Malawi: How community-led activism prompted banks to withdraw from funding Lilongwe Water Project due to potential negative impact on livelihoods

Author: John Mwebe & Prekshar Kumar, in OpenGlobalRights, Published on: 16 November 2017

"Using community-led activism and public opinion to stop harmful development"

In a major victory for communities, the European Investment Bank recently declined to proceed with its appraisal of the Lilongwe Water Project, a proposed $290 million USD infrastructure project that would have adversely affected the homes and livelihoods of 5,100 people living in the Dedza and Lilongwe districts of Malawi. The announcement came not long after decisions by both the World Bank and the African Development Bank to withdraw from the proposed project, citing financial concerns and risks associated with resettlement.

The stated objective of the Lilongwe Water Project was to expand access to water services in the city of Lilongwe, Malawi and to improve the financial and operational performance of the Lilongwe Water Board, a government body tasked with providing potable water to Lilongwe city and its surrounding areas. The project was categorized as high risk and its most destructive impacts were linked to the construction of the Diamphwe Multipurpose Dam. The construction of the dam and reservoir meant thousands of households would lose their farmland, livelihoods, housing and access to common resources like schools, markets and graveyards. The dam also posed adverse and irreversible environmental impacts, affecting natural habitats and wildlife.

...[International Accountability Project (IAP)] worked with local partners to support communities in their efforts to raise concerns with project planners and funders...The research revealed that community members had not been consulted during the planning phase of the project or in determining compensation and resettlement. In February 2017, the World Bank dropped its proposal to finance the project. A representative from the United States government noted that the overall financial and safeguard risk levels were higher than previously anticipated and had become unmanageable...The World Bank’s decision was preceded by a move by the African Development Bank to withdraw from the project due to high risk levels in the resettlement action plan.


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