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World: Bank Report Responds With New Plan For Environment

  • Ron Synovitz

Amid increasing criticism of the World Bank's record on the environment, the bank is proposing a new plan that would place more emphasis on environmental issues. It would also shift the bank's environmental focus further to the East. In this second part of a two-part series on the bank and the environment, RFE/RL's Ron Synovitz takes a closer look at what the World Bank hopes to accomplish.

Prague, 22 September 2000 (RFE/RL) -- The latest environmental report from the World Bank says the most important challenge in Eastern Europe and Central Asia is to combine economic growth and recovery with sustainable environmental improvements.

Toward that goal, bank officials are proposing a strategy that divides the region into two different types of countries. The first group, which includes countries that are focusing on accession to the European Union, are those that have started to work toward clear goals on environmental standards. The second group, mainly former Soviet republics and countries in southeastern Europe, have identified their environmental priorities but have yet to implement many improvements.

The proposed strategy calls for the bank to shift its geographic focus on the environmental needs of the former Soviet republics and southeastern Europe.

Mats Karlsson, the World Bank vice president for external affairs, told RFE/RL the plan is aimed at improving some of the region's worst environmental conditions and to help the EU candidate states such as Romania and Bulgaria that are furthest from meeting membership criteria:

"The enlargement of the European Union is the biggest game in town, and obviously, if you're thinking about Bulgaria and Romania, these are countries that are further away (from EU membership.) We are doing more in these countries than we are in a country like the Czech Republic, which I expect maybe within a year or so, to stop being a client of the bank and go Slovenia's way. Slovenia has already stopped being a client of the bank."

The Bank says in a broad sense, it is more meaningful to aim for environmentally friendly outcomes in all of its activities rather than creating a specific portfolio of environmental projects.

For example, transport projects can replace old vehicles with newer models that cause less air pollution. Irrigation projects in Azerbaijan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan aim to improve agriculture productivity but can also could reduce soil erosion by preventing the overuse of irrigation water.

An agriculture project in Georgia would create a farm management system similar to that in the United States where regional agriculture experts serve as advisers to small farmers.

A project to support the closure of inefficient Romanian coal mines is mentioned by the World Bank as a way to improve the environment in several Romanian regions.

In Bulgaria, the World Bank has an initiative to promote legislation that integrates environmental issues into the process of selling state assets. It also aims to speed Bulgaria's bid to harmonize its laws with EU environmental standards.

A test project to sustain Russian forests calls for support forestry management in three regions. If successful, the program would be expanded and replicated in other Russian regions.

The World Bank also has listed 22 loans as projects in a specific "environment portfolio." The bank is providing financing worth $652 million out of the portfolio's total cost of $1.1 billion.

The bank also is managing 22 other environmental projects that receive grants from other international institutions. Among them is a project in Slovakia for the conservation and sustainable use of Central European grasslands.