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World Bank: Email Trail and Draft Strategy Show Family Planning Removed from Bank's Africa Plans

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(Washington, D.C.) – Today the Government Accountability Project (GAP) is releasing an email obtained from World Bank sources showing that Managing Director (MD) Juan José Daboub instructed a team of Bank specialists to delete all references to family planning from the proposed Country Assistance Strategy (CAS) for Madagascar. Daboub is the top official in charge of setting African lending policy and health sector strategy. The email is dated March 8, 2007. GAP has also obtained a draft from Daboub’s office of the pending Health, Nutrition, and Population Strategy (HNP), which mentions family planning only once. In contrast, the previous HNP (1997), which set priorities in this topic area for CASs, identifies lack of access to family planning services as a primary health challenge. This comes in direct contradiction to statements made by Bank President Paul Wolfowitz at a press conference earlier today.

The email showing the directive to remove family planning can be found on GAP’s Web site here:

The draft HNP Strategy with a single reference to family planning, which appears only to cite a previous activity, can be found here:

CASs are long-term plans that lay out World Bank lending priorities for a specific country. All countries with regular lending programs have one. Reviewing the documents, Bea Edwards, GAP International Program Director said, “This effort to deprive impoverished women and men in poor countries of the freedom to control their family size, while condemning women to unwanted pregnancies and unsafe abortions, is unthinkable in a public health program prepared by a development institution.”

The email trail shows one email (the bottom [first] one) that includes the line:

By the way, one of the requests received from the MD [Daboub] was to take out all references to family planning. We did that. However, this is a potential problem for us as the upcoming Health SWAP includes family planning measures in response to the Government’s strong request for help in this area…..

The email was sent from one Lilia Burunciuc, the Country Program Coordinator, who reports on the Madagascar CAS through the Africa Region Vice President to MD Juan José Daboub. As in many other African countries, condoms provided by family planning services are crucial to combating the spread of HIV/AIDS in Madagascar. Such a deletion would, in any CAS, be an inappropriate intervention. But in Madagascar, where the public health service is housed in the Ministry of Health and Family Planning, it is especially heavy-handed and cruel.

Subsequently, Daboub’s office sent a draft HNP Strategy to the Bank Committee on Development Effectiveness for discussion at a March 14 meeting. As a parallel of what occurred with the Madagascar CAS, the proposed strategy virtually omits all mention of family planning. This deletion marks a dramatic departure from the priorities set out in the existing HNP Strategy, which focuses heavily on family planning and cites high fertility as one of four primary health challenges.

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The changes to the draft strategy contradict Wolfowitz’ statements made earlier today. When asked by NPR if there were “any changes in the Bank’s policies in reproductive health and family planning,” Wolfowitz responded “Absolutely not.” He went on to say, “Let me make it very clear. Our policy hasn’t changed.” He later added, “It is a development issue. The policy of this institution I think was very clear before I got here and it will remain very clear.”

“If Wolfowitz’ statements today are true, this means that either he or the board was forced to overrule the ideological directives of the top Bank official in charge of these topic areas,” stated Edwards.

According to the Population and Reproductive Health Note on the World Bank’s own Web site, the family planning priority is well-placed: There are approximately 75 million unplanned pregnancies a year, one-third of which result in unsafe abortions.

Nonetheless, the proposed HNP Strategy omits all commitment to family planning in Bank-funded operations. When setting out “Future Directions for the Bank,” the strategy states:

Bank population and reproductive health policy advice in these countries [Note: primarily high-fertility countries in Sub-Saharan Africa] will emphasize options for improving demand for reproductive health advice and services by strengthening female education, improving women’s economic opportunities and reducing gender disparities.

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The lack of reference to family planning or contraception in this statement is a glaring omission.

Daboub, who directed his staff to delete family planning from the draft HNP Strategy, is the former Finance Minister of El Salvador and a member of that country’s ARENA party. ARENA is closely identified with the hierarchy of the Catholic Church, which, in contrast to the more progressive pastoral clergy in Central America, opposes contraception and equal rights for women. Daboub is scheduled to speak at the Vatican on May 2, according to the Acton Institute, as shown here: Daboub was hired by Wolfowitz in April 2006.

All of this comes at a rocky time in World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz’ tenure at the Bank. Over the past few weeks, GAP has released information showing that Wolfowitz’ girlfriend (and fellow staffer) received raises above and beyond those allowable under Bank rules, that said-girlfriend worked as a consultant to a defense contractor during the run up to the Iraq War (a violation of Bank rules), and that the Bank was slow to notify its staff when an Iraqi colleague was shot in Baghdad. The spring World Bank meetings begin this weekend, with the Board of Governors, the Bank’s highest authority, meeting on Saturday and Sunday. This Board has the authority to issue a “no confidence” vote on Wolfowitz.

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