This is what big infrastructure looks like: Police, military and private security attack peaceful anti-mining protesters at the San Rafael mine in Guatemala, Sep. 2008

This is what big infrastructure looks like: Police, military and private security attack peaceful anti-mining protesters at the San Rafael mine in Guatemala, Sep. 2008

From Inter Press Service:

WASHINGTON, Mar 19 2013 (IPS) – A group of environmentalists, gender activists and international finance watchdogs are calling on the U.S. government to support calls for the World Bank to step back from a new programmatic focus on large-scale infrastructure, which critics say does little to help alleviate poverty.

The call comes just ahead of a major funding meeting, to be held Mar. 20-21 in Paris, of donors to the International Development Association (IDA), the World Bank’s fund for the world’s poorest countries. In a background briefing released earlier this month outlining priorities for the IDA meeting, the bank includes a new thematic proposal to fund large-scale infrastructural projects.

Almost 100 percent of jobs went to men, not only in building the coal plants and mines but even office jobs, while women lost jobs.

In discussing examples of what it calls regional transformational initiatives, referring to large projects with cross-border scope, the brief notes proposals for large, multi-billion-dollar dams in Africa and South Asia, among others.

“Based on decades of experience, we believe that the complex regional projects that IDA proposes risk undermining important goals of [the current IDA negotiations], including Inclusive Growth, Gender Equality, and Climate Resilience,” states a letter, signed by six U.S.-based advocacy organisations and policy experts and sent to the U.S. Treasury on Monday, a copy of which was seen by IPS.

“We recommend that IDA members drop the special theme of Regional Transformational Initiatives, and that IDA shift its focus on infrastructure solutions that are more effective at addressing the energy needs of the poor and at fostering inclusive growth, gender equality and climate resilience.”

The letter also calls on the U.S. government to “support such a shift in the negotiations”. …

For critics, much of the current concern revolves around past experiences in which large, centralised projects were the focal points of international development and poverty-alleviation efforts, including by the World Bank.

“For us, this issue goes back to the 1950s through 1970s, an era when governments hoped for a silver bullet that, in one fell swoop, would allow them to modernise economies,” Peter Bosshard, policy director for International Rivers, an advocacy group and a signatory of the new letter, told IPS.

“After a while, however, people realised that these projects were too complex, and were forced to rely on outside technologies, management and knowhow. In addition to often huge time and cost overruns, the benefits remained below expectations – they didn’t trickle down to the poor – even while social and environmental impacts were greater than anticipated.” …

The letter to the U.S. Treasury notes that large-scale infrastructure projects in the past have failed to create a “significant” number of jobs for locals. (The Treasury declined to comment for this story.)

Yet even when jobs are created, some investigations have suggested that the projects have an inordinately negative impact on women.

“Our studies found a very specific pattern surrounding these projects: almost 100 percent of jobs went to men, not only in building the coal plants and mines but even office jobs, while women lost jobs,” Elaine Zuckerman, president of Gender Action, a Washington advocacy group and a signatory of the new letter, told IPS. She says her office has studied the effects of four World Bank-financed oil-and-gas pipelines.

“Smallholder women, who make up 80 percent of farmers in developing countries, lose their land to bank-financed associated infrastructure,” she continues. “So men get the jobs and women lose access to their income. A good number are even forced to turn to sex work to make a living – we found elevated HIV levels in the aftermath of each of these projects.”

Read the full story here.