Tracking Development Banks’ COVID-19 Relief: At Three and a Half Years and Beyond
by Jocelyn Soto Medallo
In 2020, the Early Warning System pivoted to tracking the development banks’ COVID-19 pandemic relief investments, as a response to the urgent needs of civil society and community partners who sought transparency around the billions of dollars committed to pandemic relief.
With thanks to our many partners who have supported this work, we are wrapping up our regular updating of the COVID-19 DFI Tracker after 3.5 years. The data will still be publicly available and we encourage you to explore the data which provides financing trends by region, development bank, sector and the recipient of the funds (whether the direct recipient was the public sector or private sector). You can read more about our methodology and access the Tracking the COVID-19 Response Toolkit. Civil society and community organizations can sign up to access the Early Warning System database for project updates, including any new pandemic relief projects.
As IAP has documented over the last 3.5 years, many of the COVID19 pandemic relief projects were proposed as part of a rapid disbursement or “fast track” modality, with a swiftness that the scale and speed of the pandemic required. However, this came with trade-offs on accountability: Projects were often approved with shorter preparation times, with less environmental and social due diligence, with less fiscal transparency and with substantial limitations on stakeholder consultations — that is, communities were less likely to be meaningfully consulted and provided clear opportunities for engagement and project monitoring. Given the banks’ track record, pre-pandemic, on meaningful consultation and engagement, this was a low bar. (Read our assessment of the disclosure practices and policies of the IDB Invest; the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development; the New Development Bank; the United States International Development Finance Corporation; and the African Development Bank.)
The objective was clear: to sift through and track this information in real time, bridging the gap in transparency and accountability and distribute this information to support wider advocacy. To do so, we created the only centralized and public civil society platform to provide both granular-level project documentation and top-level analysis of COVID-19 financing: the COVID-19 DFI Tracker regularly aggregated information on disclosed pandemic relief projects by 15 of the most influential development banks in the world. Project level information was distributed by the Early Warning System team to civil society organizations most likely to be impacted. The Early Warning System team also shared project information with our networks of civil society and community groups through 30 webinars and online trainings, including during the African Coalition for Corporate Accountabiltiy’s General Assembly to launch the Coalition for Human Rights in Development report, Unhealthy silence: Development banks’ inaction on retaliation during COVID-19 and with Arab Watch Coalition on their webinar Tracking of COVID-19 Financing and Affected Communities’ Access to Information. The work informed partners’ own analysis of and advocacy on their governments’ response to the pandemic. Through direct one-on-one meetings, project by project outreach and webinars, the International Accountability Project and the Early Warning System team supported partners in accessing and using the data.
From 1 January 2020 to 30 June 2023, for three and a half years, the COVID-19 DFI Tracker identified over 1,900 investments financed by 15 development banks globally, surpassing $210 billion dollars in aid. As the COVID-19 DFI Tracker has illustrated, these investments are in every region and in virtually every sector and industry. While many investments expectedly went to governments to strengthen their health response to the pandemic and to provide support for education, substantial resources — approximately 32 percent of all funds tracked — were directed to private actors to mitigate losses and liquidity issues arising from the pandemic. Additionally, even some public sector recipients of financing funneled funds through financial intermediaries or provided support to private sector development. (Sort the data and access relevant project information by clicking on public sector or private sector in the COVID-19 DFI Tracker.)
In a collaborative global research project, a collective of more than 20 groups in 20 countries — members and partners of the Coalition for Human Rights in Development — came together to develop a series of national level case studies by to underscore the role and failings of the development bank-funded pandemic responses in the report Missing Receipts. Missing Receipts found, among other findings, that both development banks and governments failed to track and communicate this data accurately, if at all, and that a disproportionate amount of funds went to the private sector. Using these findings, partners engaged the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Development and called on development banks and investors to show their receipts for pandemic relief.
During this time, we also supported various evidence-based advocacy with partners, and in so doing, attempted to pry open the black box on pandemic funding and project implementation. For example, with partners Institute of Socioeconomic Studies and Instituto Maíra in Brazil, the data was used in a report, available in Portuguese and English, that showed how development bank funds during the first year of the pandemic were not properly focused on the most at-risk populations and only poorly related to projects concerned with climate and environment issues. The Network of Communities Impacted by International Financial Institutions, a Latin American and Caribbean-based community-led network, published a declaration, requesting direct reparation for damages caused by these investments and attention to the deepening of the impacts caused by the COVID19 crisis (available in Spanish and Portuguese). We worked with Saglyk, a partner monitoring public health in Turkmenistan, to engage with the Government of Turkmenistan and the World Bank to raise concerns about the absence of stakeholder engagement around the World Bank’s pandemic relief project. We supported partners in tracking investments in the South Caucasus and Central Asia (also available in Russian), as well as partners in Kyrgyzstan with interactive data visualizations on COVID-19 financing. (Read more about our approach to the evidence-based advocacy around pandemic relief here.)
So what now? Again, the COVID-19 DFI Tracker will remain public to support any ongoing advocacy and research. In the coming months, we will be debuting 2 new initiatives: a global energy tracker and an interactive map of factory farming investments, which is part of the Stop Financing Factory Farming campaign.
As always, civil society and community organizations can sign up to access the Early Warning System database for project updates, including any new pandemic relief projects.
Read additional IAP posts on COVID-19 financing which are not included above:
- World Bank $20M COVID-19 Response Project Complicit in Masking Public Health Emergency
- Development banks continue financing high-impact project despite the restricted civic space in Central Asia and South Caucasus
- What we’ve learned by tracking COVID-19 relief financing for two years
- Tracking COVID-19 Financing — A Civil Society Perspective
Jocelyn Soto Medallo is the Deputy Director at the International Accountability Project (IAP) and is based in Washington D.C.