The World Bank pumps billions of dollars a year into power plants, dams and other big projects in the name of an ambitious ideal: ending global poverty.
“Evicted and Abandoned,” a groundbreaking investigative series involving more than 50 journalists from around the world, exposes the hidden toll of these projects on the people living in the path of the development.
The reporting team revealed that since 2004, projects financed by the World Bank have physically or economically displaced an estimated 3.4 million people, forcing villagers from their homes, confiscating land or damaging families’ ability to make a living.
During this span, the year-long investigation found, the World Bank has regularly failed to live up to its rules for protecting the people displaced by its projects, with devastating consequences for some of the poorest and most vulnerable people on the planet.
The series is a joint effort by The Center for Public Integrity’s International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and The Huffington Post, working in partnership with journalists from 22 other news organizations from across the globe.
The investigation, which was initiated and coordinated by ICIJ, is the first time journalists have ever delved so deeply into how the World Bank operates and the impacts it has on people and the environment.
The main stories in the series were published on an innovative microsite that seamlessly combined narrative reporting, multimedia and data visualizations. The site was jointly developed by HuffPost and ICIJ through months of collaboration between both outlets’ web and data teams.
Members of the investigative team reported on the ground in 14 countries, traveling to isolated hamlets and urban slums. They entered areas bloodied by civil conflicts and asked tough questions in places where journalists are often watched, questioned and, in some cases, targeted for violence or arrest.
In Kenya, rangers working for a World Bank-funded conservation program burned homes and evicted thousands of indigenous peoples from their ancestral forests. In India, Muslim fishing clans claim a coal power plant financed by the bank’s private-sector arm is destroying their way of life by drastically reducing catches in their coastal fishing waters.
In some instances the World Bank Group has financed governments or companies accused of targeting villagers for rape, murder, torture and other human rights abuses.
The project was a big undertaking for ICIJ, a Washington, D.C.-based, non-profit news project of the Center for Public Integrity with an in-house staff of 11 editors and reporters. ICIJ operates on the principle that some stories are too complicated, too big and too global for a lone-wolf investigative reporter — or a single news organization — to tackle.
That’s certainly the case with the World Bank Group investigation, which focuses on a sprawling, complex organization with more than 10,000 employees in more than 120 offices worldwide and an aggressive PR operation that works to deflect negative news coverage. Columbia Journalism Review wrote that ICIJ, with its far-flung network of reporters and partners, was “uniquely suited” to tackle the investigation of “a mammoth, global institution like the World Bank.”
The anti-poverty group Oxfam said the investigation’s “exposure of immense human suffering around the world, linked to World Bank funding, should finally wake the Bank up to the reality of its failures.”
The investigative team included reporters, editors, data journalists, coders, designers, photographers and videographers.
Along with HuffPost and ICIJ, other media partners included El País, Fusion, The Investigative Fund, the GroundTruth Project, Brazil’s Agência Pública, German broadcasters WDR and NDR, German daily Süddeutsche Zeitung and Nigeria’s Premium Times.
Along with the challenge of reporting in countries where journalists and their sources are often at risk, the reporting team was challenged by the task of making sense of the World Bank’s jumbled and incomplete archive of documents relating to projects that displace communities and disrupt lives.
ICIJ’s data team spent 11 months going through more than 6,000 documents in four languages to come up with an estimate for the number of people displaced by World Bank-backed projects — a statistic the bank itself had declined to keep keep track of. The team created an interactive that allows readers to explore the impact of World Bank projects in more than 100 countries.
A HuffPost data analysis, meanwhile, revealed that between 2009 and 2013 the World Bank Group pumped $50 billion into projects graded the highest risk for “irreversible or unprecedented” social or environmental impacts — more than twice as much as the previous five-year span.
The investigation had an impact even before readers around the world got to see it.
In late February, after months of investigation, ICIJ and HuffPost presented the World Bank with its final list of questions about the team’s findings, informing bank officials that the investigation had found “systemic gaps” in the bank’s protections for people harmed by development projects.
Five days later the bank held a press conference to publicly acknowledge that its oversight has been poor, and promised a series of reforms. “We took a hard look at ourselves on resettlement and what we found caused me deep concern,” World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim said.
The World Bank denies that the team’s reporting was the impetus for its admission and reform plan. But the timeline speaks for itself — and NGOs that track the World Bank say they believe the media investigation forced the bank’s hand.
At least 100 media outlets have now run ICIJ’s World Bank stories or written or broadcast about them. These media hits include “Morning Edition” and “Weekend Edition Sunday” segments on National Public Radio, a BBC segment, an LA Times op-ed, a Reuters piece and stories in publications in Azerbaijan, the UAE, Morocco, Turkey, India, Bangladesh, France, Russia, the Philippines, India, Chile, Brazil, Nigeria, the Netherlands and other countries.
ICIJ, HuffPost and their partners plan more stories about the World Bank throughout 2015.