World Bank Reports Toll of Public Projects On Rural Poor

DAMS, roads, power stations, and other big public works projects uproot more than 10 million people in the developing world every year. Many involuntary refugees are stripped of all land and prospects, and become the poorest of the poor, according to a new World Bank study.

Major infrastructure improvements often provide much needed services to third-world countries. More than 2 billion people around the globe do not have electricity; billions more have no sewers or clean running water.

But most plans need to consider those in the projects' paths, the World Bank says. Bank officials are urging the adoption of national resettlement policies to help minimize hardship.

``We want to turn the searchlight on these forgotten people,'' says Ismail Serageldin, a World Bank vice president. ``In many places, governments have bulldozed shantytowns without adequate compensation at all.''

Redesigning projects can greatly ease the resettlement impact. In Indonesia, for instance, the Saguling Dam was lowered by 5 meters (16.4 ft.) from its proposed height, cutting the number of displaced people from 90,000 to 55,000. A redesign of canals in Ecuador lowered resettlement from 3,000 people to none.

Displaced people should be moved in familiar groups, such as villages, to a site as close to their original homes as possible, according to World Bank policy. They should be paid for their losses at cost; efforts should be made to restore, if not improve, their income and employment. They should not be denied help and restitution just because they cannot prove formal title to their land, Mr. Serageldin says. Indigenous people and ethnic minorities often have informal land rights.

Some countries decline World Bank funding for projects when they learn the Bank requires a resettlement plan.

The Xiaolandgdi Dam project in China allocates $570 million for the resettlement of 181,000 people - a cost one-quarter of the dam's price.

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