The World Bank was established by wealthy nations as a means of making development loans to poor countries. Unfortunately, many of the projects are hurting the people they are supposed to help and are damaging the environment as well.

For example, the World Bank is involved in projects that would destroy huge tracts of virgin African forests and dams that would submerge 248 villages in India. If that is "helping," then many people would rather not be helped.As delegates gathered in Washington this week for the annual meeting of the World Bank and its sister agency, the International Monetary Fund, many of the critics met for a four-day conference of their own.

They seek to influence the representatives of the 152 governments that make up the membership of the World Bank. Money for the bank comes from industrialized countries. Members are assessed fees and given voting power according to a complicated economic formula.

Since 1987, when the World Bank adopted new policies, more attention is being paid to environmental issues, but that has not helped projects approved before that date.

Critics want to get involved during loan negotiations but are hampered by the fact that all project documents are kept secret unless the borrowing country agrees to make them public. Few do. This practice excludes outside organizations that may have legitimate objections.

Ordinarily, the banker-client relationship should be respected. Yet that principle stems from the usual cozy relationships in private banking and it ought not to apply to the same extent in development loans.

After all, the World Bank is an international agency, not a private organization. Its dealings and projects ought to be open to scrutiny - not handled as quiet agreements with secret documents. Tax funds from the participating nations are being used, not private money.

The World Bank must be aware of the consequences of what its money does and be held accountable for the results.