As the Asian Development Bank (ADB) commemorates its 56th year of operations in Asia, the NGO Forum on ADB and its allies raised concerns about the potential dilution of key safeguard commitments. While the ADB has made progress towards reform, the consultations suggest that the Bank may prioritise the private sector and borrowing governments over the well-being of affected communities and the environment.
The Forum Network urgently calls on the ADB to prioritise the lessons learned from project-affected communities in shaping the new Environmental and Social Framework (ESF).
“The current categorisation system for environment, indigenous peoples (IPs), and involuntary resettlement must be maintained, and binding requirements for each category should be created,” says Ritu Thapa of Indigenous Women’s Legal Awareness Group (INWOLAG).
Integrating the categories for different issues addressed by the SPS may result in setbacks in avoiding environmental and community harm. Under-categorizing high-risk projects to moderate risks raises concerns about inadequate risk scoping, deliberate alterations of data, over-reliance on third-party consultants, and meaningful community consultations.
“Strong Environmental and Social safeguards are important, but to be meaningful, they also require a strong accountability infrastructure. Project-affected communities are best placed to know when a project has unintended environmental and social harms, and an effective Accountability Mechanism ensures that ADB hears from these communities,” says Radhika Goyal, of Accountability Counsel.
She also explains that ADB’s Accountability Mechanism is far behind its peer institutions, and it must ensure that its upcoming Accountability Mechanism Policy review is an independent, transparent, and consultative process informed by the views of local communities and civil society organisations.
The Forum Network also calls for strengthened guidance for involuntary resettlement safeguards, including gender, economic, and climate-induced displacements and cultural issues. The SPS must integrate involuntary resettlement issues in countries where women and other cultural groups do not have recognised rights to own land under customary law.
According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, women and girls constitute 80 per cent of the people displaced by climate-related disasters globally. This highlights the need for strengthened guidance on gender-related issues in involuntary resettlement safeguards.
According to Titi Soentoro of Aksi! for gender, social and ecological justice, “Many women face environmental, economic, and social risks from the resettlement and changes in their landscapes and livelihoods due to ADB-supported project operations. Mostly it is due to the lack of implementation of gender safeguards, particularly regarding gender impacts and risk assessment, meaningful consultation with women, information disclosure, and gender-responsive grievance mechanism.”
She added that “Project Gender Action Plan does not cover those requirements because the action plan is about participating women in the project like job or income creation and skills training, but not protection from potential harm. ADB must correct these flaws in its operations and retain the gender consideration and safeguards provisions of the SPS 2009.”
The Forum also demands meaningful inclusion of more urgent safeguards issues supported by a coherent umbrella of safeguards systems and tools. The network welcomes the broadening of the themes and protection to include labour as a response to the progressing international laws, standards and norms. Dr Rene Ofreneo from Freedom from Debt Coalition strongly stated that the ADB must prioritise the rights and welfare of workers in its development projects — that is, ensure fair wages, safe working conditions, and social protection, and provide just transition assistance to all affected workers, including host communities.
“Labor rights are human rights. The ADB must actively engage with labour unions and civil society organisations, promote gender equality, and prioritise decent work for sustainable livelihoods. Workers are not expendable commodities but the backbone of economic development. Let’s demand accountability from ADB and press it and other “development” banks in Asia to ensure all workers are accorded full dignity and respect!” Ofreneo added.
Furthermore, the Forum urges the ADB to include a climate safeguard and prohibit high-GHG emitting activities from its investment list. The ADB must comply with the provisions of the Paris Agreement, uphold the recommendations of the most recent IPCC Assessment Report 6, and fully incorporate outcomes of the most recent agreements sealed during COP26.
“The time for half measures is over. The Forum Network urgently calls on the Asian Development Bank to include a robust climate safeguard that prohibits high-GHG emitting activities from its investment list,” says Hasan Mehedi of CLEAN (Coastal Livelihood and Environmental Action Network) and currently the International Convenor of the Forum network.
“The Bank must set an ambitious overall cap on all emissions by 2030 and develop transparent, actionable, and time-bound plans to ensure that all direct and indirect investments align with the IPCC Pathway 1 of 1.5C. Our planet cannot afford anything less. The ADB must show true leadership in tackling the climate crisis and prioritizing a sustainable future for all”, he added.
Lastly, the NGO Forum on ADB highlights the importance of recognizing tangible and intangible cultural heritage for present and future generations. The ADB must ensure better protection of cultural heritage, including traditional skills, knowledge, beliefs, minority dialects, and languages.
“The preservation of cultural heritage is not just a matter of the past, but a crucial pillar for a sustainable future,” explained Annabel Perreras, Safeguards Policy Coordinator of the Forum; she also added that “ADB must recognise the immense value of tangible and intangible cultural heritage for present and future generations. This includes protecting traditional skills, knowledge, beliefs, minority dialects, and languages integral to the identity and well-being of communities. The ADB must take concrete steps to ensure cultural heritage is respected and safeguarded in all its projects and operations. Only by valuing and protecting our diverse cultural heritage can we truly build a just and sustainable world for all.”
“Let’s not turn a blind eye to the humanitarian crisis that the pandemic and Ukrainian conflict have brought upon this region. The global supply chains are broken, and rising inflation has pushed countries like Pakistan and Sri Lanka to the brink of economic collapse. The Asian Development Bank, now in its 56th year, must take decisive action to ensure that its operations do not exacerbate the existing economic crisis,” says Rayyan Hassan, executive director of NGO Forum on ADB network.
He added, “We can no longer tolerate white elephant projects that only serve to benefit a select few while ignoring the pressing needs of the masses. We demand that the ADB stops contributing to the region’s dirty carbon future and instead invest in sustainable and environmentally conscious projects. It’s time for the ADB to prioritise community and environmental needs if it truly wants to be known as a development bank. We urge the ADB to listen to the people, act transparently, and champion sustainable development that benefits everyone, not just the wealthy elite.”
The NGO Forum on ADB and its allies are committed to working with the ADB to ensure that the updated SPS prioritises the well-being of people and the planet. The network demands the ADB engage meaningfully with civil society, impacted communities, and local experts to create a genuinely effective and equitable policy.
NGO Forum on ADB is a network of civil society organisations (CSOs) that has been monitoring the projects, programs, and policies of the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB). The Forum has been active since 1992.