World Bank suspends controversial financing in Tanzania

Rainforest Rescue activist Elisa Norio at the World Bank Rainforest Rescue activist Elisa Norio presents the petition at the World Bank (© Rettet den Regenwald e.V.) Maasai women and men in colorful cloths at a market, a woman looks at the camera Tanzania’s government shows little consideration for Indigenous people (© RdR/Mathias Rittgerott) Herd of elephants in Serengeti Animal welfare must not be bought with human rights violations (© Rettet den Regenwald / Mathias Rittgerott)

Apr 23, 2024

The World Bank is suspending funding for the controversial REGROW project in Tanzania after international pressure. The Bank gave Rainforest Rescue its assurance during its Spring Meetings, where we again called on it to stop funding evictions and human rights abuses in Tanzania. A high-level World Bank delegation will be traveling to Tanzania in the near future.

Rainforest Rescue activist Elisa Norio presented the petition to Bank staff and participants from around the world on April 17 during the World Bank’s Spring Meetings in Washington DC. “We understand that the situation is complex for an institution like the World Bank. But we expect the World Bank to live up to its responsibility to the people,” she said.

The petition had been signed by 79,033 people at the time.

The background: Under the guise of conservation and to boost tourism, the Tanzanian government wants to evict more than 20,000 people to double the area of Ruaha National Park. The World Bank is making this possible through its $150 million REGROW funding program.

“The World Bank cannot ignore the voices of people from around the world calling for an end to the ongoing violence,” said Marianne Klute, Chair of Rainforest Rescue, in Hamburg, Germany. “We cannot accept the violation of human rights in the name of misguided environmental protection.”

“The World Bank’s long-overdue decision to suspend this dangerous project is a critical step toward accountability and justice,” said Anuradha Mittal, Executive Director of the Oakland Institute.

We had emailed the petition to World Bank President Ajay Banga two months before the meeting because the situation in Tanzania seemed to be getting worse by the day. At the time, we had not received a response.

Organizations shake up the World Bank

During the event, Elisa Norio spoke personally with Bank officials responsible for the REGROW project and Tanzania. One representative noted that the World Bank relies on organizations such as Rainforest Rescue to call attention to abuses, and that the Bank had learned from this case.

For us, this underscores the importance of our work – which is funded entirely by donations. We would therefore like to thank all of our supporters!

We will be closely monitoring whether the World Bank actually prevents human rights violations and forced evictions. We plan to attend the Bank’s fall meeting and keep up the pressure.

Study documents human rights violations and evictions

The allegations are based on a study by the Oakland Institute entitled Unaccountable & Complicit. In it, villagers accuse REGROW-funded rangers of the national park authority TANAPA of murder and numerous acts of violence since the project began in 2017. According to the study, authorities have also recently confiscated and auctioned off large numbers of cattle, severely impacting the livelihoods of pastoralists. The violence and confiscations are most likely being carried out to force them to leave their land.

In November 2023, the World Bank set up a commission of inquiry after villagers filed a formal complaint in June. Despite this, the Bank disbursed an additional $35 million.

The strategy of violence and eviction is nothing new for Tanzania’s Indigenous peoples: More than 100,000 Maasai are fighting for their land and livelihoods in the Ngorongoro Crater and near the Serengeti.

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