World bank funds destruction of protected wetlands

Devastation of mangrove swamps for industrial shrimp aquaculture must end

Feature story - 21 November, 2002
The pressure placed on developing nations to repay foreign debt often leads to ruinous resource exploitation. Some tropical nations become host to vast shrimp farms, many funded by World Bank loans. This wetland destruction not only causes social and environmental ills, it also violates human rights set out under the UN. Greenpeace is highlighting the perverse role of the World Bank now at an international wetland convention.

Greenpeace activists at the Ramsar conference hold banner reading 'World Bank: Stop mangrove destruction' to protest World Bank lending to the shrimp aquaculture industry.

The Ramsar Convention meeting in Valencia, Spain is the perfect place to highlight the World Bank's role in wetland devastation. Ramsar is an international agreement to conserve and promote the wise use wetlands. Lamentably, some of the mangrove wetlands being destroyed for conversion to World-Bank funded shrimp farms are actually sites protected under Ramsar.

Devastating delicacy

Cultivated shrimp, the devastating delicacy found on dinner plates in Europe, Japan and the USA, is the primary cause of mangrove and wetland destruction throughout the tropics. Fragile and endangered, mangroves grow in saltwater wetlands along coastal areas -- the saltwater equivalents of the rain forests. Hosting ecosystems incredibly rich in biodiversity, mangrove forests are one of the world's most productive types of ecosystem and form important breeding grounds for fish and other water creatures.

From the mollusk to the manatee

Mangrove forest roots are bulldozed into the mud to make way for intruding shrimp farms. Once mangroves are ripped out, the coast is rendered unstable, triggering erosion, harming coral reefs and seagrass beds, and eliminating habitat for creatures from the humble mollusks up the chain of life to the meek manatee. Profuse amounts of artificial feed, pesticides and chemical additives, including chlorine, are poured in.

Human rights violated

Loans from the World Bank and other lending institutions fuel capital-intensive shrimp production. The World Bank's role in shrimp farm funding directly counters that of Ramsar. The World Bank has recently funded industrial shrimp aquaculture expansion at sites in Belize and Honduras that include Ramsar protected areas.

The projects funded by the World Bank also violate human rights under the UN. Resolution 1989, Article 4 of the Human Rights Commission to the UN states that payment of the external debt by developing countries should not jeopardise human rights and environment. But this is exactly what happens when the World Bank funds shrimp aquaculture projects that destroy mangrove forests vital for sustaining local communities in developing countries.

Activists unite at Ramsar

"Too many wetlands are being lost to this ongoing disregard by both the World

Bank and the shrimp aquaculture industry," said Lider Gongora of Red Manglar, an environmental group striving to preserve mangroves. The Mangrove Action Project, PREPARE and other visiting activist groups also joined Greenpeace to protest the World Bank's role in mangrove destruction.

Today Greenpeace activists unfurled a giant banner which read "World Bank: Stop Mangrove Destruction". Greenpeace and the other activist groups united in a call for Ramsar to study the impacts of shrimp aquaculture, and told Ramsar to demand an end to funding of industrial shrimp aquaculture by the World Bank and other multilateral lenders.

Greenpeace is working with local activists in farmed shrimp producing counties and at the United Nations to prevent further damage by shrimp farming.