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A project that made history

Just as a politician can define an era, a particular project can leave its mark on a development institution. For the IDB, such a project was "BR-364," shorthand for a Bank-financed operation to pave a highway in the Brazilian Amazon between the cities of Porto Velho and Rio Branco.

This project and the chain of innovation it unleashed will be the subject of a new report that will bring together the reflections of some of the many people involved, among them IDB officials, Indian community leaders, rubber tappers, Brazilian state and local officials, and representatives from nongovernmental organizations.

After the IDB approved loans totaling $58.7 million in 1985 to help finance the road, concern over the project's impact on local Indian and rubber tapper communities and the environment prompted the Bank to earmark an additional $10 million for a Program for the Protection of the Environment and Indigenous Peoples (PMACI, after its initials in Portuguese). When it became clear that PMACI was not being carried out as envisioned, the IDB took the unprecedented step of halting disbursements on its loan.
To break the stalemate, the IDB launched an extensive round of consultations among all groups involved, including government agencies and the Brazilian military. Many of these historically antagonistic groups met face to face for the first time.

The result was a new PMACI plan arrived at by consensus. It included the creation of reserves for rubber tappers, demarcation of Indian lands, training in better production methods for small-scale farmers, and improved health and education services. As it turned out, the plan's impact greatly transcended this one project. In the report, "Participation and Sustainable Development in the Amazon: the Case of PMACI," authors Mary Allegretti, Anne Deruyttere and Carlos Ramírez describe how the project led to a series of changes that went to the core of how the IDB goes about financing development projects. Before, information was kept on a very short leash, with minimal public disclosure; after, transparency became the watchword. While communities and private groups formerly had little opportunity to influence how projects were designed, PMACI ushered in a new approach to development lending in which community participation in both the design and implementation are considered a requirement for a project's success. The project even had a good deal to do with the creation of the Bank's Environment Division and the implementation of a procedure in which all IDB projects undergo a review of potential environmental impacts.

In her summation, then-IDB Executive Vice President Nancy Birdsall said that PMACI will be remembered because it presents a microcosm of the complexities inherent in the development process. It is not easy to reconcile national development goals with the protection of vulnerable population groups, she said, nor with the need to ensure the sustainability of natural resources.

"It is not easy to reconcile the compelling and immediate needs of development with the idea that participation and debate are important in themselves," said Birdsall, "although in the short run, they may seem to slow down the development process."
PMACI did not produce definitive answers, Birdsall concluded, because there are none. But it did demonstrate the importance of several elements that should be -and have been- incorporated into other operations: decentralization, participation, and reconciling environmental protection with development.

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