Improving Lives is a slogan commonly used by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) to underscore that the work of the different parties involved in projects receiving financing can change (for the better) the lives of people living in our Latin American and Caribbean nations.
I am convinced that this is true. How can we improve lives? How can we create better projects? How can best practices be achieved? These are valid questions that those who are involved in development issues ask ourselves all the time.
From the viewpoint of the project executor, it is indeed possible to improve lives and be effective at the same time. Do Social and Environmental Safeguards contribute to that end? We shall outline some ideas and share some experiences that we hope will be appreciated by our readers.
Let’s now position ourselves on the other side of the table—the executor of a project financed by the Bank could ask himself some of the following questions about compliance with the Operational Safeguards Policies.
- How will this impact my budget?
- How will this affect my work execution timeline?
- How many resources in terms of trained personnel to execute social and environmental commitments will be necessary?
- Will taking up all those commitments pay off?
I have been working on the implementation of IDB’s operational policies for over 10 years now…Yet I’ve been part of the Bank for only three months. I had the honor to be part of the social and negotiating team of one of the most important private projects on infrastructure in Peru, which was financed with resources from the Bank and other sources.
I was on the other side of the table and took part in all the project financing steps: eligibility, disbursement and project completion. I was there during the Environmental Impact Assessment preparation stage, the planning and execution of public consultation programs, complaints and claims attention, compensations programs, and participative social and environmental program monitoring, among others.
All those tasks spanned across the project’s pre-construction, construction, and operation stages. To complete the description of my experience on the other side of the table, I’ll say that the project built a 408-km long gas pipeline across the Andes and reaching the coast, as well as a natural gas liquefaction plant and a maritime terminal.
With all this background, I take the liberty to share two points to consider when we tackle the issue of safeguards from an executor’s perspective.
Point One: Common Interest Issues
The executors (owners) of the projects and the financial organizations inevitably share a common goal that none of the parties should forget—both want the work to be completed within the pre-agreed deadline and budget.
Executors have at their disposal, among other things, teams that design, execute, launch and operate a project. Often, those teams are different from each other and consequently have different goals in mind. Designers will focus on finishing all technical aspects, the builders shall be responsible for construction, and operators will be in charge of management.
All teams and contractors do at each of the stages will have an impact on the operation. This is why, given the common goal principle, the executor should bear in mind that safeguard policies can contribute to meet that goal. Assuming that the first common interest point is to finish and operate the project, this attention to safeguards should lead to an awareness that the execution must take place under adequate occupational safety, social, and environmental practices.
Point Two: Compliance with National Laws and Operational Policies
Is complying with national laws enough, or is it a good idea to go beyond what is required by governments?
Compliance with the law is of course mandatory. Yet, meeting the social and environmental safeguards requirements can, in many cases, lead us to pursue higher standards than those required by some countries.
The Bank’s operational policy on Involuntary Resettlement seeks to ensure that those affected by resettlement attain adequate standards of living, of access to the land, to natural resources and to services. The goal is that their original conditions be matched or even improved. It is important to point out that in an involuntary resettlement, those involved should see their social networks, job or production opportunities, and access to natural resources and public services affected as little as possible.
So it is not enough to free up land by paying a set amount of money per square meter—It is also necessary to identify people’s living conditions and, after the resettlement takes place, to ascertain that those affected see those conditions restored. Implementing this process will prevent piling up liabilities, help minimize the impact on people –in particular those who could be in a vulnerable situation–, and promote a healthy coexistence of the project with its social milieu.
Resettlement is a very complex issue, with myriad details. It is not our intention to sum them all up here, but to reflect upon things as seen from the other side of the table.
By way of conclusion, I’d like to say that compliance with the Bank’s operational policies will pave the way for social and environmental responsible projects that:
- Minimize environmental impacts;
- Minimize delays and work construction interruptions due to social considerations; and
- Enable an exchange of feedback with those affected that can lead to social as well as project execution and operation improvements.
If we do all this, I am convinced that at the end of the day we will see that the projects get executed within the established deadlines and budgets and without any major incidents. To this end, heightened awareness by project leaders and others in a position of responsibility is needed, as is having trained personnel and an adequate budget for the social and environmental areas.
Making our projects go from ordinary to satisfactory and having the best social and environmental practices in place is the challenge we now face. If we succeed, I am sure we will change many lives for the better.