My recent commentary in the International Labor Rights Case Law Journal focuses on the September 2022 report issued by the World Bank Inspection Panel in response to complaints made by local community groups about harm caused by the Nachtigal Power Project and Sanaga River Technical Assistance Project. The commentary is accompanied by text excerpted for the Inspection Panel’s report.
The case arose out of the damming of the Sanaga River to create a hydroelectric power plant. The Inspection Panel’s report stands out because of the Panel’s holistic review of the harms caused by the Nachtigal Power Project, its application of a gender sensitive analysis to the facts outlined in the complaint and uncovered during the Panel’s on-site visit, and the Panel’s validation of the harms alleged by the community members. On November 4, 2022, the parties agreed to dispute resolution under the auspices of the World Bank accountability mechanism. The collaborative dispute resolution process commenced in December 2022. If the parties are unable to come to an acceptable resolution, the case will proceed to the formal investigatory process.
The report in the Nachtigal Power Project case is one of a new generation of reports issued by the World Bank Inspection Panel after the World Bank reformed its accountability mechanism in 2020. The reforms strengthened rules governing the social effects of World Bank-funded projects. In December 2022, the World Bank Accountability Mechanism Secretary issued updated operating procedures for the accountability mechanism.
In its report on the Nachtigal Power Project, the Inspection Panel drew a complex picture of intertwining environmental, social, and workplace harms affecting the local community. Short- and long-term impacts of damming the river affected fish populations, which in turn affecting the ability of fisherfolk to earn a living, which in turn affected the resources available to families to keep children and young people in school and university, which in turn had a deleterious effect on the local community in the form of increased crime, domestic violence, and prostitution.
By applying a gender sensitive analysis to the facts detailed in the complaint and uncovered during its on-site review, the Inspection Panel was able to shed light on how the project had affected women – and how women were excluded from livelihood restoration and other plans adopted to mitigate the harms of the project. Women in the community tended to earn their livelihoods from informal tasks like fish mongering and operating restaurants that catered to fishermen and sand miners. The informality of their means of making a living served as a barrier to women’s participation in livelihood programs. A gendered focus highlighting informal businesses is also beneficial to men who operate informal businesses in agriculture and sand mining. The Inspection Panel also noted that sexual harassment of women seeking work at the power plant was another barrier to the restoration of livelihoods lost as a result of the Nachtigal Power Project.
Importantly, the Inspection Panel affirmed the credibility of the complainants and community members – and uncovered additional facts showing that project mitigation plans had not been effective in restoring livelihoods and mitigating against the harms caused by the hydropower project.
As a financier of the project with the ability to withdraw or stop funding, the World Bank has a considerable amount of leverage at its disposal to persuade project management to effectively address issues raised by complainants. It remains to be seen whether community members, project representatives, financiers, and policy makers at the national and international levels will be able to develop solutions that match the complex and intertwining harms caused by the project. Regardless of the outcome, the report in the Nachtigal Power Project case is an example of how international institutions can effectively apply a gender sensitive analysis to reveal and hopefully address adverse impacts of globalization and development not only on women, but on men as well.
Please reach out to me privately to request a copy of my commentary.