Based on its experience over the last decade, the World Bank adequately identifies and addresses forest and soil and land degradation issues but not groundwater and small-scale fisheries issues in places where those resource degradation threats are most prominent. Most SCDs of forest and soil and land nexus countries analyze these degradation issues, but only about half of SCDs of groundwater and small-scale fisheries nexus countries include relevant analyses. Although the coverage for all natural resources diminishes from SCDs to CPFs, the level of coverage of forest and soil and land degradation issues is much higher—considering competing priorities—than that of groundwater and small-scale fisheries.
The World Bank does not adequately address the resource-related vulnerability of resource-dependent people. SCDs and CPFs tend not to jointly analyze and address resource degradation and associated human vulnerability issues. On average, only about half of the SCDs and 40 percent of the CPFs include analysis of resource-related human vulnerability—forest resources have more coverage—yet the analysis is incomplete. SCDs analyze the vulnerability-producing effects of resource degradation for small farmers, for fishing communities, and sometimes for herders, but not for other disadvantaged and marginalized groups (for example, the landless, mobile pastoralists, women, youth, migrants) who may be unable to participate in or benefit from land or resource restoration support. Resource-related livelihood issues are also rarely assessed (for example, welfare, income).
The World Bank is not adequately addressing many of the underlying factors that affect natural resource degradation. These factors include (i) a lack of clearly defined resource and land use rights, including inadequate awareness of customary, flexible common property arrangements; (ii) policy distortions, such as subsidized energy for irrigated agriculture; and (iii) weak regulatory and governance arrangements that undermine sustainable use and negatively affect vulnerable resource users.
The World Bank has been effective at improving natural resource management practices, but there is a lack of attributable evidence that this has led to a reduction in natural resource degradation or in vulnerability of resource users. No SLM project adequately addresses NRDV nexus issues. Only 10 percent of the closed Sustainable Development SLM projects and none of the Social Protection SLM projects provided attributable resource-related evidence. Only two closed Sustainable Development SLM projects attempted to assess resource-vulnerability links, but the analysis was incomplete. Most groundwater activities were satisfactorily achieved, but the effects on groundwater use and resource depletion are not known. Less than one-fifth of closed groundwater projects address NRDV issues (most projects neither include mechanisms to curtail unsustainable use nor identify vulnerable water user groups). Small-scale fisheries surveillance activities contributed to the recovery of fish stocks, but only one closed project measurably achieved NRDV aims.
Three factors help explain the performance of the NRDV portfolio: (i) natural resource management practices, (ii) resource governance arrangements, and (iii) financial incentives. Projects that address natural resource degradation use many technical practices whose effectiveness depends both on their appropriateness for specific ecological systems and on their fit within particular social and economic contexts. These interventions struggle to find the right balance between achieving resource recovery and meeting the needs of vulnerable resource users. Effective resource governance arrangements, including land use rights, policies, and adequate institutional capacity, are vital to the sustainable management of and equitable access to natural resources. The effectiveness of financial incentives to promote sustainable resource use and vulnerability reduction largely depends on whether programs target the most threatened areas and include vulnerable resource users. In most cases analyzed, financial incentives were provided through environment and climate change trust funds that did not include a vulnerability lens.
The success of the World Bank’s natural resource management interventions depends on the flow of benefits to resource users over reasonable time frames. The evaluation found that when those benefits are too small or take too long to materialize, resource users are disincentivized from maintaining sustainable resource management practices, which undermines vulnerability reduction benefits. The time periods for the envisioned governance, policy, and operating changes required to achieve environmental outcomes and associated welfare and income impacts for vulnerable resource users are beyond the duration of a single project. Yet life cycle considerations and programmatic implications are lacking from the World Bank’s NRDV interventions (that is, theories or implementation modalities that indicate how resource and vulnerability-reducing outcomes will be sustained after the project ends).
Recommendation 1. The World Bank should identify and analyze natural resource degradation and vulnerability nexus issues and leverage this knowledge in SCDs and in country engagements where such issues matter for achieving sustainable poverty reduction and shared prosperity. In a subset of countries where NRDV nexus issues matter for achieving sustainable poverty reduction, SCDs can draw on data and analytics to identify and prioritize these issues. Management can leverage this knowledge to address these issues in country engagements, including through advisory work and, where relevant, prioritize lending, including through partnerships.
Recommendation 2. World Bank operations that address natural resource degradation should direct attention to resource governance challenges and use a mix of resource management practices and financial incentives appropriate for the relevant socioecological systems. World Bank operations that include support for natural resource degradation can identify and address governance issues by, for example, clarifying resource rights and addressing regulatory failures and distortive policies that drive resource degradation and increase the vulnerability of resource-dependent people. These governance challenges can be addressed through concurrent operations or sequential programmatic approaches. Operations that use resource management practices (such as area closures and watershed management) should find the right balance between achieving resource recovery and meeting the welfare needs of vulnerable resource users. Such trade-offs can be managed by ensuring timely economic and social benefit flows to resource users. When using financial incentives (such as payments for environmental services), it would be important for these operations to target both threatened areas and vulnerable groups.
Recommendation 3. World Bank Global Practices involved in addressing natural resource degradation and associated vulnerability should share knowledge, improve measurement, and enhance coordination in the design and implementation of their projects to optimize development effectiveness. The Social Protection and Jobs and the Sustainable Development Global Practices should measure, assess, and report the attributable resource- and vulnerability-related outcomes of their different sustainable land and resource management approaches. For enhancing coordination, the Social Protection and Jobs Global Practice could share lessons on targeting vulnerable groups and measuring vulnerability-reducing effects. Similarly, the relevant Global Practices within the Sustainable Development Practice Group could share knowledge on the most appropriate scientific resource management practices and how to apply and measure their effects in the relevant socioecological systems. These projects should also ensure synergies when they are operating in the same geographic area. Possible ways to enhance coordination include cross-support, co-task team leadership, and joint ASA.