NGOs welcome improvements in Battambang, note remaining concerns

Dec. 5, 2010. The debate on resettlement impacts is heating up. NGOs monitoring the rehabilitation of the railways released the below today:

Statement on NGO Coalition Meeting with ADB and AusAID Concerning Railways Project
For Immediate Release

(5 December 2010) Bridges Across Borders Cambodia, Sahmakum Teang Tnaut and the Housing Rights Task Force and other concerned non-governmental organizations met with senior management of the Asian Development Bank and AusAID on Friday Dec. 3 to discuss our serious concerns regarding the treatment of people affected by the Rehabilitation of Cambodian Railways Project.

We are pleased to see that both the ADB and AusAID are taking the issues raised seriously, as exemplified by the visit last week to Battambang by Kunio Senga, ADB Director General of the Southeast Asia Department. We appreciate that some of the problems are now being addressed by the Inter-ministerial Resettlement Committee, including the provision of water at the Battambang relocation site and that commitments have been made to reimburse electricity connection fees.

However, we continue to be concerned that the resettlement plans that have been approved by the ADB are inadequate to ensure that affected people will not be harmed. People who have been resettled thus far have been unable to rebuild adequate housing and reestablish their lives and livelihoods to a minimum acceptable standard without going into significant debt. One of the key lessons learned from the ADB-funded National Highway One project was that debt resulting from poor resettlement plans and inadequate compensation increases vulnerability and leads to a downward spiral into deeper poverty. Over a decade after the project was first started, the ADB is still compensating those adversely affected. We do not want to see these mistakes repeated.

“We urge the project donors to commit additional resources to ensure that adequate compensation and resettlement are provided to affected families, so that the poor are not forced to pay the price of development,” said David Pred, Executive Director of Bridges Across Borders Cambodia.

“We welcome project donors’ engagement with civil society on these issues, and hope to see further measures, including the re-evaluation of existing resettlement plans, to ensure the project complies with the ADB’s Involuntary Resettlement Policy,” said Nora Lindstrom, Advisor at Sahmakum Teang Tnaut.

“The resettlement of people for the Railways project has the potential to be a good model of resettlement in Cambodia,” said Sia Phearum, Secretariat Director of the Housing Rights Task Force. “By addressing issues and concerns now, project donors have the opportunity to set that example.”

The Phnom Penh Post covered the story. You can read it here.