In February 2017, the World Bank made a decision not to finance the Lilongwe Water project in Malawi. This was a $290 million development project to be partly funded by the World Bank ($71m) aimed at expanding access to water services in Lilongwe district and improving the financial and operational performance of the Lilongwe Water Board. The project involved investments in the Diamphwe Multipurpose Dam, a water treatment plant and a water transmission line.
Through a community led research, International Accountability Project (IAP) worked with Citizen’s For Justice (CFJ) to ascertain the communities’ level of knowledge of this project. The research established that community members were not consulted during the planning phase of the project and in determining compensation and resettlement entitlements for the project affected persons. The effects would be severe for the homes and livelihoods of 5,100 people whose 2682 hectares of land would remain permanently inaccessible. With this information, we reached out to the World Bank and the Malawi government to address the concerns before funding for the project is approved. Consequently, the World Bank tasked Malawi government to address issues highlighted in particular, revisiting the resettlement action plan.
However, regardless of the government’s effort, the Bank decided to drop the project. When asked about the Bank’s decision, Mary Brennan from the US Treasury noted that; “the project’s overall financial and safeguard risk levels were unmanageable for they were higher than anticipated.” She also noted that the resettlement costs were much higher than expected and that the government expressed a reluctance to pay compensation costs. The World Bank’s decision was preceded by a move by the African Development Bank and International Development Association to withdraw from the project due to high risk levels in the resettlement of affected people.
This is a major achievement for communities that would be affected by the project and a message to government that project affected communities ought to be consulted when developing projects. The Bank’s decision is testimony that communities’ consent is paramount if they are to approve a project for funding.
John Mwebe - Accountability Project