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Indigenous Groups

Local communities play major role in the design and implementation of social and economic development projects

The Inter-American Development Bank last year continued to provide support to indigenous groups in Latin America to foster economic and social development while helping communities to preserve their cultural identity.

Countries in the region are carrying out both self-standing IDB projects to support indigenous communities as well as broader programs that include components designed to promote indigenous development or, in some cases, mitigate negative effects on indigenous groups. Rural development, watershed management, land titling and microenterprise projects foster productive activities to provide indigenous community members with additional sources of income while at the same time recognizing their rights to communally held land and their thei cultural heritage. Bank projects in the areas of health and education seek to incorporate indigenous cultural traditions by including traditional medicine and bilingual instruction.

Among IDB projects approved in 2003 was an operation for Chile to support community-based tourism development in the southern provinces of Chiloé and Palena that will benefit local indigenous communities. The program, which is being financed with the help of a $10.5 million IDB loan, improve tourism infrastructure, services, sanitation and environmental protection with the aim of ensuring sustainable community based management of indigenous lands and resources, while increasing the average stay and expenditure of tourists.

The tourism program will promote development compatible with environmental protection, the conservation of cultural and historic patrimony, and the participation of local communities, including the largely Huiliche indigenous population. An important part of the program will be to showcase Huiliche customs and traditions.

In Ecuador, an IDB loan for $30 million approved last year will help indigenous and other communities to improve and maintain rural roads. The project will boost agricultural production by improving access to markets, and make it easier for children to attend school. The continuing program will also provide road maintenance jobs to community members.

Local indigenous communities in Ecuador will help select the 3,000 kilometers of roads and 500 kilometers of trails for pack animals and foot transportation in accordance with their culture and traditions. A large part of the technical, financial, operational and administrative responsibility to carry out rural road maintenance will be in the hands of local governments, in particular, Provincial Road Management Institutes.


New operational policy

Also during 2003 the Bank began preparation of a new strategy document on indigenous development and a new operational policy on indigenous peoples. The aim of these documents, which were requested by the IDB's Board of Executive Directors, will be to strengthen the Bank's efforts to mainstream indigenous issues in its operational program. The strategy will include provisions to establish safeguards for avoiding, mitigating and compensating negative impacts from infrastructure projects; support indigenous productive activities that strengthen their territorial, natural and cultural heritage; and ensure equal access of indigenous people to social and financial services and protection of individual and collective rights.

Last year also saw the publication of a comprehensive comparative database on indigenous legislation in Latin America, a methodology for the design of ethnoengineering projects in indigenous communities, and a GIS-based software tool for the analysis of culturally based land use.

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