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The ADB Safeguards: Terrain shifts to Operation Manual 2010

The recently updated Safeguard Policy would have been welcomed had the remaining dilutions been addressed. The ADB has failed to incorporate in the updated Safeguards the Principle of Free Prior Informed Consent (FPIC) as defined by the United Nations Declarations on the Rights of the Indigenous Peoples, Article 32.

CSO pressure has helped push for big improvements in the approved policy compared to previous drafts. For instance, the policy’s attention to gender now sets the lead for other multilateral development banks to follow with regard to explicitly requiring gender sensitive and responsive application of safeguard policies. Lingering dilutions, however, may in ultimately put at risk the progress made in the final document. For example, the scope of the Involuntary Resettlement Policy has been reduced, greenhouse gas language made public in earlier drafts has been watered down, and the ADB’s system of categorization still does not specify that it shall be utilized for all projects and their components regardless of their source of funding.

The terrain now shifts to closely monitoring the roll-out of the policy and its articles of implementation. Will the Bank allocate adequate resources for the policy’s full application? What will happen to the policy given that most of its requirements have been shifted to the operations manual? The situation now may be both dangerous and problematic since the operations manual is considered a document which the Management can change at any time without needing Board approval.

The ADB used to have separate policies on Environment, Involuntary Resettlement, and Indigenous Peoples, collectively known as the Safeguard Policies. The ADB has merged the three separate policies into one Safeguard Policy Statement.

The bank management embarked on its review of its Safeguard Policies in 2005 and began a series of consultations with its member countries in November 2007. As a result of continuous pressure from civil society groups, led by the Forum, the ADB came up with an updated draft of the SPS as the basis for the last round of multi-stakeholder consultation held in November 2008.

RELATED LITERATURE ADB told to double its effort in strengthening its safeguards

As it calls for IFIs to guard against the dilution of their respective social and environmental guidelines, the World Resources Institute (WRI) demands the ADB to double its efforts in ensuring that its environmental and social safeguards are strengthened and fully complying with international standards.

ADB watchdog submits comments to second Safeguards draft

Calling it a dilution of the existing Safeguard Policies of the ADB, the NGO Forum on ADB sent its official submission to the ADB Safeguards team. The ADB watchdog believes that the second draft will only result in the further impoverishment of Asia’s poor unless revised and strengthened.

CSOs hit draft safeguards, ADB lawyers say safeguards are diluted

The ADB received strong criticism from CSOs for diluting its existing safeguards. Forum hit the ADB for directly weakening the Safeguards, completely contradicting the ongoing efforts of other financial institutions strengthening their respective safeguard measures. The Office of the General Counsel (OGC), likewise, pointed out several dilutions on the safeguards.

ADB private-sector loans only ‘partly OK’

The ADB’s Operations Evaluation Department takes on the Bank’s private-sector lending, rating it as “partly successful” due to poor impact and outcomes, low profitability and the lack or absence of safeguards.

NGOs demand better Safeguards Consultation from ADB

The NGO Forum on the ADB has demanded for a meaningful second round of Safeguards consultation from the ADB. In an official letter, the ADB watchdog reminded the Bank that there were disappointment and concern from civil society on the first Safeguards consultation.


ADB warned of Asia’s risks without strong Safeguards

  • May 6, Madrid – Asia’s vulnerable communities and environment will continue to be at risk if the Asian Development Bank fails to improve its existing Safeguards that are currently being revised.

NGOs Pull Out of ADB’s Mekong Safeguards Consultations

  • 5 March 2008, Washington, DC- Groups from Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, and Burma have refused to attend the Asian Development Bank’s safeguard policy update consultations held this week in Hanoi, citing weakness of the draft. As a result, only three (3) NGOs attended the consultation adding another blow to ADB’s beleaguered efforts to pass off the consultation process as credible.

NGOs Cease Talks with ADB on Crucial Environmental and Social Issues

  • 8 February, Manila – Non-governmental organizations from different parts of the world have halted their on-going consultative talks with the Asian Development Bank (ADB) over the latter’s egregiously prepared consultation paper on its environment, involuntary resettlement and Indigenous peoples policies.

