Population Research and Policy Review 21: 339–349, 2002.
© 2002 Kluwer Academic Publishers. Printed in the Netherlands.
Development projects and involuntary population displacement:
The World Bank’s attempt to correct past failures
KEVIN J. A. THOMAS
Population Studies Center, University of Pennsylvania
Abstract. In the past, poor rural peasants have been the unintended victims of large-scale
development projects in the world’s developing countries. Development projects such as dam
and road construction have triggered large streams of population movements within poor
countries. Policy makers such as those at the World Bank have made several attempts to
tackle the problems of development-based involuntary population displacements. This paper
examines some of the consequences and dynamics of development induced forced migration.
It discusses the World Bank’s past failure to provide adequate policies that sufﬁciently tackle
the displacement problems that were the consequences of its past projects in Africa. The
Bank’s new Operational Policy on Involuntary Displacement is then evaluated in a retrospect-
ive analysis of how it could have solved the population displacement problems in one of its
projects, the Nangbeto Dam in Togo, West Africa. The analysis concludes that the Operational
Policy could be an effective tool to tackle development induced population displacement but
that it still needs a few more adjustments as a policy instrument.
Introduction: Statement of the problem
Constrained by an urgent desire to see rapid economic progress, many de-
veloping countries, particularly some in post independence Africa, resorted
to the execution of large-scale development projects in the decades follow-
ing the 1960s. This vogue saw the construction of large hydroelectric power
plants, commercial plantations and the like around Africa during the post in-
dependence period, and was supposed to provide the investment prerequisites
that paved the road to economic utopia. Many of these undertakings however
resulted in the displacement of large numbers of poor peasants, and raised a
lot of questions in academic and other circles about ignored anthropomorphic
and poverty alleviation issues.
As the largest multi-national lending institution that ﬁnanced such large-
scale projects, the World Bank came under sharp criticism for the role that it
played in these ventures. By virtue of the fact that it made its funds available
for these projects, it was betraying its role as a moral advocate for the poor by
facilitating programs that failed to seek their interests. This does not suggest
that the World Bank was unaware of consequent problems of development