzes whether the Bank has learned from past mistakes and presents recommendations for change.  
Internal World Bank Report Reveals Major Problems with Uganda Dam
The planned Bujagali Dam in Uganda violates five key World Bank policies. This is the conclusion of a confidential new report by the Inspection Panel, the World Bank’s investigative body. Read IRN’s Review of the World Bank’s Inspection Panel Report on the Bujagali Hydropower Project (PDF)
"Avoiding Solutions, Worsening Problems: An IRN critique of the World Bank’s draft Water Resources Sector Strategy"
The World Bank has released a draft Water Sector Resources Strategy (www.worldbank.org/water). The draft focuses on the need to promote big dams and inter-basin transfers and private sector involvement in the water sector. IRN has written a detailed critique of the draft. To read the Executive Summary and list of organizations endorsing the critique, click here. To see IRN’s full critique of the WRSS, click here.
Additional Information

For further information, please contact:

    Peter Bosshard, International Rivers Network
    E-mail: peter@irn.org
    Phone: +1 510-848-1155