ADB Responds to Forum’s Call

  • 6 November 2007, Manila – The ADB has responded to Forum’s call for genuine safeguards consultation. On a letter sent to NGO Forum, the regional bank has said that it is willing to reschedule the following Safeguards consultations: East Asia (Beijing), Civil Society Organizations (Manila), and the Mekong and Indonesia (Hanoi). In addition, it has confirmed that it would translate the Safeguards Policy Statement into Bahasa and Vietnamese. Earlier, ADB has already translated the SPS into Russian.

Ensure Genuine Safeguards Consultation, ADB Told

  • 24 October 2007, Manila – NGO Forum on ADB calls for a genuine Safeguards Consultation. In a letter submitted by the Asian-led network to ADB’s Safeguard Policy Update Team, Forum cited the bad experience of the network with the consultation processes of the Energy Strategy and the Long Term Strategy Framework (LTSF) due to initial agreements made that were not respected by the Bank.

ADB to Hold Consultations on Its Ongoing Safeguards Update

  • 8 October 2007, Manila – The ADB recently announced that it will begin its subregional consultation on the ongoing Safeguards Policy Update in November 2007 until the first quarter of 2008. View updated schedule

In response to the Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness in 2005, the ADB decided to review its Safeguard Policies. To date, it has three Safeguard Policies, namely: Environment, Indigenous, and Involuntary Resettlement Policies. The ADB Safeguards seek to prevent environmental degradation, social costs and marginalization of vulnerable groups by its development projects.

However, the ongoing review has already been mired in controversy in spite that the Bank has not yet started with its consultations. According to a report in the Financial Times, four members of its Safeguards Team have resigned in protest against the attempts of the Bank’s management to weaken the policies. This has caused alarm among civil society groups who have been campaigning for stronger safeguards.

In the of 2005, the ADB decided to get involved in a consolidated review of its Safeguard Policies . A team was appointed by the ADB and a discussion note was published on its website in October 2005.

The bank has three safeguard policies: the Policy on Involuntary Resettlement (1995); the Policy on Indigenous Peoples (1998); and the Environment Policy (2002). The recent discussion note also mentioned that its policies for the water, energy and forest sectors also provide important safeguards. According to the discussions noted, “Pursuant to ADB’s reform agenda, there is recognition of the need to enhance the effectiveness and outcome orientation of ADB’s safeguard policies, while at the same time streamlining procedures and reducing transactions costs.”

The consolidated review is coming in the context of the Middle-Income Countries (MIC) and Ordinary Capital Resource (OCR) Country Partnership Framework and the Innovation and Efficiency Initiative, which has highlighted the need to introduce procedural flexibility in the application of the Safeguard Policies while increasing country ownership/ capacity in delivering safeguard outcomes.

The discussion note also stated, “Ongoing multilateral development bank (MDB) harmonization efforts have placed emphasis on the desirability for development partners to harmonize their practices and procedures around country systems, including country safeguard systems.”

From the public point of view, the ADB has a bad track record when it comes to implementation of its own Safeguards. Many of its funded projects have been recently criticized for non-implementation or lack of implementation. There are many violations of the Safeguard Policies either by ADB staff or by the local executing agencies.

Southern Transport Development Project in Sri Lanka, Melamchi Water Project in Nepal, Chasma Right Bank Project in Pakistan, Tonle Sap initiative and Highway 1 Project in Cambodia and Samut Prakarn Waste Water Project in Thailand are recent examples of projects with Safeguards violations. Such cases were brought to the attention of the inspection panel of the ADB.

The ADB said that they will not open its policy principle to the debate. However, it is facing strong competition with Export Credit Agencies that offer funds with less stringent conditionalities.

In this context, the ADB might end up weakening its Safeguards provisions to keep its reputation as the premiere lending agency in Asia and the Pacific region.

The Safeguards Team Nessim Ahmad Director Environment and Social Safeguard Division Email:

Xiaoying Ma SPU Team Leader Senior Environment Specialist Email:

ADB’s Safeguards Website:

NGO contacts

NGO FORUM ON ADB - Bank Information Centre -

You may also visit BIC’s website at


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