The environment and bilateral development aid

Brian Johnson and Robert O. Blake | 1979

Since January 1977, the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) has been conducting a research program on the environmental policies and programs of major development aid organizations. The first of IIED’s studies in this field, a report on environmental procedures and practices in nine multilateral development agencies, was completed in 1978 and published in book form as “Banking on the Biosphere?” (Lexington Books, New York, 1979).

This study aroused considerable interest and IIED, as a result, decided to conduct a parallel policy review in relation to six bilateral aid agencies. This “assessment project” began in May 1978 with the agreement and support of the aid agencies of Canada, the Federal Republic of Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden and the United States.

The study’s aim was:

    • To assess the extent to which policies, procedures and programs of the six bilateral agencies promote sustainable, environ­mentally sound development.
    • To examine the constraints to improved environmental performance in these agencies, that might be necessary to remove or substantially reduce these constraints.

At the end of a decade (The Seventies, ed.) in which international concern has arisen sharply at the depletion, misuse and overuse of world resources, there is a high level of public and official interest in the impact of aid programs on developing countries’ environmental resources. This new interest caused the development aid agencies of Canada, the Federal Republic of Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden, the United Kingdom and the United States to sponsor the present study.

The IIED and the six national research teams that carried out this study found that there is general consensus in the aid agencies studied as to the meaning of “environment” in the context of development problems. This represents a major change from the confused position of only three or four years ago.

In the minds of most (but not all) of the officials of these agencies, it is clear that a broad, “holistic” interpretation of the concept is not only acceptable but necessary.1 This recognition by officers of the holistic nature of the concept “environment” is an important step ahead.2

We also found growing recognition of the importance of emphasizing the interconnectedness of all facets of development and of rejecting any notion that the “environmental concerns” can merely be considered one more “add-on” to be planned for in the economic development process.

The term environment as used in this report is synonymous with human environment: the biological and physical components which exist and processes which operate on the earth’s surface and in its atmosphere, and which have direct or indirect influence on humans. The phrase environmental effect: a change in the environment resulting from human action. Environmental impact: the net change
in human well-being resulting from an environmental effect; the environmental impact of a development scheme is the difference in well-being between implementation and non-implementation of the scheme.

2 Almost all “environmental” problems can be defined under other headings, especially resource use, public health and amenity. What gives the word “environment” relevance is its meaning of total surroundings implying inter-connectedness. Thus, the word “environment” means, a dam or a housing project.

The most important feature of this consensus is that environment is now beginning to be seen not as an additional subject, the examination of which has to be added woodenly on to traditional development considerations. Rather this is increasingly seen as a whole new approach to development which gives greater weight to the sustainability of results and to the costs of destructive side effects of projects.

However, one major finding of this study is that this new view, however widely accepted theoretically, has still made too little impact on the orientation and design of the projects or practical development policies of the agencies studied.

Recognizing that each nation’s aid program is bound to have particular priorities which reflect that country’s broad political, economic and socio-cultural relations with recipients of its aid, the comparative report finds that:

  1. There is a need to define more thoroughly environmental and natural resource objectives and concerns in the context of aid programs as a whole.
  2. The most urgent attention should be given to helping developing countries build up their own capacity to study and manage their own environmental problems. This effort should be closely related to donor efforts aimed at fostering greater environmental concern in these countries.
  3. There is a need to encourage and fund a much higher level of consideration and rehabilitation projects commensurate with the rapidly increasing needs of recipient countries.
  4. Policy documents which are produced in each agency project design and execution frequently lack adequate attention to environmental implications.
  5. In only three of the agencies studied was there a clearly focal point for environmental responsibility. A framework for systematically checking on environmental implications is essential.
  6. Procedures to ensure that projects are systematically for environmental impact and where necessary subjected to environmental examination are also needed.
  7. There is a strong case for greater multilateral cooperation in the utilization of donor country resources in these areas.
IIE report


This report belongs to the selected and used sources of the:

Brundtland Report


This publication is part of the web-book Public Risk Canon