‘Downgrade’ of railway homes

Don Weinland and Khouth Sophak Chakrya, Phnom Penh Post, Jul. 05 2011

Compensation for Phnom Penh villagers set to be displaced by railway reconstruction may be insufficient due to a “systematic downgrade” of the value of their homes by the government, a report released yesterday said.

The report, issued by the NGO Sahmakum Teang Tnaut, said the government’s Inter-ministerial Resettlement Committee had inaccurately appraised the size and quality of homes built along railway lines in four Phnom Penh communities facing displacement. IRC’s use of 2006 property price rates had further decreased the amount of compensation villagers were due to receive for homes affected by railway rehabilitation, the report said.

“The findings of the report suggest not only that affected households may not be receiving their full compensation under the existing resettlement plans, but also that the compensation as specified in the plans is low and unlikely to allow households to maintain their current living standard post resettlement,” Nora Lindstrom, STT programme development manager, said yesterday.

Residents of Chhivittmey Mittapheap village in the capital’s Russei Keo district said yesterday the problems highlighted by the report had been seen as an affect of the railway rehabilitation project, which runs from Phnom Penh to Sihanoukville and Battambang.

Community chief Van Naridth’s home is built of wood and raised more than 1.5 metres off the ground.

According to an IRC documents provided to The Post yesterday, the 44-year-old’s home is worth US$51.50 per square metre. But the IRC appraised his home at less than half that, lowering its value to a house with earthen floors.

Concerns over adequate compensation were echoed throughout the village, which is built on top of a dilapidated railway line scheduled for rehabilitation. Although residents said they welcomed the railway project and relocation, they said compensation isn’t enough to rebuild homes.

Phun Ninul, 42, who has accepted a compensation offer, said she had been awarded a parcel of land and $670. The money was insufficient for rebuilding a home at a new location, she said.

“I’m happy to relocate but I’m not happy with the compensation because it is not enough for me [to rebuild a home],” she said.

Iv Bonnakar, a programme coordinator at Habitat for Humanity Cambodia, said yesterday that the cost of building a basic house in Cambodia is about $2,500 including labour costs.

Some villagers reported receiving awards of about $500 in compensation.

Although the Asian Development Bank has pledged to better the lives of those affected by their projects, villagers affected by resettlement may struggle to maintain their original quality of life, according to the STT report. The organisation has loaned more than $100 million to the railway project.

An ADB statement issued yesterday said it reached an agreement with the government and Australian Aid for International Development, which is contributing $21.5 million to the railway project, to suspend the relocation of villagers with grievances.

The statement, however, fails to address fundamental problems with resettlement, said Lindstrom.

“The agreement reflects ADB and AusAid’s band-aid approach to the issue,” she said. “What is needed is a complete halt of all resettlement activities, whether household have complained or not.”

In a similar statement issued last week, ADB announced a suspension on the relocation of 36 households in Toul Sangke village, Russei Keo district.

Chor Lin, an IRC area chief, said villagers have amicably received compensation. “They are happy to relocate now, but we have told them to wait until the infrastructure is complete at the new site,” he said.