by Natalie Bugalski
It has been more than 15 years since the Asian Development Bank (ADB) adopted a policy on involuntary resettlement with the objective of ensuring that “displaced people are at least as well-off as they would have been in the absence of the [ADB-financed] project.” The rationale behind the policy was a shift away from the perception that development-induced displacement and attendant harms suffered by those physically and economically displaced is a “sacrifice” some people have to make for the larger good. It is apparent, however, that despite the adoption of increasingly progressive and rights-oriented policies, the utilitarian view of development-induced displacement continues to dominate the culture and individual staff views of the ADB and many other aid and development institutions.
The report Derailed released by Bridges Across Borders Cambodia (BABC) this month (which I co-authored with Jocelyn Medallo) describes the policy and international human rights law obligations meant to protect the rights of resettled families and provides evidence of how these obligations continue to be flouted in practice. The Rehabilitation of the Railway in Cambodia Project, principally financed by an ADB concessional loan and an ADB-administered grant from the Australian Government, is affecting over 4,000 households that are being involuntarily resettled or must move back out of the railway’s “corridor of impact” (COI) into the residual right of way (ROW).
Despite decades of global evidence of the necessity of injecting sufficient financial and technical resources into resettlement planning and processes as an integral part of the infrastructure project itself, resettlement under the railways project has been treated as peripheral and has been left almost entirely in the hands of the Cambodian Government. Rather than internalizing the costs of resettlement into the project’s budgets from the start and ensuring that the full costs of policy and legal compliance are covered including though ADB and AusAID contributions, the Cambodian Government is responsible for footing the bill.
Given the well-known poor track record of the Government on forced evictions coupled with the incentive to reduce costs, the alarming result – as recorded in the BABC report – was blatantly foreseeable at the time of the project’s inception. Competent planning and sufficient resourcing from the beginning could have avoided and mitigated the hardships resettled families are now experiencing. Key findings of the report include the following (a fuller list of the findings is appended to the end of this post): Continue reading