World Bank accused of razing Congo forests

The World Bank encouraged foreign companies to destructively log the world’s second largest forest, endangering the lives of thousands of Congolese Pygmies, according to a report on an internal investigation by senior bank staff and outside experts.

The report by the independent inspection panel, seen by the Guardian, also accuses the bank of misleading Congo’s government about the value of its forests and of breaking its own rules.

Congo’s rainforests are the second largest in the world after the Amazon, locking nearly 8% of the planet’s carbon and having some of its richest biodiversity. Nearly 40 million people depend on the forests for medicines, shelter, timber and food.

The report into the bank’s activities in Democratic Republic of Congo since 2002 follows complaints made two years ago by an alliance of 12 Pygmy groups. The groups claimed that the bank-backed system of awarding vast logging concessions to companies to exploit the forests was causing “irreversible harm”.

It will be discussed at board level in the World Bank within weeks and may lead to a complete rethink of how forestry in the DRC is practised.

It is particularly embarrassing for the British government, which is a development partner of the bank and its third largest financial contributor. It encouraged the bank to intervene in the Congo forests with export-driven industrial logging and has earmarked £50m for further Congo basin forestry aid.