The World Bank’s board of directors could vote today to renew a project for landless families in Cambodia that has run into major problems, a move that would effectively lift a five-year freeze on lending its own money to the country in protest over forced government evictions.
The bank has continued to run preexisting projects in the country and to start up new ones with money held in trust for other countries. But it has not spent its own money in Cambodia since 2011, upset with the government’s mass eviction of Phnom Penh’s Boeng Kak neighborhood amid an ongoing Bank project to furnish such communities with private land titles.
Despite ongoing calls for the bank to help the evictees before re-engaging with Cambodia, the board of directors could lift the funding freeze when it meets today in Washington.
On the board’s agenda is a proposed Country Engagement Note for Cambodia—an outline of the bank’s plans for Cambodia over the next few years—and the proposed second phase of the $25 million Land Allocation for Social and Economic Development (Lased) project.
The first phase of the project, which ended in 2015 after seven years, spent $13 million to set up eight social land concessions for thousands of poor families with little or no land of their own. The World Bank has hailed the project as an unqualified success.
But a survey of the sites by rights group Licadho in June 2015 found that hundreds of the selected families could not move in because of a raft of problems, from infertile soil to other people claiming the same land. It said the bank should not approve a second phase until the first one was fixed and given an honest evaluation. The proposed second phase is raising fears of even more forced evictions because hundreds of families are already farming the site that has been chosen for a new concession.
The World Bank’s Cambodia country team has refused to answer questions about the Lased project or its preparations to re-engage with the country.
The International Accountability Project, a U.S.-based NGO that campaigns against forced evictions, has written to the bank’s board urging it to postpone approval of Lased II.
“While the World Bank has described the first phase of LASED as a success, with key results exceeding the planned targets, research conducted by Licadho paints a starkly different picture,” it said.
“LASED should not be considered a sustainable project, nor is it a replicable model for social land concessions to the landless,” it added. “Accordingly, further investment in this project as it stands is the wrong way forward.
Tep Vanny, a Boeng Kak resident who has become a prominent anti-eviction activist, said the bank should only lift its funding freeze if it sets out a clear plan at the same time to help the thousands of families that were evicted from Boeng Kak, triggering the freeze in the first place.
“We demand that the World Bank be responsible for the people evicted from Boeng Kak and push the government to find a solution quickly because we have been suffering for almost 10 years,” she said.
(Additional reporting by Aun Pheap)